Travel Review • June 12-14 2012

Controllable Video Perspective • Hipmunk gets $15M • Personalization v. Privacy • Commission-free Booking Sites • The Worth of Reviews • Travel Blogger Ad Service • Great Hotel under $100 • Bucharest Courtyard • Traveler Tech Security • Best Cheap Lodging: Hotwire Rules • Frequent Flyers no longer Elite • See Bali, get groomed by Monkey

Moving Window on Immersive Video 

You have to watch this video, which shows how Condition One’s new 180-degree iPad-delivered video service works. You either move your iPad around or just drag your fingers across the screen and the perspective changes as if you were in the scene and looking around. It’s not hard to imagine a slew of travel use cases for this technology.


$15M Funding round positions Hipmunk to double in size

In the latest example of VCs’ tech travel bullishness, Hipmunk has raised $15 million in its second round of funding. The money will allow Hipmunk to double its staff to 32 employees. If anyone deserves VCs’ optimism, it’s Hipmunk. Their mobile app has been downloaded more than one million times since the company launched in 2010. 24 year old CEO Adam Goldstein says they want to be the de facto travel app and that the possibility exists to build another company as large as Expedia or Priceline.


Balancing Online Privacy and Personalization

This Tnooz article on travel industry privacy examines different ways companies have used customers’ personal information, and the appropriateness of each method. Some of the methods discussed are quite inappropriate. In my experience, companies can realize a good deal of customer and business value without using overly sensitive information. In any case, too much use of personal information can backfire. I recently researched yard equipment online and shortly thereafter bought a Stihl product at a local dealer. For weeks afterward, Stihl ads appeared in a large proportion of my browsing sessions. I found the experience intrusive and annoying despite the fact that I’ve worked with online data capture and personalization for years and believe that it adds value to the online marketplace.


Commission-free Hotel Booking Sites

Two new sites promise to offer hotels commission-free bookings. Given how much hoteliers hate paying travel agency commissions, it’s not surprising that developers are trying to find a business model to take advantage of the sentiment. I’m skeptical they’ll succeed and I’d like to think my skepticism arises from my training in economics and consumer behavior rather than the fact that I work for an online travel agency.

Global Hotel Exchange offers a plain vanilla user experience and charges consumers a booking fee. They claim that they will make pricing transparent and that market clearing prices will thus prevail—but that only happens with commodities in perfect markets. There are good reasons for variable pricing in travel. It’s better for hotels to sell rooms that would otherwise go empty, even at a reduced profit after paying commissions, than never to sell them at all. Hotels will still be able to sell some rooms at higher prices. There is a market for customers who will pay more for a confirmed reservation for the room of their choice at the hotel of their choice.

Treovi offers a more attractive site but refuses to say how it will monetize—maybe they’ll make it up in volume?

The Worth of Travel Reviews

Here is anecdotal evidence from two sources that reviews increase conversion for hotel bookings. 

Article 1, on social media marketing for hotels, has this interesting tidbit: “…research from Four Seasons Hotels indicates that 40% of luxury travelers will not book a hotel room if there are no online customer reviews for that hotel property.”


Article 2 reports Reevoo chairman Andy Phillips’ comments on several review-related sales statistics.


An Ad Service just for Travel Bloggers

Here’s a chance for destination travel bloggers to earn some cash to defray their site costs and perhaps even put a little money in their pockets. The service will place ads relevant to the content on blog sites.


A Great Hotel Under $100

Hotel Chatter has a new feature called “1 Hotel Under $100,” that they’ve been running for a few days now. Looking at all the hotels they’ve featured so far, this is the one I’d like to stay at: Jake’s in Jamaica.


If Frank Lloyd Wright had designed Courtyard by Marriott

Speaking of compelling hotels, this rendering of the Bucharest Courtyard by Marriott, set to open in 2014, looks like something Frank Lloyd Wright might have designed.


FBI Warns of Traveler Computer Security Risks

This article details an FBI warning in security risks and mitigations for overseas travelers, especially when using WiFi. In reality, you could encounter these risks in the U.S. as well, so it’s worth taking precautions like those called out in the article.


Consumer Reports on the Best Cheap Hotels, Hotwire

This article summarizes Consumer Reports’ reporting on the best cheap hotels. For the best moderate price experiences stay at Wingate by Wyndham, Drury Inn & Suites, or Hampton Inn & Suites. For rock bottom budgets, Microtel by Wyndham, Red Roof Inn, and Super 8 (again owned by Wyndham) are the recommended choices. The article also mentions chains to avoid.

There’s a very interesting bit at the end of the article on how to make the cheapest bookings. Consumer Reports tried every means at their disposal, but were unable to beat Hotwire’s price of $133 for a high-end Chicago hotel. The closest they could come was $230! If you happen to have a subscription to Consumer Reports Online, the original article is here. Otherwise, you can read a summary at this site:

Cheapest Destinations Blog

Frequent Flyers not So Elite Anymore

The New York Times reports that the rewards are diminishing for once-elite frequent flyers.

New York Times Travel

Joel visits Bali, gets Groomed by Monkey

Our peripatetic friend Joel Oleson reports on his trip to Bali in this blog post and includes videos of a monkey grooming Joel and a fire dance. I’ll be happy if I make it to a 10th of the places Joel has been in my lifetime.

Traveling Epic



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