The cluttered realm of online shopping is becoming a little more refined thanks to a new breed of websites that deliver the goods with a highly selective approach. By asking tastemakers to step in as guest curators, they give you insider, and often exclusive, access to items from around the world. Ahalife.com allows you to buy one unique item daily from international designers. Whether it’s a cotton pestemal (hammam towel) made by local artisans in Buldan, Turkey, or a hand-beaded, tribal-chic necklace from London-based jeweler Fiona Paxton, everything is chosen by notable travelers such as Daniel Boulud or Petra Nemcova.
No sooner did Google unveil Flights, its new airfare search tool, on Tuesday than the criticism began to fly—not least from key competitor Kayak. But let's let's let Robert Birge, Kayak's chief marketing officer, speak for himself.
"We recognize Google is a formidable competitor, but they haven't been successful in every vertical they've entered," Birge said in a statement that went on to laud Kayak's own attributes.
I got the statement in an unusual email today from the Kayak's P.R. rep, who suggested that Google Flights doesn't work for international destinations; has no regional airports; and has questionable accuracy when it comes to actual airfares. I noted some of those things myself when I spent some time on the site this morning and Tweeted about it.
Who She Is: Splitting her time between New York and London, with an Italian passport to boot, Pavia Rosati—who was the executive editor of DailyCandy for nearly a decade—has always been a go-to person for travel tips. “I once planned a honeymoon in Greece for my intern’s brother’s best friend’s cousin, whom I never even met!” she says—fodder for her recent venture.
Her Big Idea: The new website Fathom compiles vintage-style e-postcards—complete with personalized snapshots—from celebrities, trendsetters, and regular folk in the know. The result is a lively, opinionated travel blog with a fun, retro feel. “We’re all for edited, user-generated content,” Rosati says. Up next? A mobile app with guides for everywhere from Buenos Aires to Beirut, plus an online boutique that’s meant to be “a one-stop shop for all your travel needs.”
Five-course dinners at top restaurants around the country no longer have to be such a costly part of your trip, thanks to an influx of restaurant deals found both online and via mobile apps. The BlackboardEats site offers discounts—such as 30 percent off dinner at Los Angeles’s Mo-Chica or New York’s Matsuri—to anyone who signs up. All you have to do is present the discount code at the restaurant at any time. Every venue is handpicked by a staff of professional restaurant reviewers (many from the now-defunct print version of Gourmet). Sometimes the deals involve mystery dishes that are only available to members, making it more of a food enthusiasts’ club than a coupon service.
A new travel website is turning friends into travel agents, coworkers into guidebooks, and families into concierges. Gtrot.com (short for globetrotters) recently stepped out of its beta phase and is now a full-blown social travel site with various tools designed to personalize trips at home and abroad. The brainchild of Harvard-grad Zachary Smith and co-founder Brittany Laughlin, Gtrot registers past, present, and future trips through Facebook with the vision of friends swapping secrets and gems from around the world.
Who He Is: As founder and CEO of Altimeter Capital, a hedge fund that specializes in travel-themed tech companies, Brad Gerstner spends a lot of time on the road as both a business and a leisure traveler. As a result, he knows how to spot a good hotel room (“on a high floor and away from the elevator”)—a skill he leveraged when creating his latest company.
His Big Idea: The website room77.com promises to help travelers pick the perfect hotel room. (Sort of like what SeatGuru did for airline seats.) The site offers floor plans, pictures, user reviews, and window views for rooms in 2,500 three-star-plus hotels (and counting). A new iPhone app provides the same service for free, on the go. So now guests can book a room and not worry about that blocked ocean view the hotel’s website neglected to mention.
Thanks to a recent explosion of online booking sites, the $24 billion short-term rental market is now about one-fifth of all U.S. hotel-room revenue, according to Alexis de Belloy, a vice president at HomeAway and VRBO. De Belloy’s sites, which are among the first generation of online rental agencies, cater mainly to families looking to book entire houses—a great way to save money on the road. The success of HomeAway and VRBO has helped to launch a slew of home-rental sites, many of which serve travelers with ever more particular tastes and interests. With listings in 10,000 cities and counting, AirBnB is like eBay for rentals: each host has a profile with user reviews and images. Plus, everyone is encouraged to submit ratings after a visit, which maintains quality control. Roomorama and iStopOver provide similar offerings, with additional features such as the ability to post requests for specific types of accommodations, in case you want, say, organic food in the fridge or a toddler-friendly apartment. And finally, taking the house-swapping trend to a whole new level is Luxe Home Swap, which lets you trade stays at your chic place with one of thousands of comparably stylish options across the globe for an annual fee of $159. At press time, a high-design house in Tucson, Arizona, and a relaxed beach retreat on Isla Fuerte, in Colombia, were just two of the properties available.
It’s no secret that the introduction of iPads into the market, just over a year ago, has resulted in the reshaping of how just about every industry imaginable does business. And as I’ve reported before, hotels are no exception to this.
A relatively new trend that I’m seeing on the rise is the use of iPads as personal, portable concierges.
When it comes to vacation rentals, we’re all familiar with hotels, resorts, villas, yurts, and boats. But what if you had the chance (and budget) to take it to the next level, and rent an entire country? (No, there’s no typo there. And yes, you read that right.)
Airbnb.com, a vacation rental site that lets people rent out their own properties to travelers looking to stray from the typical hotel stay, is really stepping up its game with this offer, which (literally) puts the key to the small country of Liechtenstein (which rests on Austria’s western border) in your hands. But you’ll need to be a high-roller (or at least have a ton of friends willing to pool resources) if you want take advantage; the cost is $70,000 per night.