Whichway I had a really interesting chat across the office with a couple of colleagues this afternoon. Both were bemoaning the fact that they are trying to get organised and book summer holidays for next year after leaving it to the last minute this year and not having very good experiences.

Neither of them had the first idea where to go to online to find inspiration.

As the resident travel 'expert' (their words not mine!) I was duly consulted about the ideal place for a really sunny beach holiday in Europe in mid-summer that would work well for kids and wouldn't be too resort-like and would be pretty cheap.

Simonseeks, vtravelled, travelmuse, thetraveleditor, tripbase, tripwolf - there are a good number of contenders for the content crown for travel holiday research, but the guys in my team (who work for a web and social media company!) hadn't heard of any of them. And frankly they wouldn't trust them if they did. And having tinkered with all of them I wouldn't either.

How about Trip Advisor? "No way... can't trust the reviews on there" I was told. One of my colleagues uses The Guardian's travel pages - he reads the Guardian on a regular basis and feels he can trust it. The other uses Flickr at the moment as her best research tool for holiday destinations. "At least that way you get a real idea of what a place looks like" she said.

I'm sure that the problem right now is that what sites there are out there online that are trying to provide inspiration for the research phase of booking a holiday are still way too general and way too new to be much use to anyone. Just to see I tried Travelmuse's inspiration tool. It suggested Lisbon, Nice and Naples as beach holidays for a family. Pretty hopeless. 

I'm doing some more detailed reviewing of research and inspiration tools which I'll share on another post soon.

In the meantime, the thing that we kept coming back to is Amazon's tool that tells you 'people who bought this book also liked....' There's some interesting discussion about the problems of creating a tool like this for travel on Stephen Joyce's excellent T4 blog. As he points out... it's just not that straight forward with an infrequent and complex purchase like travel:

'People who booked the Fairmont Vancouver also booked... 'another hotel in Vancouver'  - What do I need another hotel for!?

'People who booked a flight to Amsterdam also booked... a flight to Berlin' -
Yes, but I'm going to Amsterdam, so what's the use of that?

He has his own technical suggestions which you can read about on his post, but for me it's all about people like me.

Both the Travel Editor and vtravelled attempt to profile users to match them to other users or specific content, but for now neither has enough content or users to really make this work.

Now... if Trip Advisor could tell me not just which hotel was the most popular in a place, but which hotel was most popular amongst married, adventurous travellers with no kids yet who don't mind spending a bit for something genuinely different... (ie people like me!) THAT would be useful. Interestingly for Trip Advisor it's probably too late now... I doubt the demographic information the site holds for its many millions of reviewers is anymore detailed than what sex they are.

Where would you suggest for my colleague who wants a good value beach break that's hot and sunny in summer, couple of hours flying time, Ok for kids but not a huge beach resort? (I suggested Mallorca.)

Related link: Timesonline: Is the perfect travel website out there?
PIC:by Flickr user Dano

19 thoughts on “We’ve STILL no idea where to go

  1. You articulate this much better than I could Jeremy! And you know lots of people who travel - so I shall look forward to hearing their suggestions :-)

    Here's the research I've done so far: http://tamsinstuff.blogspot.com/2009/08/planning-for-next-years-holiday.html - have had some good suggestions from friends.

    Perhaps the answer isn't to have a special site that does this kind of "people like me" thing automatically but just to use existing networks (like blogs, Twitter FB etc) to talk directly to people like me and ask them what they think?

  2. At the risk of blowing my own horn - oh what the hell - About.com has a great travel channel with 68 separate websites covering destinations all over the world - covered by resident travel experts like me (I cover the UK) - as well as special subjects - honeymoons, student travel, business travel, hotels,gay and lesbian travel, and activity based travel topics.
    Find the main travel channel webpage here -
    It's backed by the NYTimes ethics policy - which may mean something to some people reading this, certainly means a lot to me. And although we have some ecommerce, our ecommerce elements are totally separate from the editorial material - so if people are looking for inspiration, this is a good place to start.
    In the USA, About.com ranks as one of the top four original content providers on the internet. Maybe more people in the UK could benefit from exploring it.

  3. Spot on, Jeremy. I don't trust any of 'em (yet). Online is too much noise, too little to trust.

    How about somewhere on the coast either side of Genoa - Alassio/Albenga perhaps? Or Santa Margherita Ligure? Or go down a little way to Elba - you could get lucky and find a cheap deal in a quiet bit of the island...

  4. Arcachon, about 45 mins drive from Bordeaux Airport. Stay in Cap Ferrat for the slightly more upmarket version, although Arcachon itself is fine for families. Only Frenchies go there. Gorgeous, huge dune, lovely beaches, massive wetland for birds, too.

    I thought Rovinj in Croatia was great, but it's rocky beaches, so not sure if kids will like it.

    San Sebastian, too, but not sure about hotel prices.


  5. How about Northern Sardinia? Not renowned for being 'cheap' but there are good value self catering options and low cost flights.
    See our video what its like here http://tinyurl.com/lmagys

    Travel decisions are so complex and based on so many personal preferences, its a tall order for any inspiration tool to come up with anything meaningful.

    Seeing is believing in my book - our first hand video reports aim bring a destination/product to life so the viewer can judge for themselves whether its right for them rather than rely on automated suggestions. Our target market is more the mature traveller than families but it would be interesting to know if your colleagues feel inspired by watching rather than reading?

