Inspire me some more

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?

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