Just Back from London

Tower Bridge, London

Tower Bridge at night, viewed from a Thames River boat.

Just back from London and the World Travel Market with our Editor at Large (and New York Times Bestselling Author) Franz Wisner. Had an enjoyable and productive week introducing TripTuner to a select group of old colleagues and prospective partners alike. Year in and out, this event often delivers as much benefit from the chance encounters as with scheduled meetings. Only time will tell, but it seems we made a good impression, receiving many compliments on creating an exciting, engaging new way to help travelers find places in tune with their tastes. While there wasn’t much time for exploring, we did manage to take in a few sights en route to evening events and dinners: going through the Thames river locks; floating beneath a spectacularly lit Tower Bridge; strolling past an illuminated Big Ben and Parliament before viewing the city from the top of Millbank Tower. We checked out the freshly renovated Four Seasons Park Lane as well as the new Aloft hotel–thumbs up on both. After a pleasant dinner at Kentner’s in Soho (tasty French-brasserie fare and Champagne bar in a hip but accessible townhouse atmosphere) we had a chilled vodka martini nightcap at Duke’s Bar— the place where local lore says Ian Fleming conjured 007’s famous “shaken, not stirred” preference. All in all a successful quick trip, and we didn’t really notice the fact that we hadn’t seen the sun for 4 days. But hey, that’s London!

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Asia Travel Advice On-the-Go: A Tale of Two Travelers

Two acquaintances of mine were on the road recently, doing their own separate solo tours of Asia.  One is a female post-graduate student in her mid-20s (we’ll call her Julie) on what Australians might call a “walkabout”, an extended trip of a few months.  The other (let’s call him Brian) is an urban professional in his mid-40s, taking a three-week break between jobs.  Because I’ve traveled extensively in the region, they asked me for help in planning their respective trips.

While both of them shared the same wanderlust, it is interesting to see their divergent approaches on getting travel advice.  Both had the same big-picture questions (is X period of time enough to see certain countries, what’s the best way to get around, etc.)  But when it came to more specific suggestions about hotels or activities, Julie was just fine scouring the web for free info.  I’d offered my help, but she didn’t really see the need.  Maybe it’s just a sign of her generation: “millennials” are well-known for their comfort with technology.  But I’ve even heard older travelers boast of how easily they can dig up good travel info.  Indeed it’s almost a source of pride.

So what’s the big deal? I too enjoy uncovering valuable nuggets of travel info – whether it’s a more direct flight, the perfect hotel or a unique activity. Some websites will even give you a “medal” if you play along and contribute your own info.  Which in turn makes such sites more attractive to search engines, creating even more opportunities to sort through an ever-increasing amount of info.

But over the years I’ve found that it can eat up a ton of time.  And when I do search, my signal-to-noise ratio is much tighter – I’d like less searching and more finding.  Call me old and crotchety but my brain gets enough info searching and processing every day at work.  It’s like getting your driver’s license.  All you want to do is drive, then years later all you do IS drive.  The novelty wears off.  Same thing with technology.  The excitement of getting 4 million search results in 0.7 seconds wears off after clicking on the 4th or 5th result.  (Like many, I’m still waiting for technology to deliver my increased leisure time).

Perhaps Julie is simply a better multi-tasker, whose younger brain can withstand more info processing like a newer-model computer.  But as a recent Stanford University study shows, over-tasking the brain affects even the hardiest multi-tasking college students.  Try keeping it up in an office environment for 20 years, and you begin to understand why people like Brian want to cut to the chase and get solid, timely advice.  Without a ton of searching.

So when he asked me to help finalize an itinerary for his Asia trip, I tried not to bog him down with a ton of options.  I promised to help him out on the go as needed, but emphasized that above all he needed to GO.  Get out there on the road and enjoy these precious travel moments as much as possible.  Of course his tight time frame can explain why he chose to rely upon my on-the-go help rather than do it on his own.  And what an ironic twist that having a “virtual trip assistant” of sorts inspired Brian to hop on a flight and delight in spontaneity – something usually reserved for college students.

How did this all turn out? Brian had a great time and became a loyal early advocate of Triptuner.  As for Julie, she finally got her fill of DIY travel planning and sought me out for her last stop in Singapore.

We each have preferred ways of getting travel advice.  I just think that there’s got to be a better way of accessing all of this valuable info in a meaningful way, while providing the personal service to help fill in the gaps.  It’s one reason why we’re building Triptuner.

Genesis of a Curious Traveler

This story begins many years ago, with a young boy taking his first transatlantic flight.  At the time I didn’t realize how lucky I was to be on board what is now perhaps the quintessential symbol of global travel – a Boeing 747.  It was my first true taste of travel, the spark that ultimately led to my current livelihood.  I can still recall the feeling of wonderment when I awoke to find that after a full night’s sleep, we were still over water.  As the sun rose, we crossed over a neat patchwork of Holland’s verdant green fields.  I remember thinking “what’s it like down there?” It’s a sense of curiosity that has never left me.  I get it even when I look at maps of random places.  An unquenchable desire to see new places.

Fast forward to the late nineties.  After ditching a corporate cubicle for a year-long trip around the world, I caught the tail end of the dotcom boom.  Amid the lavish launch parties and overnight wealth of the dotcom boom, I was quite content to be writing promotional copy for a brash young startup called Site59.com.  My job? Get people to take a spontaneous weekend trip someplace by crafting evocative, vibrant descriptions.  It was a dream job. Describing destinations in a way that captured the inherent pleasure of travel was the perfect outlet for my travel curiosity.  Our focus on communicating the overall experience was partly by pure necessity: as a young company we didn’t have inventory in places like Orlando and Las Vegas.  We had to sell places like Cleveland and Omaha (no offense).

In two years we managed to sell enough to be acquired by Travelocity.  Suddenly, we’re selling the big destinations and my focus shifted to the business side of things: market share, supplier rate negotiations, volume.  Still, it was an amazing job.  I had a choice territory (Caribbean, and then Europe) and naturally it required extensive travel (hey, somebody had to do it).  But as with any mature business, the focus became more about driving volume and profits in popular destinations.  Not much discovery.

A concept started forming, a way of capturing the sense of discovery in travel.  While this is very much en vogue today (my project is one of a current bevy of “travel inspiration startups”) it was not a top priority for most online travel agencies.  As these ideas germinated, an opportunity arose to work for an online agency called eDreams in Barcelona, a city I’ve always loved.  Through my years there I gained tremendous insight into the European market, while taking advantage of the many nearby destinations: Tuscany, Tunisia, Provence just to name a few.  And while the experience was amazing, the desire to start my own business brought me back to the US and to this project.

This is where we’ll write the next chapter.  That’s right I said “we” – you and I.  You’ll provide the comments and feedback (and perhaps one day become a customer), and I will do the work.  Not a bad deal, huh?  Please join me as we build an exciting new way to discover amazing travel experiences.