Technology - Websites
Innovator Chris Collins
Backstory: Frustrated by the difficult time he was having finding unique dining experiences such as underground dinner clubs, the 26-year-old former Airbnb developer began to look for a way to make them easier to hunt down. The result? A website that does just that.
His Big Idea: Collins collaborated with now partner Carly Chamberlain, 24, and together they applied a more technological word-of-mouth model to help people navigate secret tables worldwide. They came up with gusta.com, a site that lets travelers find, reserve, and even prepay for pop-up culinary happenings thrown by local chefs around the globe—everything from a beer tasting in Brooklyn to a brunch club in Buenos Aires. “We offer people a chance to discover cities and meet locals, through the lens of food,” Collins says.
Photo courtesy of Gusta.com
ZocDoc lets you enter a zip code to instantly find local medical professionals who take your insurance—plus you can view their immediate availability in the event of an emergency. You can also read user reviews and book appointments online, 24/7. So far, 15 U.S. cities are on board, with plans to roll out across the nation over the next 12–18 months.
Photo courtesy of ZocDoc
Heading to London for the Olympic Games this summer but can’t find a hotel room? No problem. Renting a room, apartment, or entire house has never been easier, thanks to the abundance of vacation-rental sites.
One of the biggest players on the Continent is HomeAway; more than 50 percent of its 300,000-property inventory is in Europe—with a sizable selection both in the countryside and in urban areas. It’s getting competition these days from Airbnb, which started in 2008 as something of a domestic couch-surfing site, but now lists increasingly polished residences across the globe. Today a full 75 percent of its bookings are international, with Paris, London, Milan, Barcelona, and Amsterdam being the most popular cities. What’s more, you can now link up Airbnb with your Facebook profile to view properties listed by friends and friends of friends—taking some of the mystery (and anxiety) out of peer-to-peer rentals.
Innovator Floris Dekker, CPO and Cofounder, Gidsy.com
Backstory: On the hunt “for something new” in 2009, the Amsterdam native moved to Berlin with his brother, Edial, where the two started a design studio. One day they decided they wanted to go mushroom foraging, but couldn’t find anybody to guide them. “By the time we found someone, the season was over,” the 25-year-old entrepreneur recalls.
His Big Idea: The brainchild of Floris, his brother, and friend Philipp Wassibauer, gidsy.com applies Airbnb’s peer-to-peer commerce model to buying experiences. A boon for travelers looking for affordable and personalized activities, it allows local experts in cities across Europe (plus New York and San Francisco) to sell various packages, from nightlife tours of Amsterdam to afternoon rentals of a restored Trabant (the iconic East German car).
Photo by Dorota Halewska
Tingo, a new travel site that launched this morning, expects to be a game changer in the way customers book hotels. Parent company Smarter Travel Media says Tingo is the first site to automatically rebook a hotel reservation if the price drops, then refund the difference between the original prepaid rate and the final rate at check-out.
Tingo (the name derives from travel and bingo) is not the first site to offer a refund if the rate drops. Orbitz, for example, has a Price Assurance policy, but it requires that another Orbitz customer book the same room type at the same hotel on the same travel dates at a lesser rate. Not so with Tingo. According to the company, if the rate for your reservation drops, you qualify for a refund, credited to your charge card after you have checked out of the hotel, regardless of whether another traveler has also booked the lower rate.
MSNBC.com Travel | Valerie Steiger, a life coach in Canyon Country, Calif., had a 4-month-old puppy and tickets for a 10-day trip to Thailand.
Steiger knew that Joey, a cavalier King Charles spaniel-shih tzu mix, would need more attention than what a traditional stop-by-the-house pet sitter could provide, so she went online in search of a good boarding kennel.
Instead she found DogVacay.com.
The site, which officially launched March 1 in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and soon after in other major cities, matches dog owners in need of pet-care services with people willing to host dogs in their homes for a fee. (Photo courtesy of Debra.)
Innovator Gil Harel
Who He Is: Though he got his start working in the marketing department of Israel’s Isrotel hotel chain and at Expedia, the 39-year-old Cornell MBA now focuses on the restaurant and bar industry with his new website, Bitehunter.
His Big Idea: The Bitehunter site and its iPhone app scour more than 500 online sources including Gilt City, OpenTable, restaurant.com, and even Twitter to locate the best deals in any given area. It’s a Kayak-style approach for dining deals, which Harel acknowledges as inspiration for his food-focused search engine: “Historically, airlines adopt cutting-edge technology first, followed by hotels, then restaurants.” And as foodie deal services such as Groupon and BlackboardEats continue to proliferate, his simple aggregator is a welcome resource.
Photo courtesy of Hila Harel
Staying on top of your many mileage, hotel, and rental-car programs is one of the biggest headaches for frequent travelers. Ditto figuring out whether or not you’ve accumulated enough points to book a first-class ticket for your next big getaway. But luckily, online mileage trackers have stepped in to help, letting travelers input their various member ID’s and passwords to conveniently consolidate all of their programs in one place. Besides displaying your latest balances, these services also notify you of all upcoming expiration dates, which is essential for keeping (and amassing more!) points.
Each site has its own edge: MileBlaster is particularly good at tracking your miles and alerting you whenever your points are about to expire, while AwardWallet smartly provides users with a convenient wallet-size card listing all of their loyalty numbers. We like TripIt’s iPhone- and iPad-optimized apps, which let you quickly access your details on the fly.
Let’s face it: social media is taking over. If you’re not at least on Facebook and Twitter, you’re, well, behind on the times. To honor and acknowledge those in the Travel industry who are doing an exceptional job on these new platforms, we’re introducing the first-ever Travel + Leisure Social Media in Travel & Tourism Awards or, as we’ve come to call ‘em, "The SMITTYs." (Clever, right?)
Want to nominate a travel company that's doing something cool? Or has your company launched an innovative/exciting/super-successful social media campaign? If yes, submit one or more nominations for a chance to win one (or more!) of these monumental new awards. Who exactly can enter? We’re looking for submissions from the following:
- Hotels & Resorts
- Cruise Lines
- Tour Operators
- Tourism Boards/CVBs
- Travel Agencies/Online Travel Agencies
- Car Rental Agencies
There are three categories you can submit a nomination for:
- Best use of a social media platform.
- Best single social media promotion.
- Best social media promotion of travel deals.
Nominations will be accepted until March 2, 2012, and then the winners will be selected by a panel of social media experts and announced in our July 2012 issue.
So what are you waiting for? Let’s see what you've got!
[Please be sure to read the rules before submitting.]
Joshua Pramis is the social media editor at Travel + Leisure and resident tech aficionado. Follow him on Twitter: @joshuapramis
Breaking news for surfing enthusiasts: The new website Wavecation.com—think of it as a HomeAway or VRBO tailored to the surfing community—lists hotels, private homes, and other rental options close to ride-worthy waves all over the globe. The most important criteria? The property has to be oceanfront (or front-row, in cases when a jungle or other natural barrier blocks coastal views) to the water and surf spots. “These places are the equivalent of ski-in, ski-out properties on a snow mountain,” says founder Matt Thomson, who has turned down a number of interested homeowners to maintain his super specific standards. The Austin-based resident is surf-obsessed himself. He started riding when he was 12 and has traveled the world—from the coasts of Nicaragua and Mexico to Hawaii and California—in search of the best breaks.