Is it just me or is the social Web alive with travel innovation? This coming from a guy who diligently fed data into Dopplr for years without any apparent pay-off. So, I am a bit of a sucker for anything to do with travel. Still, I think there is reason for even more critical folks to be encouraged, excited even, about what is coming in travel innovation.
A month ago, I met the CEO of Jetsetter when we both spoke at the Digital CMO Summit. That day, he introduced the new Jetsetter iPad app which is a beautiful gem. I love all of the Gilt group deal offerings. They are so not-Groupon. Essentially, the app takes a great idea and makes it look and navigate terrifically. It doesn't change it. That's where the personal guides come in.
It's probably more accurate to call this new category of service 'personalized guides." Drew Patterson revealed that Jetsetter was starting a service for a fee where travelers could query Jetsetter experts from around the world for personalized itineraries in certain locations. Of course I lost my magic postcard which held my invitation to take advantage of that service. Still, I love the idea.
Now you can do same through Fortnighter. For somewhere between $100-$250 you can get somewhat personalized recommendations from hotels to restaurants to activities. The service only lets you personalize so much. And it caters to the single or couples traveler. That leaves me and my family a wee bit left out. Still, I like the notion of concierge-like service and I believe in the premise - if I am going to invest a chunk of money and time to go to Istanbul with my family (true - going this July), then I would be willing for some local guidance on what to do there that deviates from the beaten tourist path while letting us find the really good pizza in town.
Still another example is really not an example fo a social enablement. Its more an example of how niche travel may find an audience. Political Tours offers travel itineraries around political history. A tour focused on Turkey Elections 2011 would include really cool events like this one:
"Day 3 Turkish foreign policy – moving eastward? A panel discussion with leading Turkish commentators. Lunch at Imroz in Nevizade with an introduction to the Tarlabasi district: urban projects and gentrification. Guided Walk through Tarlabasi with Constanze Leitsch, a migration expert. Visit to Kürt Kav, a Kurdish foundation, a Greek Church with Father Dositeos. Meetings with local artisans. Dinner with NGO activists"
I love this experiential approach to travel and wish I could "sample" it while there. My family would not appreciate a full immersive, multi-day focus on politics. Nor would they agree to me slithering off to do this on my own.
While still people-powered, another way to go is Wizard Istanbul (thanks, as always, to Springwise) The service operated by the Culture and Tourism Ministry of Turkey, lets me ask a question via Twitter and Facebook and someone - presumably another traveler, resident or the Wizard, him/herself will answer. I submitted a couple of questions around whirling dervish ceremonies/performances and pizza. We will see what the crowd comes back with.
The service recruits writers willing to answer the questions. This is a terrific service from a forward-thinking ministry. I suppose it's possible that the service will get overrun by spammers or folks with commercial interests (disappointing to realize that most hotel concierges make recommendations for places that kickback a fee). For now, I prefer to keep my naive hat on and will plan on using the service before and while I am there.
Marketers get frothy just thinking about how new access to data can deliver value for customers and brands. I remember a financial services company had an ambition to let member's access aggregate member data on the restaurants they most frequented - "X members prefer Le Cirque over the Jockey Club." It fell apart when data revealed that most members went to McDonald's.
I tend to like to think of myself as the travel who shuns the usual touristy destinations (yes, same guy who asked about Whirling Dervishes in Istanbul). Aggregate data scares me as it suggests using the great median as a guide.
But there are exceptions. These maps from Eric Fisher (and collected here on the Dohop blog - thanks to Datamining) plot out photographs from Flickr on top of city maps. Blue dots are from locals and the red dots are pix taken by visitors. This one is from Sydney where I just returned from.
Here's why this particular data is helpful. We take pictures of memorable or remarkable scenes. Sometimes this is highly personal. Other times what I find photo-worthy, you will too. These maps tell me what others have felt worth a photo - something they found remarkable or memorable. As a traveler, I could use that. Imagine taking this data and mapping other data about the images (thumbnails or tags?) or from another source like FourSquare. Could we come up with maps of remarkable moments and vistas that others could tap into easily?
I tend to think that the more personal, human-powered services offer the most cool innovations currently. But data is on its way. We just cant forget that cool data can only get you so far. One must have a business model to support the services rendered, as well.