Priceline to Acquire Kayak • Semantic Search • Expedia Destination Experiences • North Korean Super Hotel • Traverie

At 330 meters, the Ryugyong would have been the World’s tallest hotel had North Korea completed it in 1989 as planned. After decades of delay it is set to open in 2013. See the story below.
Photo Credit: Joseph Ferris III


Priceline to Acquire Kayak • Semantic Search • Expedia Destination Experiences • North Korean Super Hotel • Traverie • Allegiant Air • Travel Briefs • Travel Aspirations

Priceline to Acquire Kayak for $1.8 Billion

In an unexpected move that set the online travel industry buzzing, Kayak has agreed to be acquired by Priceline. This is doubtless one of the biggest travel industry stories this year and it has already gotten a lot of press. Here are some key articles:

  1. Condé Nast Traveler has insightful analyses from three different experts: Condé Nast Traveler
  2. Writing in Tnooz, Evan Konwiser says “The deal tells us that Priceline understands the fundamental value of metasearch with loyal users. It’s finally an admission from a traditionally transaction-oriented brand that search-alone is a powerful part of the value chain” Tnooz
  3. Skift has a nice chart comparing the two companies. Skift
  4. Skift’s Dennis Schaal gives us the big picture: Skift
  5. Movement of online travel stocks the day after the announcement: Skift
  6. Priceline gains technology and talent with Kayak acquisition: Travel Weekly
  7. Some background on Kayak’s founders and how they made it successful: Sequoia Capital’s Tumblr blog

Semantic Search is the Future of Online Travel

Note: My group at Expedia is working on semantic search. That’s all I have permission to share for now but we’ll release more details in the future.

Online travel industry experts have been promoting the importance of semantic search to support new, easier and more powerful ways for customer to find and book travel products. Semantic search and natural language processing allow customers to interact with a travel search and booking system as if communicating with a human agent and without having to know explicit travel details up front.

In the near future a family could begin planning their vacation on a tablet device running an Expedia application. Mom says: “We would like to go to the beach, enjoy good food and have fun activities for the kids.” The application would understand the initial natural language statement and correlate qualifiers like “beach”, “good food”, and “fun kids’ activities” with a knowledgebase of worldwide reviews and other data sources. The system will be able to engage the family in conversation and ask clarifying questions where necessary. Combining this information with transportation, lodging and activities inventory, the system will offer personalized recommendations. The end result will be a booked vacation itinerary that satisfies the family’s travel aspirations and budget.

Tnooz recently published a good post on semantic search:


Coincidentally, after I wrote the family travel search scenario above, Tnooz reported on Desti, a new iPad app that realizes the first half of my scenario, implementing a limited but very compelling slice of what I’ve described.


Here’s Desti’s promotional video:

Expedia Pushing Destination Experiences in a Big Way

Expedia is pioneering a new segment that no other major online travel agency has entered in a serious way: destination experiences such as tours, activities and local attractions. Hotels and airlines will be able to sell destination experiences using Expedia channels. Expedia is enabling the new services through a B2B channel known as Tnooz has an excellent, comprehensive article on the new initiative.


330 Meter North Korean Hotel Set to Open in 2013

North Korea planned to complete the world’s tallest hotel, the Ryugyong, in 1989. The building topped out as North Korea’s tallest but construction fell behind schedule and was halted in the post-soviet economic crisis of 1992. No further activity took place from 1992 until 2008 when construction resumed. Completion is now planned for 2013 but based on current rankings the finished edifice will likely only rank as the world’s fourth tallest hotel at that time. Only a few thousand western tourists per year visit North Korea so the hotel will likely be dependent on the patronage of the 60-70,000 Chinese tourists visit per year.

HotelChatter has a nice photo from another angle and some additional details.


Startup Spotlight: Traverie

Traverie’s Facebook Map View

Sean O’Neill at Tnooz wrote a nice article on startup, a travel aspiration app that compiles destinations from your Facebook friends and presents them on a map and in photo albums to enable you to build a travel log/bucket list. I tried it out and immediately found that some friends had been to interesting places I wasn’t aware of. Their map view could use some design refinement with special attention to the colors—I actually manipulated the screenshot above to make details stand out better. It’s worth trying out though—you’ll learn more about your friends and likely discover some places you would like to travel to.


How to Run a Profitable Niche Airline

Allegiant Air has turned a profit for 39 consecutive quarters by doing things very differently from the average airline. Of course, a large comprehensive airline could not follow this model. Here are some of the ways they do it:

“Fly direct from smaller cities with limited air service to popular vacation destinations. Cut costs to the bone and offer customers an a la carte selection of services for a fee…

If demand is strong, add flights. If a particular route, or city, doesn’t produce the passengers you were expecting, ax them.”


