Kayak, the meta-search travel site, have joined the trend for opening up and setting your data free by launching Kayak Trends. Trends allows you to mine through data on what’s actually being searched for on Kayak. You can view the most popular flight destinations (to or from any airport in the world) and the most searched hotels in popular destinations. The data is available on a daily, weekly,  monthly or yearly basis and I think it’s really powerful data. Why is it powerful? Because it is a clear indication of consumer trends in travel, what are people looking for right now and how do those trends change across the year. That’s got to have some uses to other people than Kayak and their website visitors.

Travel sites have a huge amount of data on search trends and consumer preferences run through their booking paths and search forms. I can’t think of anyone else who has opened this up in the online travel world. Plenty of other travel companies have merchandising lists of their top destinations etc but they are based on their sales priorities as well as popularity so quite different to this almost realtime user data (if of course it is true data and not tainted). I know of online travel firms who feed this kind of data back into their web apps but not any who give it away in this manner.

So some powerful consumer intent data, I can think of a number of ways you could use this. This is great data for anyone (competitors, affiliates) who want to know what to target destination or hotel wise. Focus on these destinations, if they’re being searched for on Kayak users want product associated with them. Put them on your websites, marketing assets and in your ECRM shots. People must surely be looking at how they can monitor or scrape this data to inform their merchandising decisions, PPC/SEO campaigns (Bid more on the destinations and hotels that are hot on Kayak. Can you assume they will be searched for more on Google when they’re in the Kayak Trends? Long tail flight terms anyone?). You could use it to inform the biasing of your search results, or even to help you highlight areas where your inventory may be lacking.

Kayak will I’m sure have thought of all of that and probably won’t be bothered as their business model is to get as many users through the site and referred on to the agents, airlines and operators from their search results, which they do extremely well.

It’s a great move and I applaud Kayak for being so open. I hope that something positive comes from this; that other online travel sites see this data and realise the power of it, and so start to collect and utilise the data their own websites generate. Too many don’t do that (you may be surprised to hear).

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Twitter is a source of many things; great content recommendations, trends, memes, geeky chatter, friendships and mindless drivel (40% mindless drivel according to Pear Analytics). Reading this post on how best to use Twitter by Chris Brogan made me think that it could have a future in destination advice and content.

Chris says he uses Twitter before he visits a city to find out who’s there, where they go and what’s good to do. I’ve used Twitter myself for just those reasons when I visited Japan in May and more recently on a trip to Texas. The information returned is pretty good just by using Twitter search but ask a question and you get even better recommendations and content.

I’m thinking that if Twitter could be mined for all the recommendations people make for things in a certain location and a positive/negative sentiment filter be applied to it you’d actually have a pretty good service for travellers. Concierge service in 140 characters anyone? Trust would obviously be an issue but it wouldn’t surprise me (or others here and this article from Chris Brogan again is worth reading on reputation) to see Twitter launching some sort of reputation filter in the future which when combined with sentiment will open up mining of Twitter content to many more uses. Tapping Twitter in a way that delivers the nuggets of information held within in a usable format with sentiment and reputation considered is something I’ve yet to see from any ‘trend’ tool. Does such a thing exist yet?

Troogle? TravGoogle? GooTravel? Whatever you want to imagine the name may be the thought of Google jumping into the travel arena has operators and agents either salivating with the thought of the traffic and sales it could drive or quaking with fear at the thought of them owning the customer experience. Rumours keep appearing of the intentions of Google, but up till now there hasn’t been any obvious functionality leaking out of Googleplex which could support a serious move into travel. That is, until now (at least I’ve only just found it)…

There’s a new(ish) beta on Google for a Merchant search (only appears when you’re in the right place searching the right thing). This is basically a price comparison engine, currently only serving the loan market. My question is, could this power a travel price comparison engine and so switch users to this type of interface and functionality if they search for the right travel related keywords? Could Google then become an affiliate to travel companies? I’d imagine TravelSupermarket would hope not!!

Fantastic article from Richard Waters of the Financial Times here talking about the coming semantic web!

Quote: Imagine, for instance, being able to ask a computer, “Where should I go on holiday?” and receiving an answer that is as suitable as anything you could have come up with yourself. That level of computer-generated reasoning is on the horizon, says Nova Spivack, one of the entrepreneurs involved. It may still take 15 years or more to be fully realised, but between now and then lies a series of breakthroughs that will revolutionise the way we draw information from the web, he adds.

Perhaps this is where the efforts of the online travel industry should be placed, the benefits of being first to market with an intelligent holiday finder (a kind of online concierge/travel agent experience) will be huge…

On the subject of semantic web, here’s some more great reading from Ian Davis over at Nodalities.

Techcrunch has reviewed a new entrant to the online travel market called InsideTrip.

It seems aimed at the Farecast/Kayak arena of comparison and aggregator sites but with a twist which could set it apart. For once in the travel sector they aren’t purely about finding you the cheapest price for a flight, rather they are trying to find you quality.

Flights are rated on price, speed, comfort and ease. The interface flights are returned in is familiar, it has all the AJAX filter tools of Farecast et al but there’s filters for quality too.

In this day of massive GDS’s which have hundreds of airlines and so many different ways to get from point to point by air this is actually a really nice idea. Many passengers will choose a flight based on factors other than price, especially when the cheapest option could be longer, less comfortable and less convenient.

They have filters for Speed which includes number of stops, travel duration, on-time stats and security wait time. Comfort includes legroom, aircraft type, aircraft age and historical load factor. Ease means connect time, routing quality, lost bags rank and gate location. All extremely valid factors for influencing a choice of flights.

If the data behind these options is accurate and complete then I can see this catching on. If InsideTrip aren’t succesful themselves I’d expect to see these kind of search filters and options appearing on other online travel agents and aggregators pretty soon as they are just so useful to the customer.

Is it time for a new approach to the interface for these sites though?

Looks pretty familiar doesn’t it…

ComScore has released some figures on traffic growth in January for the UK. As expected travel features prominently.

January is the peak booking month for holidays in the UK and as such the number of web users researching and buying is much bigger than any other month of the year.

January’s figures show that the biggest increasing category in travel was hotels/resorts with a 54% increase in traffic from Dec-Jan. Airlines were next with 46% and online travel agents third with 43%. Quite where tour operators come in there is a bit of a mystery to me, it would be really interesting to see them broken out to compare with OTA’s.

Within travel two websites saw huge growth, First Choice grew 140% and TUI Group 122%. British Airways, Moneysupermarket Group and Priceline all feature as well with good growth.

Nothing unexpected in any of this but it does highlight the gaps in ComScores data as the market as a whole is not very well represented.

Of course it would also be intriguing to know if their booking numbers increased by similar percentages…

Good insight here into the rise of the meta search travel sites in the U.S.

I looked at some of these a while back, seems they could do with a new review which I’ll get round to soon.

Interestingly, Pricegrabber.co.uk looks like it will be up for sale soon and Mike Butcher at Techcrunch has a good piece looking into a possible shake-out that may happen to UK sites.