I don’t even know where I want to go yet!

VJAM Learning #2: Inspire me!
I was struck by the way we spent much of the day labouring under an assumption. (Well given the sorts of comments and questions coming up I think we were - others might disagree.) No big surprise it's one that many many travel websites also get stuck with too.

According to new travel planning website Travelmuse 95% of the process of selecting a holiday and booking it online is the research phase. There are stacks of stats around about how more and more people use the internet for researching holidays. The American Travel Industry Association suggests that 70% of people now research their holidays on-line (whether they book on-line or not).

Yet tour operators and airlines seem to assume that people already know what they are looking for when they arrive at their websites. So often the reader (I use this word carefully - they are NOT a customer.... YET) is presented with a big fat booking engine with a few bits and pieces attached to it to encourage them to make their choice, but there's little supporting information or advice to help them choose where they want to go on holiday in the first place.Vingtripfinder-sm-300x212

So I suggested a session to discuss this... and it provoked some interesting debate. Most people seemed to agree with my basic premise that right now searching on-line for a holiday is incredibly frustrating... Do a few Google searches, try Trip Advisor, bookmark a few things, end up with 10 different browser windows open. Forget where you saw that great price 5 minutes earlier. To use a phrase from one participant 'anarchic browsing'. What we need for researching a holiday is some kind of Inspiration Engine...

A few learnings in no particular order:

1) We realised quickly that WHO you are matters a great deal. So any kind of widget or gizmo developed to help people choose a holiday needs to collect demographic and preference indicators quite carefully
2) BUDGET is another big one that needs to be taken into account - a 'good value' holiday for me could be super expensive for a student
3) Perhaps the coolest way to make an Inspiration Engine would be to have it compare me with others and find PEOPLE LIKE ME - and tell me what sorts of holidays they had enjoyed. 
4) There needs to be an element of RANDOMNESS too though. A wild card to spark your thinking- something that you'd probably never consider and a straight algorithm wouldn't throw up.
5) It needs to be NON-BRANDED. I want my hunt for holidays to cover more than just one operator's packages.
6) It needs to work fast and deliver DEPENDABLE RESULTS first time otherwise people won't trust them.
7) It needs to retain my basic PREFERENCE DATA - so I can use it again without retyping it all.

Alastair McKenzie suggested incorporating information from traditional media outlets into the mix too - like the on-line travel sections of authoritative media sources like newspapers. As he says on his blog about the session:

Instead of working in the traditional way, using rational algorithms to produce SERPS
based on authority/link popularity, it would be manually biased towards
particular travel sources (based on human-edited authority ratings) and
produces a 'SERPS mash' comprising x% newspaper articles, x% travel forums, x% review sites, x% travel blogs, x% social network posts, etc.

There are a few examples of this kind of thing beginning to arrive:

I predict we will see many more next year. We discussed comparisons with the music industry a lot - in terms of how you can find out what people like you are listening to and try it too. One great example of innovation from this sector that several people really liked was idiomag. A personalised music emagazine. You suggest some preferences - or allow it to import your playlists - and it compiles a personalised mash-up of video clips, news, tracks and more of bands you'll probably like. NICE.

OK music is more straight-forward - it's a cheaper, lower risk purchase, but even so... something like this for Travel ought to be possible...

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