November means T+L’s annual pre-Thanksgiving trip to the epicenter of travel technology, otherwise known as the Phocuswright conference, being held right now in Hollywood, Florida. And Day 1 of the conference yesterday—the Travel Innovation Summit—is when we get a sneak peak at some of the cool new ideas that these innovators are launching.
One of our favorites: Peek, where you can find things to do in destinations all over the world, then book those activities right from the site. Another cool innovator: What Now, a soon-to-launch destination guide tool you can use in offline mode when abroad (bypassing roaming fees) with some great twists, like pulling in weather, public transportation, and other data that you’d expect to need a signal for.
Ultimately, Peek is trying to help with trip planning, which many companies presenting at the conference have been trying to solve. This year has been no different, and the trend now is to personalize the trip planning experience as much as possible. In general, personalization is great, but is there such a thing as too much of it? After all, travel is very personal, and includes lots of variables—business or leisure, solo or group, new or familiar destination—so while we may always stay at a particular hotel chain on a business trip, we may want to explore other options when planning our vacation. Building trip-planning tools to account for this difference is challenging.
One company trying to find a balance between automation and user control is TravelShark, which analyzes venues we like in a more semantic way than others are currently doing. So, for example, if we like an of-the-moment, off-the-beaten-path Italian restaurant in New York, this app will match more than “Italian restaurant” and try to find a similar place for us in Singapore. We’ll try it out.
Another big problem companies are trying to solve: collaboration in trip planning. We’ve seen a lot of these companies come and go. But BevyUp has an interesting idea. This back-end solution can add a social layer onto an existing travel site, making it easier to plan a trip with friends and family. And MiniTime is trying to make trip planning easier specifically for families.
Travel, of course, is inherently social, but how do you compete with Facebook? We like Freeppie’s idea: incentivize users to write reviews by giving them points they can redeem for discounts at hotels. Check it out.
As long-time attendees of Phocuswright, we know that some of these technologies will catch fire, some will get bought, and some won’t be around by this time next year. But we’re pulling for any new idea that makes travel easier, more accessible, and more fun for all of us.
Rich Beattie is Travel + Leisure's Executive Digital Editor.