Mini-Review • Hotels & OTAs: Better Together • Travel Health Benefits? • 134 Travel Briefs • Travel Aspirations

Peek is an attractive easy to use travel activity booking site.

Peek is an attractive well-designed travel activity booking site.

Mini Review: Peek Destination Activity Booking Site

Peek, a destination activities guide and booking site which launched late last year, is backed by Google chairman Eric Schmidt and Twitter and Square co-founder Jack Dorsey. Schmidt and Dorsey know a good thing when they see it. There are other sites and apps that do destination activity search and booking, from startups and established players. However, Peek stands out in a number of ways:

  • Core focus on activities. I’ve found that other sites that mix accommodations and activities tend to shortchange the activity side of things and complicate the user experience.
  • Attractive user experience design and content. Peek looks good, with a nice layout and plenty of scenic photos. Its helpful maps make it easy to plan an efficient itinerary based on activity locations. Peek has included helpful destination “travel guide” text summaries as well. I was pleased to see that Peek includes an attribution page crediting the photographers whose images are used on the site.
  • Good stability. Unlike another startup travel guide and booking site that I tried recently, I didn’t find any bugs or experience any “hung” queries while trying out Peek.
  • Peek includes “Perfect Days” curated destination itineraries from knowledgeable travelers and celebrities.
  • Rather than sending users to a third party site for bookings, Peek has included its own booking path, ensuring a seamless user experience.
  • Unlike competitor Desti, which I also admire, Peek has gone web first and designed a site that works well on computers as well as mobile browsers. I believe the bigger web user base will help Peek gain adoption faster and avoid the clutter of current app stores (some estimates say that up to 60% of apps in the Apple App Store have never been downloaded).
  • Peek is initially focusing on selected California and Hawaii destinations. By limiting their initial scope, they have been able to sign agreements with a good selection of quality destination activity vendors.

In summary, Peek has done a number of things right, especially starting with a razor-sharp focus. A startup’s success is often determined what it decides not to do. For example, it would have been relatively simple for Peek to support room bookings by taking advantage of readily available public APIs, but by focusing on one core experience, the Peek team has built a superior site.

Several major publications covered Peek’s launch, including Wired and Forbes.

Hotels and OTAs: Better Together

Reading many hotel industry critiques of Online Travel Agencies, you would think that OTAs are nothing but bad for hotels. A recent article in Lodging Magazine is more nuanced. It reiterates hotels’ issues with high OTA commissions, but acknowledges that OTAs provide benefits as well. The article also raises a point that is less often discussed in the hospitality trade press: hotel franchisors (e.g. Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott) charge hotel operators reservation and marketing fees for all bookings, even when the booking comes through an OTA. In that case, the OTA and not the franchisor has provided the sales referral, but the franchisee operator still pays the franchisor.

I’ll expand on the article with an economic thought experiment: in attempting to strengthen brand equity and booking volume, the franchisor can end up competing with OTAs for online ad buys, driving up the price of the ads for both parties. In this case, the online ad company, (most often Google) realizes greater revenues and the increased costs are shared by OTA, franchisor and operator. In many cases, the operator is the least powerful party in the relationships and will end up bearing more of the costs. If my hypothesis is correct, OTAs and franchisors should be able to reduce these excess ad costs through collaboration. Perhaps it’s time for hoteliers and OTAs to find ways for more cooperation. Indeed, the remainder of the article calls for just that.

Returning to the article, there are some other points worth reviewing:

  1. Hotels would prefer 100 percent of bookings to come through their own channels but that is unrealistic. OTAs can help fill in gaps so that hotels capture as much business as possible.
  2. Given (1), hotels should work to maintain positive relationships with OTAs.
  3. An improved economy, better hotel brand websites, and increased competition for OTAs (e.g., Google) give hotels increased leverage to forge long-term mutually beneficial relationships with OTAs. Benefits to one partner in the hotel-OTA relationship can also benefit the other.
  4. The article revisits industry reactions to the Expedia Traveler Preference (ETP) pay-at-checkout program and reports how Expedia is clarifying and fine-tuning the program after some initially negative hotelier reactions. The article recounts that a number of chains and independents, including Marriott and La Quinta have signed on to ETP.
  5. Branded hotel operators face franchisor sanctions if they allow OTA-driven discounts. Independent hotels lack such sanctions and make up a large enough portion of the market to drive down overall pricing.