  6. Tamsin is right. I'd use Twitter for this purpose rather than a specific travel site. Saw this blog post being discussed on it after all. As for holiday ideas, what about something unusual like Germany's Baltic islands such as Heligoland? Not superhot but fits everything else.

  7. By the way, when I tried the Travelmuse inspiration tool it gave me: Edinburgh,Zurich, Hamburg and Lausanne - even though I'd specified I wanted a beach holiday! Completely useless!

  8. As About.com's adventure travel guide, I agree with Ferne's suggestion that people looking for quality travel advice should visit About.com's travel channnel. From there, they can link to websites full of stories and advice for people who love to explore the world. For example, your colleagues who are "married, adventurous travellers with no kids yet who don't mind spending a bit for something genuinely different" should take a look at my site.

    Main travel channel website: http://www.about.com/travel
    My website: http://www.adventuretravel.about.com

  9. It's interesting that nobody has suggested yet to ask a travel agent...

    I think this question of who to trust, and how to cut through the noise is central to the future of online travel. What is it that people really want? Do they want advice from trusted experts, or do they want the wisdom of crowds, as in sites like TripAdvisor? Do they want limitless choice, or personal recommendation?

    I see a lot of travel writers who are struggling because newspapers and magazines are slashing freelance budgets. Some may even leave the industry altogether. But many of those writers have years of experience and have become trusted experts. If they can find a way of marketing that expertise online, they may thrive. That's one of the ideas behind 101 Holidays, where we plan to employ other travel writers who are experts in their fields.

    One of the problems with a "recommendation engine", or any similar attempt to automate the travel decision-making process is that you may be clear what you mean by "people like us". But your notion may be very different to mine. Travel is a personal business. It's a big life decision that depends on many factors.

    So I won't attempt to recommend a destination for Jeremy's colleague because I don't know enough about the people involved (their budget, the age of their children, how they like to spend their days, etc).

    A couple of years back I spent some time working with a very large online travel company building a concept plan for exactly the type of "recommendation engine" that Stephen Joyce is talking about. It's not a new idea. But it did prove incredibly complicated – partly because we were trying to turn a lot of subjective judgments into an objective algorithm – and eventually the idea was shelved.

    In the absence – as yet – of a really effective online tool, many real-life high-street travel agents are actually doing quite well. It was thought that travel agents would be killed off by the web, but in many areas of the country the big verticals are actually expanding their networks of agents. And many small independent agents are thriving. Perhaps it's because they have an instinctive idea when somebody walks through their doors what their customers mean by "people like us".

  10. Hi Lois and Ferne - your content is a reasonably nice read, but it doesn't help me to quickly drill down to specific places and destinations that are going to suit my needs. If I have a couple of hours to spend dreaming about "what if" holidays then feature content like yours is fine - although I'll be honest: I don't really trust a site that is aimed primarily at US travellers. And your site's usability and uninspiring design didn't really excite me. (You did ask!) I'm much more likely to dip into the travel features in a big UK publication like the Guardian.

    But what I'm looking for is informed recommendation tailored to my specific needs. I know I'm asking a lot!

  11. Mark - agree completely. It's a very big ask. What we need is a LastFM for travel . . .

    I've come to the conclusion that I need to:

    a) Talk to my friends and family - who know a lot about me and my family
    b) Visit a travel agents - if I get the time
    c) Read a lot of brochures - my postman is not impressed!

    I'll use online tools for the first bit - and I'll order the brochures online. But at the moment there's no online service / tool that is going to meet my need specifically. It'll come though . . . I'm sure.

  12. Years ago, at the beginning of the dotcom revolution, I was involved with a web startup that was designed to start with just that - a search that you could programme with your requirements - a holiday for a £500 budget, within 4 hours flying time, with a good beach, interesting castles, good food and steam trains, and a 4-star hotel. It would do a global search and up would pop a list of suggestions. Unfortunately for us (particularly the developer who went bankrupt and me, hired as editorial director with all the IPO options and a brief vision of millionaire status), the bubble burst a week before he got his promised funding signed up. But the search was nearly complete, the editorial blueprint was great and it has never been achieved. I still mourn the opportunity lost...

  13. I personally think that the search functionality of globrix.com is brilliant. OK it's for houses but being able to browse by shopping list or by map, being able to slide budget to a suitable range, being able to define details such as 'freehold', 'outdoor space', 'off road parking' etc. is brilliant. The same sort of functionality would surely be fairly transferrable to a travel site as long as there was sufficient content to deliver interesting results. Someone like ResponsibleTravel.com would be really powerful if they had that level of search functionality.

    As for the holidays for next summer, can I please suggest the Picos de Europa mountains? Central north coast of Spain. Beautiful coastline, small beaches, towns and villages. Stunning mountains. Fun activities from surfing to canoeing to horse riding, mountain biking, walking, etc. etc. Weather is not guaranteed but the place is amazing.

    Shameless plug here (sorry Jeremy) but you can at least see photos here http://www.pura-aventura.com/category/43_picos_de_europa_holidays_holidays

    Depends on the age of the children of course, I'd say that the Picos start to be interesting if your kids are around 8yrs and over.

    Personally I'm very keen to visit Croatia/Montenegro I think that's a good idea. Friends of mine have just bought a small rental place in Turkey which is off the beaten track.

    Mallorca, nice idea Jeremey but generally wildly expensive if you want to avoid the big resort hotels.

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