Gogobot likely paid some big bucks for the Trip.com domain, and it is making strides with a high-quality recommendation app. Still, everyone in the travel space, especially startups, is feeling like they are running uphill as Google tosses boulders downward. Slow, steady steps may win the day.
Trip-planning and activities site Gogobot has rebranded to Trip.com, an obviously attractive URL that it purchased from investor Expedia this week, and Trip.com updated its mobile app, which is probably more advanced in predictive artificial intelligence than most of the better-known travel companies.
Expedia Inc. had inherited the Trip.com brand from Orbitz Worldwide, which wasted the domain. Orbitz Worldwide had relaunched Trip.com in 2009 as a travel search/media site for flights, hotels, cars, vacation packages, and cruises but never really took advantage of it.
Trip.com co-founder and CEO Travis Katz says he thinks the rebrand will be materially beneficial over the long term and boost search engine optimization although there won’t a substantial immediate advantage. He wouldn’t say how much he paid Expedia for the URL but it couldn’t have been cheap.
The name Trip.com, which is easy to remember, can conjure images of a vacation abroad as well as a jaunt to the restaurant across town, Katz says, and the blending of trips and activities is something that several companies, including Trip.com, Google, TripAdvisor, and Airbnb have realized could be a winning formula.
So many travel companies have failed because people take vacations perhaps just once or twice a year. On the other hand, they go to restaurants, shows, athletic events, and other attractions a lot more often than that.
Trip.com’s Predictive Technology
Artificial intelligence is the latest buzzword in travel and it can be over-hyped and imprecisely used. But Trip.com indeed appears to have developed one of the more advanced trip-planning and activities-recommendation apps around using artificial intelligence and other predictive technology.
The company, in many ways, flies under the radar because if doesn’t have the traction and marketing clout of some of the larger brands but its app, however imperfect, makes some of its rivals’ seem relatively unsophisticated.
I’m currently in Los Angeles and it’s 8:30 a.m. I’ve pre-selected “green,” “business,” and “trendsters” as my interests in the Trip.com app. I open it and the app shows me nearby breakfast and brunch options based on the time. In addition to time, location, preselected interests, and past behavior, the app supposedly also fine-tunes what it presents to me based factors such as the weather and whether I’m a local or a traveler.
The Trip.com app shows me breakfast and brunch options such as Bottega Louie .3 miles away and Philippe the Original 1.1 miles from my hotel. Clicking through on the Bottega Louie display shows me the address, hours, cuisine, as well as that it is popular with foodies and the luxury-minded.
Trip.com displays for me the top events of the week, including the Los Angeles Auto Show, the Getty Center and the Santa Monica Pier — none of which would be high on my list.
But the breakfast options and a bunch of choices on where to “get caffeinated” are more on the mark. And all of these choices change based on the time of day, weather — and hopefully the person using the app.
“If you open in the app in the morning in New York, the app checks what time it is, and based on search history, decides coffee is in order,” Katz says. “It knows you are a foodie so it is going to bias towards good espresso over Dunkin Donuts.
“And you are in New York so it knows you won’t go more than four or five blocks for coffee,” Katz says. “If you’re in Boise, you probably have a car and would go a lot further.”
So does this constitute the vaunted use of Artificial Intelligence or does it just take my preselected interests — and incidentally Katz says Trip.com just got the patent for travel search by interests — and run with them?
“Yes,” it’s Artificial Intelligence, Katz says. “It’s a machine making real-time decisions based on a number of variables, and getting smarter about those recommendations based on your behavior.”
Google Trips Not As Intuitive
This trip and things-to-recommendation app from Trip.com, formerly known as Gogobot, predates the new Google Trips app by several months. The two apps play in some of the same spaces, although Google Trips taps into your Gmail account and surfaces your upcoming and past flights and hotel reservations.
The Trip.com app feels a lot more intuitive than Google Trips. Opening the Google Trips app — again at 8:30 a.m. in Los Angeles — and it asks me where I want to go instead of just presenting me breakfast/brunch and things to do options as the Trip.com app does.
When I select Things to Do and Top Spots in the Google Trips app, it shows me Universal Studios Hollywood, the Hollywood Sign and Griffith Observatory, all of which feel very generic. If you are in Los Angeles on a business trip, going to Universal Studios Hollywood 10 miles away in traffic doesn’t really seem as one of the top things to do as the business of the day winds down.
Tapping on the Food & Drink section in Google Trips gives me an overview of Mexican food or sushi rather than showing me somewhere to get coffee close by, as the Trip.com app does.
Both apps obviously are works in progress and will assuredly be getting better at anticipating what the user wants but the Trip.com app is off to a great start. The Google Trips app, however, in addition to having access to your reservations information, has features such as day planning with recommendations about “72 hours in Los Angeles Day 1” that the Trip.com app can’t boast of.
What’s Next for Trip.com?
Katz was interviewed about his company’s rebrand and its app outside the Phocuswright conference in Los Angeles. One thing that was crystal clear in speaking to people from companies such as Trip.com, Farecompare, TripAdvisor, Rentalcars.com, and others, is how deeply they feel the impact of Google’s making free, search engine optimization very difficult and not the top tool in the tool belt as Google favors its own products over others and positions paid search as much more viable than search engine optimization.
That makes it much harder for companies such as six-year-old Trip.com to break through. Katz acknowledges this, recalling how companies such as TripAdvisor got to the next level through search engine optimization years ago and installing widgets on partner sites.
In fact, in a Skift interview with Adam Medros, who heads worldwide products for TripAdvisor, about its Instant Booking initiative and Google’s downplaying of free, organic search results, he expressed confidence about Instant Booking’s progress, but added he wouldn’t have bet on TripAdvisor if it were trying to do this as a startup today.
Asked about some of these challenges for Trip.com, Katz says he’s building the company’s name recognition through branded partnerships with Hostelworld, HomeAway, TripCase and Lufthansa, for example, with more to come.
“Those companies have a lot of travelers, although it’s not a silver bullet,” Katz says.
He thinks these partnerships, the new brand name and product innovation will get Trip.com where it needs to go.
Katz says: “SEO is a long-term game, not a short-term game.”
Photo credit: Gogobot rebranded to Trip.com, a decent name for an online travel company. Trip.com