Sidenote: there is no doubt that OTAs place pricing pressure on the market but hoteliers should consider why that is so. Before OTAs, it was difficult and costly for consumers to get comparative hotel price information. In such an imperfect market, hotels could charge excessive economic rents. Now that such information is freely and immediately available to consumers, hotels have to sell their product at a price closer to the cost of providing it. OTAs are merely a symptom of the hotelier’s pricing complaints; the real cause is the availability of database and network technologies to compile and disseminate information at a very low cost. Even if every OTA disappeared tomorrow, hotels would not be able to return to pre-internet pricing structures. Some hotels are adopting airline-like price obfuscation strategies in an attempt to maintain or rebuild margins. However, I don’t believe hotels or airlines will be able to obfuscate prices in the long term. They can repackage their products in ways that generate more revenue (e.g., through resort charges and baggage fees) but pricing data has a lot less friction in the internet age and the Expedias and Googles of this new age will eventually develop ways to compile and disseminate it.

  1. The article points out that the flow of information between OTAs and hotels goes both ways. Using their rich data warehouses and analytics (aka “big data”) OTAs can quickly inform hotels of market changes such as special-event-driven increases in demand. In such a circumstance, hotels can adjust rates upward without fear of pricing themselves out of the market. Because of the information that OTAs can provide, many hotel managers are actually fans of OTAs.

Read the full article at

Lodging Magazine

Related article: “The new reality in hotel revenue management – a check-list for 2013.” Hotels need to register themselves in Google Hotel Finder, monitor and manage OTA relationships, manage mobile, protect their brands and reputation, diversify distribution, grow direct sales and do strategic planning. [Snarky editorial comment: professionally managed hotels that follow these steps won’t need to demonize OTAs as an excuse for why they are struggling for profitability]


The Health Benefits of Leisure Travel?

Two articles report on a study that claims significant health benefits for people who engage in leisure travel. I believe the premise, but honestly, the sample size used in the study is way too small for the results to be generalized to the entire population. Furthermore, the experimental design lacks control. At best the results should be treated as anecdotal. The results do suggest the bases for larger better controlled studies. Travel news sites should be more critical of this type of “news” release.

