This is a guest blog by Varun Gupta, founder & CEO of MeTripping, on SkyScanner blog. MeTripping was one of the four finalists (from around the world, selected from across 350+ applications) in the Build with SkyScanner Competition. The original blog can be found here.
One common question that often comes up when we talk about MeTripping – does the world really need another travel site? We don’t blame people – it’s one that we had to think through as well. What we did realize reasonably early though is that the question itself lacks depth. In an industry as large as travel and with continuing high growth rates (especially for online travel), it can’t be about too many players. It has to be about innovation, about evolving consumer needs, and the possibilities created by technology advancements. One thing we know for sure – travel growth is going to continue largely unabated. As a reputed venture capitalist said to me, as people have more free time, what would they do except throw themselves into the pursuits of world discovery and the arts.
But, back on point. For the uninitiated, we’ll break up the travel funnel in a way it is generally understood by industry insiders –
Inspiration: Could be from any source and is generally the dream territory – it tends to be a common list of bucket list items. Could have any number of destinations in the list which theoretically sound good since there’s nothing lost by considering it.
Research: Slightly more involved process – travelers try to narrow down their options to places that have at least some pieces that match their interest for this particular vacation. Often this also involves getting a sense of practicality.
Planning: This is where you really get close to booking. You’ve picked a destination, and you start figuring out the specifics of how you would get there, where you would stay and what you would like to do. And ensuring that each of these elements work well together.
Booking: The actual step of finalizing all the pre-work to book your trip – flights tickets, accommodation, and occasionally a few key in-destination activities.
And therein lies the challenge – pre-digitization, this categorization made sense. In fact, it was probably inevitable. In the early 2000s, it would have been near impossible to put all this together under one roof so entrepreneurs chose the area that appealed to them most and built solutions for it. That was the digitization wave. And since travel is a global, complex beast, people did this in silos – both regional and thematic. That, in turn, brought about the need for meta-search engines which compared offerings on various platforms to help you make the best commercial decision. Our flights partner Skyscanner is probably the best in the world at this (and is still aggressively improving).
What with all the data in the world today, we believe that the biggest challenges for travelers today are (1) making the right decision and (2) not having a pre-travel burnout with all the research work needed to make that holiday happen. Thanks to search engines and thousands of apps, information has for some time now been available at our fingertips. But decisions are another matter – especially where context is not clear. For trivial single/ dual variables, the human brain could still make efficient tradeoffs – but some decisions are more complicated. For example, in travel, here are just some of the variables –
- Quality of destination as indicated by activities of interest, the weather, visa regulations, safety, in-destination expense, experience of other travelers.
- Flights – is there a practical and cost-effective way to get to that place. Some places might be close on a map, but insanely hard to get to. Also, cost of those flights is also a function of demand & supply, not always about distance. And that’s not all – which is the faster flight, the cheaper flight, the flight with less hops, the better airline, etc.
- Accommodation – several variables here too, e.g., star rating of the property or quality of a homestay, amenities there, food, hygiene, reviews by fellow travelers (and deciphering which reviews are more useful than others), location suited to your interests in that location, accessibility, value for money, etc.
That’s what’s driving us – can we truly, in a meaningful way, make sense of all of that data for a consumer the way she thinks about it. The idea is not to have an army of people curating experiences – when you’re faced with such enormity of data, only machines can effectively tackle it. That’s crudely put. It’s actually fairly complex math and evolving machine learning techniques. Some of it is building on existing algorithms for ‘Big Data’ analytics, but no problem worth solving can be solved by just an application of existing knowledge. And that improvisation and invention is our core intellectual property.
Back in September, we went with all of this to Skyscanner’s ‘Build with Skyscanner’ competition, and last week, we were picked as one of four finalists for the 2016 edition among over 350 applicants globally. We thank them for recognizing our potential. In our association with them for the last several months, it’s been a joy working with them – clear processes, great technical capabilities, but most importantly courteous & amazingly helpful people (across departments). It’s rare to have such business partners and we are lucky to count Skyscanner as our partner at this early stage. Their API enabled us to get started on creating the value we were looking to instead of reinventing the wheel – to build intelligent recommendations and not worry about access to either sufficient, or quality, data delivered in a seamless manner.
We didn’t win the competition, but we also know that this is only a start. Our mission to help travelers make the hard decisions has only just started revealing itself.
We do have our job cut out. Delighting you by creating things that you didn’t think were possible. And wouldn’t it be great if we could create the first global consumer startup out of India! Keep an eye out for us!