Social Networking Trends: Social Travel

Social travel is a new movement in the travel sector that is taking advantage of the Web 2.0 concept.

Just in case you’re not familiar with Web 2.0, the first round of web technologies, Web 1.0, was mostly read-only, while Web 2.0 is enabled for massive read-write capabilities. Two things make this possible: rich web technologies and social computing tools. Rich web technologies consist of things like Ajax, RSS, and Ruby on Rails, while social computing tools are primarily social networks, search, wikis, blogs, and tagging. The “Web 2.0 goal”: creating new paradigms in how software is used by consumers and companies. For the travel industry, Social Travel is that very thing.

Over the past decade, travel software has evolved as an extension of existing travel channels, by web-enabling the travel buying experience. At first this was hailed as a revolution because you didn’t have to rely on an airline customer service operator or travel agent to find you the best deal. You, the customer became in control, and didn’t have to submit to the mercy of the airline-owned Global Distribution System (GDS) products that were based on old mainframe technology.

With the advent of the web, travel sites popped up and pricing started to become more transparent, enabling the building of three types of business models. First, there were traditional sites (like Travelocity, Expedia, and Orbitz), which were extensions of their big brother GDS platforms. Then came reverse auctions (such as Priceline), which let you communicate how much you would be willing to pay. And finally, to squeeze out that last dollar, remnant sites (like HotWire and CheapTickets) that took all the extra inventory to market and delivered dollars that would otherwise never have been spent. The main thing wasn’t how good or bad these travel sites might have been in terms of inventory or design. The crucial thing they did was to empower the consumer with choice.

However, choice wasn’t enough. Incremental innovations including predictive pricing (like Farecast), multi-site search (Mobissimo, for example), and mobile communications (such as Kayak Mobile) helped sites evolve—but something was still truly missing. It was the community and communication between travelers.

Today, the online travel sector is undergoing a revolution. Or more accurately, a convergence between travel sites and social computing that is creating this new category of social travel. The overall goals of social travel sites are to enable community and communication between people who might travel together, share travel destination interests, and look for better information on destinations and service providers.

In the end, this is still about selling travel services—airline tickets, hotel rooms, rental cars, and cruises—but social travel opens up all kinds of new selling opportunities, such as:

1: Group Travel. This lets you include all your friends and family in groups, to coordinate travel for events and vacations. For consumers, it means group buying power, and for travel service providers, it means more revenue as there is less hassle in the buying process.

2: Accurate Destination Marketing. This is not just knowing where people have gone in the past; it is about knowing where they like and want to go—making the marketing process more effective.

Right now, several sites in this space are taking various approaches in the social travel space. The primary ones out there are Groople, TravelPost, TripHub, TripConnect, and 43places.

Coming up next: VentureFiles will review some of the companies we mentioned in more depth, taking a look at what makes them compelling and what could break them out of their current “early-adopter only” phase.