  1. Travel ‘helps us live longer’.
  2. Vacations help you live longer, have better sex study says. Skift

Travel Briefs

Internet Travel Industry

  1. The independent travel site BootsNAll has just beta’d the holy grail of backpacker travel planning…a “’Round the World” flight planning app. This is the ONLY online flight planner that allows you make more than 3 destination stops without a travel agent’s help!
    More on the BootsNAll app. Cheapest Destinations Blog
  2. Five travel APIs to beef up website user experience: great article from a startup founder on public APIs that were valuable in developing a new travel app. Includes a couple of my favorites: Rome2Rio and Evature semantic search. Tnooz
  3. Rome2rio grants free access to its API to bring multi-modal, visual search to travel sites everywhere. The Next Web. The story was also covered by Skift.
  4. The Full Travel Store: The case for door to door travel planning applications. Tnooz
  5. Mashing up airport codes for a clever Expedia UK ad campaign [IMAGES]. Tnooz
  6. Find Yours: Beyond selling vacations, Expedia pushes emotional connection to travel. Tnooz
  7. Expedia is worried about the 21 class-action lawsuits it’s facing. Skift
  8. Expedia posts record room-night growth but may owe Hawaii $170 million. Skift
  9. Google’s Rivals Say F.T.C. Antitrust Ruling Missed the Point. New York Times
  10. Google Flight Search updates for search by regions, not just airports. Skift
  11. With its wide range of products including Google+ Local, Maps, YouTube, Hangouts, Wallet and more, Google is positioning itself as the ultimate small business tool. Tnooz
  12. Google updates Hotel Finder with date, neighborhood, and brand search. Tnooz
  13. Google and Frommers, six months on – never about brand or books, just look at the bigger picture. Tnooz
  14. Google Maps gets Grand Canyon trails. Skift
  15. Say goodbye to flapping trail maps as Google hits the slopes. NBCNews
  16. You know how Google runs its own bus fleet? Now there’s talk of their having their own Airport Terminal. Jaunted
  17. Facebook Graph Search implications for travel. Tnooz
  18. Facebook Interview: Hotels will be added to Graph Search. Skift
  19. Facebook: 9 fresh examples of how travel marketers can unlock success. Tnooz
  20. A deep dive into data to show how travel brands win or lose when using Facebook. Tnooz
  21. Facebook: Travel is behind other sectors with social marketing, but some brands have nailed it. Tnooz
  22. Superfly’s guerilla marketing on Facebook is luring travelers to its flight search. Tnooz
  23. Apple iTravel: So what happened to that? Tnooz
  24. App Store numbers are not for the faint hearted but one travel company is getting it right. This article repeats an incredible-if-true suggestion that more than 60% of the apps in the Apple App Store have never been downloaded—kind of diminishes the hype over the insurmountable app lead of iOS and Android over alternative mobile platforms. Tnooz
  25. Travel startups: Stop trying to be sexy (there are better paths to profitability than trying to build the next Airbnb—although as commentators note, it’s harder to get some VCs to pay attention to them). Tnooz
  26. Travel startups: ditch the consumer traction and focus on data. Tnooz
  27. Five early-stage travel startups tackle trip planning. Skift
  28. Managing travel itineraries: Easier said then done even with digital tools. Nice comparative review of travel management apps TripIt, WorldMate and Trip Case. Tnooz
  29. TripAdvisor tests hotel metasearch service – now the fun really begins. Tnooz
  30. TripAdvisor launches system for hotels faced with blackmail from guests. Tnooz
  31. App Now Available In Windows Phone Store. WMPoweruser
  32. Centzy, A “Kayak For Local Services,” Expands To Top 10 U.S. Metro Areas. TechCrunch
  33. Top travel sites and apps. NBCNews
  34. Desktop versus mobile behavior in travel search [INFOGRAPHIC]. Tnooz
  35. App in the Air wants to remove airport stress through status alerts and passenger chat. Tnooz
  36. Travel industry should go back to its innovative digital roots, act like Amazon and Apple instead. This article makes that point that travel was one of the first ecommerce applications in the 1990’s but has not matched the innovation since demonstrated by firms like Amazon, which heavily personalize the user experience. Tnooz
  37. Wikivoyage officially launches as Wikipedia promotes the free travel guide. Tnooz
  38. Rough Guides overhauls its website, bringing a fresh look to its guidebook content. Tnooz
  39. Flights With Friends enters market with three steps to solving group travel woes. Tnooz
  40. Best day to post on Facebook fan pages – and other helpful tips for travel brands [INFOGRAPHIC]. Tnooz
  41. Check this: The world according to Foursquare [INTERACTIVE]. Tnooz
  42. Meta search rules: SeatGuru relaunches with flight planning tools, revamped look. Tnooz
  43. No more missed connections: Banjo aggregates and sorts location-based information. Tnooz
  44. Pinterest may be worth $2 billion, but travel brands struggle to keep pace. Tnooz
  45. Ryanair abandons Captcha online security for simpler, friendlier system. Tnooz
  46. Battle of search keywords in online travel. Hotel brands versus OTAs. Skift
  47. Uber launches new enterprise product to hook employees on the service. GigaOM
  48. Travelocity shuts down India site as operating costs rise. Skift
  49. Delta introduces Fly Delta app for iPad, iOS 6 Passbook integration. Engadget