Travel Briefs: Industry

  1. It appears that it’s usually cheaper for customers to use Expedia’s new Traveler Preference program to pay at the hotel than to pay online at time of booking. Skift
  2. Priceline doing well but feeling pressure from Expedia, margins and hotel mix. Skift
  3. TripAdvisor not quite sure of the effectiveness of its Facebook marketing efforts. Skift
  4. Orbitz continues to struggle on weaknesses in North America and Europe. Skift
  5. Brand USA, a US public-private travel promotion corporation established by an act of Congress, is partnering with Orbitz on advertising support and an ebookers iPad app. Brand USA partners with many US firms; for example, earlier this year it partnered with Expedia Media Solutions.
  6. The U.S. travel industry is forecast to add nearly 100,000 jobs by the end of 2013. U.S. Travel Association
  7. In the wake of Google changes, travel companies’ Search Engine Optimization tactics have necessarily changed from gaming the algorithms to producing high quality original content. Hospitality Net
  8. Google Flight Search one year on – rivals can sleep safely in their beds at night. Tnooz
  9. Having learned from earlier disastrous experiences, U.S. airlines and airports generally did a good job of disaster management during superstorm Sandy. Associated Press: The Big Story
  10. Airlines’ improved communications during superstorm Sandy resulted in lessened customer unhappiness in the face of massive flight cancellations. CNN Money
  11. Airlines have already adopted most obvious ancillary charges and new payment options have made it easier to sell them. What will they charge for next? Los Angeles Times
  12. Infographic: European baggage fees—it can be cheaper to pay for a ticket for a friend to accompany you and carry your extra bag on Ryanair than to pay the extra baggage fee of up to €135. Skift
  13. Three U.S. air carriers, Delta, American and United, have now announced plans for lie-flat seats on domestic flights. Business Travel News
  14. Video: Alaska Airline’s Boeing 737 Special Liveries at LAX. Airline Reporter
  15. Flying on United Airline’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner Inaugural Flight. Airline Reporter
  16. Security: Washington Post Discovers Decade-Old TSA Loophole, Freaks Out. Jaunted
  17. Airlines’ legroom and seat width ranked. Business Traveller
  18. Some passengers are attempting (and often succeeding) to get around baggage fees by taking oversize bags to the gate in the hopes that gate agents will check them for free. Los Angeles Times
  19. In a surprisingly common tactic, Hotels use custom designed scents to build their brands. Skift
  20. Hotel operators cheer and business travelers jeer rising lodging rates. New York Times
  21. Will airlines step up and provide a better hotel booking experience? Tnooz
  22. Five of the World’s Greatest Hotel Gyms: awesome views, great equipment. HotelChatter
  23. Morgue Hotel Opening In Tasmania. HotelChatter

Travel Briefs: Experiences

  1. Beautiful time lapse video with starry skies over the Swiss Alps:
  2. New Zealand Hobbit-related promotions continue with the installation of a giant 13 meter Gollum-eating-fish sculpture at Wellington Airport. (Short article + slideshow)
  3. Spot the Northern Lights in Finland. Jaunted
  4. Luggage: Which Would You Rather: the $4,660 Givenchy or the $1,340 Rimowa? Jaunted
  5. Three Major James Bond ‘Skyfall’ Locations Anyone Can Visit. Jaunted
  6. A sudden change of tide: The people who quit their day jobs to sail the world. CNN
  7. Life of a superyacht chef: Dream job or nautical nightmare? CNN
  8. 10 top value destinations for 2013. CNN
  9. 10 fabulous free finds in Paris. CNN
  10. Santiago stopover: Unlocking the secrets of Chile’s capital. CNN
  11. A Chocolate Tour of the Caribbean. New York Times Travel
  12. Rick Steves: The best and worst of Europe USA TODAY
  13. Ask the Captain: What do the in-flight chimes mean? USA TODAY
  14. 7 Ways To Get Kicked Off A Plane. The Huffington Post
  15. Seattle’s Living Computer Museum tempts tech tourists USA TODAY

Travel Aspirations: An Entrepreneur turned World Traveler and Travel Writer

Tech entrepreneur Andrew Hyde ditched the startup scene and set off to backpack around the world. He relates his adventures in his new book “This Book is About Travel.” An Amazon reviewer perfectly expressed why Hyde is this TCTReview edition’s travel Aspiration:

“This book makes me WANT to travel!”

Tech blog VentureBeat recently interviewed Reid, who provided several memorable quotes, a couple of which I have included here:

VB: How have you changed personally since you started traveling?

AH: I’ve developed a lot more empathy to the world; perhaps that is just growing up. There is a feeling you get when the sights, sounds, smells, and language is something completely new. You feel lost. You are lost. Identifying who you are in such a situation is something I think everyone should experience.

VB: What do you think holds people back from seeing the world?

AH: First thing: people think they can’t do it. That is bull****. Everyone, if they made it a goal, can get on the road. Travel is not for the elite; travel is for those that have intention. It costs money, but if you really want to do it, you would be amazed with how far your money goes. Time is the biggest cost. To borrow from the book:

Travel is deeply personal. I can’t stress this enough. Your experience, by design, will be drastically different than mine or anyone else’s. Your lessons, activities, destinations, insights and goals will have their own unique color and flavor. When the cost and logistics of travel get out of the way it makes space for even more incredible, personal experiences.

Read the full interview at VentureBeat:


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