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Online Travel Still Ripe For Entrepreneurs

I recently received an email from travel entrepreneur, Gregg Brockway, who recently left his Trip-It group that was acquired by Concur.  Concur purchased Trip-It for $120M in 2011.  Gregg and I crossed paths while we were at Expedia.  Gregg was running the HotWire group that was acquired by Expedia.  Gregg continually builds great businesses and delivers results for his employees and investors.  What I find is interesting is that Gregg continually innovates in the online travel category. 

Why?  Its simple – travel and hospitality is a $3 trillion/year market that is still largely offline today.  There is still an incredible amount of innovation in the space which is why I recently joined the Board of Yapta.  Yapta is pivoting hard into the corporate travel space where I spent 4+ years of my career at Expedia. 

If I were an entrepreneur now, travel is one of the places where I would look to innovate and shrink an already existing marketplace.  Some of the things that would be:

1.  Better rates through virtual corporations – aggregate small-and-mid sized business volume and create virtual sources of buying power.  Today, much of the buying and selling of travel is still largely controlled by travel management companies and inefficient channels between travel suppliers and buying entities.  For instance, when I was at Expedia, a large % of the bookings were from non-managed business travel (either employees booking outside their corporate travel programs or from small businesses that don’t have formal travel programs).  You could innovate around building out deals for any sized organization – think of this as negotiated rates opened up to companies that cannot get them. Many suppliers would not want to do this since they make the most yield from business travelers – but, when approached logically, could provide great demand to suppliers when they need it.   In fact, why not become a true marketplace in corporate travel where you could get in the middle between the supplier and corporation. 

2. Make things better in software – the traditional travel management company’s make money by charging fees.  Fees for what is a called, a “touch.”  Meaning if you need to re-book a flight or really call for any reason, then you are charged a fee.   There is still a lot to do to make travel touch less – making features for leisure or business travelers in the software versus the agent can create a wonderful experience.  There are hard costs in executing on this due to the cost for booking thru the geographical distribution systems (GDSes) but with smart entrepreneurs, anything is possible.  Thinking thru features to delight any kind of traveler from waitlisting, seat upgrades, pre-notification alerts, etc.  I think about how awesome the new brand of services are on smartphones like Uber and I have to think there is a lot to do here.

3.  Launch a better TripAdvisor – I love the business, the CEO, and the service.  But, isn't there room for another view of this consumer-driven guide for travelers.  Personally, when I plan a trip to another country I would like to know who of my friends was there so that they can give me advice on what to see, where to stay, etc.  Integrating with Facebook extremely well and in a way that is one-button simple (think about Path for travelers) would be hugely compelling.  People usually like to talk about their travel experiences so I don't think they would have a problem to enable the app to see where they have been.  Heck, Comcore recently posted that travel sites are up 10% to nearly 70M uniques lead by TripAdvisor.  I think its a great time to disintermediate TripAdvisor.

Have fun and innovate.


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