  1. San Francisco: No. 1 city with growing hotel rates. USA TODAY
  2. Here’s a list of cities with the priciest hotel rooms in 2012. Skift
  3. Hyatt tests high-tech innovations at hotel labs. Skift
  4. Why hotels want to make sure free Internet doesn’t become a trend. Skift
  5. Economy hotels finally squeeze their way into the Big Apple. Skift
  6. Facts and Figures: Five Hotel Tips We Learned From 2012. HotelChatter
  7. Josh Flagg’s Killer View of The Taj Mahal. HotelChatter
  8. 6 of the world’s highest skyscraper hotels. CNN

Air Travel

  1. Airbus to drop lithium-ion batteries in A350. USA TODAY
  2. Geek alert – heavenly descents or top 10 airport approaches [VIDEO]. Tnooz
  3. After loyalty program changes, airlines brace for Million Miler march. Consumer Traveler
  4. Airline fees: Worth it or rip-off? Consumer Traveler
  5. “Treat us like dogs,” coach passengers beg. Consumer Traveler
  6. Is Delta’s New $$ Based Status Plan a War on Corporate Travel Budgets? Consumer Traveler
  7. Master of the Sky: If airlines worked like health care. Consumer Traveler
  8. Warning! Soon, airline loyalty will cost you. Consumer Traveler
  9. Southwest Airlines offers double-points promotions. USA TODAY
  10. Onboard Concorde: What It Was Like to Fly Mach 2 Over the Atlantic Ocean. Jaunted
  11. Fatal crashes a rarity as airline safety enters new era of caution. The Seattle Times
  12. Decoding the Airlines’ proposed New Distribution Capability initiative: implications for GDSs, Travel Agents and OTAs. Tnooz
  13. Airports, airlines and the passenger experience in 2015 [INFOGRAPHIC]. Tnooz
  14. American Airlines and US Airways merger LiveBlog. Skift
  15. Airline industry keeps FAA from enforcing pilot laws. Skift
  16. Booking flights too early can be expensive. Skift
  17. Boeing warns airlines that Dreamliner deliveries will be delayed. Skift
  18. How airlines and airports prepare for big storms. Skift
  19. Elon Musk to Boeing: Don’t squeeze the battery so hard. Skift
  20. Airports get even more local with food trucks in pick-up parking lots. Skift
  21. U.S. low-cost carriers added jobs last fall while other airlines let people go. Skift
  22. Behind the fee hikes that led to windfall profits for most U.S. airlines in 2012. Skift
  23. Private jets of the rich and famous. CNN

General Travel Industry

  1. Carnival Ship Triumph’s Passengers Departed, It Heads Toward Inspection. New York Times
  2. Spending on business travel predicted to rise. USA TODAY
  3. Referring to a new report from the US Travel Association, Bill Marriot encourages job seekers to “Fast Forward” to a great career in travel. Marriott on the Move
  4. Business Infographic: The Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of travel technology. Tnooz
  5. Delta, Starwood offer reciprocal elite benefits. USA TODAY
  6. 1.035 billion tourists traveled globally in 2012. Skift

Consumer Travel News, Advice and Deals

  1. [Denise]: When I travel, no matter how long, I only pack one bag. Here’s some tips on how to create over 20 outfits from just five garments.
  2. If you’re going to backpack and travel light, here are items to pack that you might not think are necessary. Trust me, they are!
  3. …and 10 things you should never pack or wear abroad.
  4. How business travelers can dump their laptops for an iPad. Consumer Traveler
  5. At Disney Parks, a Bracelet Meant to Build Loyalty (and Sales). New York Times
  6. Drivers With Hands Full Get a Backup – The Car. New York Times
  7. How to avoid germ-ridden travel hazards. NBCNews
  8. To Get Those Cheap Travel Prices, Skip the Big Tour Companies. Cheapest Destinations Blog
  9. The Best Backpacks for Long-term Travelers. Great article: I followed its advice to find a good quality carry-on-size backpack for my upcoming trip to Yangshuo China. Cheapest Destinations Blog
  10. A Record Low $30-A-Day for a Repositioning Cruise to Lisbon. Frommer’s
  11. From $34-A-Day Repositioning Cruises to Europe are THE Spring Bargain. Frommer’s
  12. Business travelers turn to taxis due to car rentals’ rising prices. Skift
  13. Visa requirements are the least restrictive they’ve been in years. Skift
  14. Ten travel industry execs pick their favorite travel gear for 2013. Skift
  15. Some of the weirdest international laws from favorite travel destinations.
  16. Ever been harrassed by vendors and touts while on a faraway destination? Here are some amusing ways to discourage them.

