Continuing my quest for Inspiration Engines Sunday Times travel writer Mark Hodson dropped me a line about a project he is involved with the other day. It's also had a brief write up on Travelmole too.

I've blogged a few times before about how choice can be debilitating. Navigating the maze of different holiday deals out there on-line is just SO time consuming if you don't already have a hit-list of tour companies you're interested in going on holiday with.

And that's the thinking behind the site - 101 holidays - which, as you'd expect, has just 101 options featured on it.101holidays

A simple interface that works quickly allows you to just click on any one of 101 pics and find out more about any holiday that takes your fancy... a simple search facility allows you to filter the 101 holidays by experience, price and destination. Alex Bainbridge does a good dissection of the site on his blog.

So... a simple concept quite nicely executed... which compared with most other Inspiration Engines I've seen so far is ahead of the game... because it's clean and quick. It doesn't try to do too much. The fact that you have the up-front filter of two experienced travel writers means the number of search criteria can be reduced considerably without a sensation that you aren't casting the net wide enough. And I particularly like the fact that you can search by experience (romance, beach,culture). Expect a lot more of this kind of thing in 2009 on travel websites generally.

Oh... and no ads or other clutter to get in the way! Great.

So that's the good stuff... nitpicks:

1) It isn't actually 101 holidays. More accurately it's 101 tour operators. Sometimes the pic and comments from David and Mark do relate to a single holiday, but often it's more general - say recommending a particular region with an operator. (St Lucia, Umbria etc) So you're only halfway to finding your holiday.

(This could be because operators pay to be featured on the site...
which means that the choice isn't totally impartial. Maybe operators get some input into quite what the writers are giving their verdict
about - ie. just one tour or a region in their portfolio. Obviously the operator wants to offer choice... so they will probably tend to ask for descriptions of a region with all the accompanying parameters.)

So the choice of 101 holidays is actually probably more like a 1001.

2) I'm a bit disappointed by the comments from David and Mark - which should really seal the deal. Two top travel writers tell me why I should go for this holiday... real personal detail is what I want. These guys have seen a few sunsets in their time... so which one is the best?

Taking 'St Lucia beach adventure':
"David and Mark's verdict: There are plenty of gorgeous hotels on the beaches of St Lucia where
you’ll be tempted to stay put. But don’t get too comfortable – this is
a spectacular island crying out to be explored, from its glistening
forests and volcanic peaks to its sleepy fishing villages and colonial
plantation houses."

This feels like brochure copy to me... I want to know that one of them sat by the pool of a particular hotel and decided that the sunset there was one of the best they'd ever seen and the Martinis were the sharpest they'd tasted in the Caribbean.

I'm a bit foxed by this... as it's that kind of stuff that professional travel writers make sure to put into their copy. So why haven't they here?

3) The impartiality test is also compromised. One (OK to be fair it IS just one) of the operators in the 101 is actually part owned by David himself. Seems a bit shaky to be recommending your own tour operator!

I'm assuming that David and Mark have had minimal funds to set this site up and by keeping it simple they've done a good job.

I think as a first stop to funneling down the choice of the plethora of operators out there it's a great first port of call during the holiday research phase. But if it were me, I'd start to make the descriptions of the holidays more personal, more specific, more quirky and interesting...

I think the endorsement of professionals could be a really important competitive advantage going forward in the context of the ever-increasing monster of UGC content out there...

But I would think that... I'm a travel writer too... and I like to think my opinion about holidays is that bit more valuable because of it.

What do you think? Does knowing that experienced travel writers have made these suggestions make you more likely to book one of these holidays?

6 thoughts on “Inspire me some more

  1. I had a look at this too and was initially impressed. But, like you, start to explore and I'm left feeling a bit under-whelmed. Draw on your personal knowledge, not some client-approved brochure speak and steer away from plugging your own product in a supposedly impartial site - that's my two cents worth. As writers we sell ourselves as experts on travel, so why not actually play to strengths?

  2. Fair points, Jeremy, but you're not quite right in suggesting that tour operators may "get some input into quite what the writers are giving their verdict about". This isn't the case. Our verdicts are written independently and presented to our chosen tour operators as a fait accompli.

  3. I'm surprised that all of the operators involved were willing to put money upfront without asking for copy approval. But regardless, David and Mark are unlikely to bite off the hand that feeds, which does compromise the whole thing for me and make the copy fairly dull.

  4. Hi Simon
    Thanks for your comments... Yes, I guess that's the problem about not going the advertising route for finance... you have to take money from the operators. In reality all travel writing is a bit give and take - writers rely on operators to give them free seats on planes and free nights in hotels so they can visit them and write about them. There's no way it would work otherwise, as levels of pay are so paltry. All decent travel writers know the boundary lines - it's quite instinctive after a while... not ideal, but that's life.
    Like the blog...

  5. I quite like the site for it's simple user interface and functionality.

    For me a travel writers opinion about a particular holiday brand doesn't really sway me one way or another for booking so I'm not sold on the competetive advantage idea. As it represents only one opinion that has at least somewhat been bought and paid for by the company being reviewed it also compromises the value for me too. I'm more likely to be swayed by the balance of a community of reviews from other travellers who I'd regard as being like me and who paid to take the trip.

    Where I do value travel writers expertise and efforts is in destination exploration and description.

    I suppose in short I look to travel writers to educate and excite me about where to go rather than giving me an opinion that I'll likely take as being, at least in part, based on what they need to write to keep getting more paid work.

    Possibly not necessarily what a travel writer wants to hear but you asked the question.

  6. Hi Peter... thanks for your comments... I think there's a lot of opportunity for travel writers to help people in the research phase of booking a holiday on-line. At the moment there's this huge mass of information and it's getting bigger and bigger and more and more daunting.
    I agree that most of the time something I recommend might not make someone decide to book of its own accord, but if I am helping people narrow down the choices in the first place that's great.
    Maybe the ultimate travel writer based 'inspire me' website is just that... a series of options for you to distill down to a handful of destinations or activities. Or.. to put it another way exactly the sort of job a travel agent would do in the real world
    Thanks for commenting

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