Afar.com, launched in 2010, is the digital extension of the travel magazine of the same name. As the above video explains, for founders Greg Sullivan and Joe Diaz, “experiential travel is a way of life,” and their brand nuance is getting "out of your comfort zone," delving beneath the surface to real places and real people.
It’s one example of how travel is trending as one of the hottest online verticals for disintermediation, with a slew of start-ups seeking differentiation in a crowded field.
Following the early crop of online booking sites – Hotels.com, Expedia, Orbitz and Priceline – a second wave of sites like Kayak made search the currency for iterating online travel. Now, leveraging social media is the Shangri-La for targeted trip advice, crowdsourcing experiences and recommendations from the most trusted sources – friends, and friends of friends.
Afar gives personalized recommendations based on a travel personality quiz that filters like-minded travelers for similar tastes, then sends questions about specific destinations to others who have been there with the option to link to a Facebook account.
Questions are granular, such as the best way to hire a guide in Istanbul or kid-friendly restaurants in Seville. “It’s not who you know, it’s who you need to know,” said Derek Butcher, CTO Afar Media.
Gtrot.com targets users’ Facebook contacts based on the insight that a handful of personal recommendations are better than scores from strangers. Its roots are social, started by Harvard students in 2009 to keep track of friends traveling while school was out. Now, its firstname.lastname@example.org is a hub for Facebook users to link to for advice and sharing of itineraries, to leverage the broader social community.
Founder Brittany Laughlin says, “There are tons of travel sites that offer recommendations, reviews, or travel Q&A. But we think the most trusted advice comes from people you know. Sharing your trip on gtrot makes it easy to collect advice from Facebook.” For U.S. travelers, there’s the added layer of daily deals based on destination from sites like Groupon.
Gogobot.com also leverages Facebook and Twitter, but adds a layer of gamification pioneered by Foursquare, geared "to build a travel recommendation engine comparable to the one Netflix employs for its movie recommendations," wrote Techcrunch.
Public check-ins on Facebook and Foursquare show up on your Gogobot profile and users earn virtual passport stamps for reviews. The site also makes available personal photos, phone numbers and addresses, as well as tools for building an itinerary as you travel.
Wanderfly answers the question: "Where can I go?" Christy Liu, cofounder says, "We help people figure out where they can go and what they can do based on their budgets,"
Liu believes that most travelers don't always know where they want to go – they need curated lists of places and activities, and Wanderfly provides the inspiration.
Wanderfly recently tested curated lists with The History Channel, Mashable, Frommer's, Havaianas Aol Travel, Mint.com and others, free to those advertisers who are partners.
Then Jeep debuted their first paid campaign in partnership with UK-based Telegraph as part of their Grand Adventures campaign, including interactive ad widgets on a Telegraph microsite and on Wanderfly.
Wanderfly “effectively opens doors for organizations with strong brands to easily extend that 'personality' into the travel market and provide a potentially valuable utility in the process,” Liu says.
Another in the queue is ConciergeQ, "travel answers from those who know." Publisher Lynn Mason-Pattnosh features locals as celebrity experts about their own hometowns:
Bill Cosby's Philadelphia Questionnaire is one of my personal favorites on ConciergeQ. Mr. Cosby's Questionnaire is so smart - a bit of a history lesson on Philadelphia... it makes me want to visit and go to a Big 5 Basketball game (if you don't know what it is, check out Mr. Cosby's answer to #5 :What is your favorite indoor activity in Philadelphia?" on ConciergeQ)!
Plans include expansion of ConciergeQ Conversations with former GMA’s Chantal Westerman, currently airing on EverydayOpera.com and Live365 Network as podcasts to video. The site is also featuring charity organizations as "local experts" with The Lipstick Project for Mekelle, Ethiopia as the first example, to be published shortly.
As diverse and rich as the journeys themselves, the online travel industry is one more example of social media disruption at its best.