Destinations and Experiences

  1. Street pianist Dotan Negrin hauls his 450 pound upright around the USA. If I ever run into him, I’ll be sure to make a generous contribution to his tip jar! Matador Network
  2. This is really quite marvelous: Full Moon Silhouettes [Video]. Vimeo
  3. Amazing videos of the recent Russian meteor strike. The Guardian
  4. If you’re getting your drink on, these are the booziest destinations on earth. (Denise’s note: they forgot Reykjavik, Iceland!)
  5. There’s a new reason to go to Thailand…and it’s elephant dung coffee! Mmmm.
  6. If that little voice inside you says to travel, listen to it.
  7. LED-covered snowboarder lights up the French Alps – video. The Guardian
  8. 10 crazy things you never knew about Walt Disney World. NBCNews
  9. Now’s the Time to Visit the US’ Newest National Park, ‘Pinnacles’. Jaunted
  10. What are the most expensive cities to live in? CNN
  11. To go or not to go: 2013. Fox Travel News
  12. Top 10 romantic destinations worldwide. Fox Travel News
  13. Digital Globes, a New Way to View the World. New York Times
  14. 8 Hot Destinations for Bicycle Travel in 2013. Travel News Notes
  15. Are you ever too old to stay in a hostel? – Lonely Planet blog. Lonely Planet
  16. This mom, dad and 10 year old twin sons took a 3 year bicycle trip from northern Alaska to southern Argentina. Family on Bikes
  17. Travel gives you space to think. Matador Network
  18. What NOT to do in travel. Matador Network
  19. Tools you need to become a nomadic freelancer. Matador Network
  20. Heli-skiing with CMH Gothics during a monster BC winter. Matador Network
  21. Where do you want to go before you die? Matador Network
  22. 50 places you can’t reach without climbing [pics]. Matador Network
  23. Paul Theroux’s Travel Wish List. New York Times Travel
  24. 12 best kid-friendly destinations. Fox Travel News
  25. The 20 Loneliest Outposts At the End of the World. Gizmodo
  26. Finding Peace, Relaxing in Laos. Traveling Epic
  27. Buying Foreign Currency: Get More Bang for Your Buck » Have Tips, Will Travel.
  28. World’s most searched-for travel destinations in 2012. Tnooz
  29. American’s death in Turkey puts focus on solo travel. USA TODAY
  30. Myanmar to get its first Best Western hotels this year. Skift
  31. World’s least restrictive destinations are mostly remote. Skift
  32. A day in the life of New York’s Grand Central Terminal. Skift


Travel Aspirations: Alaska’s Kugrak River Valley

Kugrak River Valley (Courtesy of Google Maps)

Kugrak River Valley. Courtesy of Google Maps
View Larger Map

“Objectively speaking, the Kugrak warrants no more attention than any of the hundreds of glacially carved valleys that surround it. And yet, for me, it does.”

See 11 beautiful snapshots of this remote Alaskan valley, featuring bears and flowering tundra plants here:

Matador Network


Thanks to TCTReview collaborator Denise Jones for her help in curating links for this post.

One thought on “ Mini-Review • Hotels & OTAs: Better Together • Travel Health Benefits? • 134 Travel Briefs • Travel Aspirations

  1. Pingback: 2013-12-06 TravelTech News Analysis and Review | TravelTekker

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