Yes, I am a travel addict.
There are a million cool things to do in New York City. Tons of great restaurants to dine out at, lots of places ‘you just have to see’, shows to watch, stores to shop at….and on and on the list goes. Without question, “travel” was something that stands out as a theme of 2010 for me personally. My last trip of the year was to New York City to watch the ball drop on New Year’s Eve. Looking back on it (and since I love studying how technology can make life easier), I started thinking: I really wish there was a site that had specific daily itineraries to choose from for cities.
My friends and I were in Times Square for 3 full days. It was my best friend Stephjee from the Washington Semester Program, her twin sister Pauline from Holland, and me. Of course, we had a lot of decision making to do. There are so many options that we spent a lot of time just wondering what to do on New Year’s weekend. In general, we wanted to visit the must-see sights of Manhattan, go shopping, go to dinner, and have fun.
There was no easy way to plan this. In my research, I’ve only come across sites that listed scores and scores of tips or really long lists of great places to eat, for example. We decided to go shopping up and down 5th Avenue on Saturday, do some sight-seeing on Sunday, and use Yelp to find good restaurants for dinner. While I’d like to think of myself as a somewhat savvy early adopter of new technologies, I could not find the perfect site that made planning out a single day easy. Frankly, I was craving a site that recommended decisions for me. Think of marrying Hunch‘s personalized recommendation technology with Dopplr‘s extensive knowledge of cool things to do in cities around the world.
As I see it, the problem at large is that there are a bunch of long laundry lists of great things to do, great restaurants for dinner, etc. But they are mostly unorganized and too lengthy to sift through. To continue with NYC as an example, I couldn’t find any ‘pre-selected day itineraries’ that logically plan out a step-by-step agenda to assemble the killer weekend in Manhattan.
CURRENT STATE OF THE PROBLEM
So, I started to deepen my research. There are some services that attempt to solve parts of this problem. You can try to leverage the recommendations that are available on Foursquare, Yelp, various blogs, etc. You could start with a Google search for “top 10 things to do in NYC” and then make your own agenda for a few days in Manhattan.
If you’re looking for something more specific to put on your agenda – for example, the highest rated clubs in NYC – you can do a Yelp search for “clubs” near “Manhattan” and then filter based on such factors as distance, price, if the club has a coat check, etc. Once you’ve arrived at a physical location, you can also check-in and read the Foursquare tips for that location (assuming that there are in fact tips…not all locations have some).
CLOSE…BUT NO CIGAR
Recently, a company called Nextstop tried to tackle this problem with a more complete solution. They came pretty close. In this post, TechCrunch pitched Nextstop as a service that “mixes social recommendations with search and adds a reputation system and elements of gameplay.” Nextstop started with the goal “to make it dramatically easier to discover great things to do anywhere in the world” before getting acquired by Facebook for a cool US $2.5 Million in cash. However, the site was shut down this past September and is no longer available.
So, what other travel planning sites are trying to solve at least part of this problem? Well, there’s the huge site Lonely Planet that I like to think of as the ‘classic veteran’ in the space. But for NYC alone, they have a list of 124 sights you need to see, 135 restaurant options, and 150 choices for entertainment. It is hardly what I would call an ‘automatic agenda creator’. And with so many options, it certainly does not make deciding on a day plan any easier. I also found a blog called “Travel Plan Idea” that has a sizable list of cool plans they’ve assembled from over the years.
But using either of these sites requires a bit of tinkering on the site, and there are just so many choices. So, how would I fix this problem?
THE SOLUTION I WISH FOR
To continue with the NYC example, I thought of something like a recommendation engine for a day in Manhattan. In my dream world, I would be able to visit this site, filter by city, type in a starting address, and then choose from a set of maybe 5-7 of the highest rated “day plans” for what to do on a day-to-day basis in the city.
The kicker would be if ‘well known’ people or ‘city experts’ posted their “perfect day/weekend in Manhatten”. Imagine being able to see what Foursquare’s Co-Founder/CEO Dennis Crowley’s perfect 3 days in NYC would be. Since Dennis is an expert on the nooks and crannies of what I consider to be the greatest city on earth, his ‘ideal weekend’ would be something I’d love to replicate for myself and a few friends the next time we go to NYC. From where to eat breakfast to recommending that last post-clubbing-meal after going out, being able to see every detail of the day planned out would make the trip that much easier to organize.
Right now, Dennis has 4 pages of “tips” on his Foursquare profile. That means he’s written over 50 tips for different places he’s checked in at. But they aren’t organized into an easy-to-consume list, and they certainly don’t make the process of choosing between an abundance of options for what to do in NYC any easier. As for other Foursquare users, although Twitter’s creator and Co-Founder Jack Dorsey (who told Kevin Rose recently in an interview that he is addicted to understanding cities) is an expert on cities like San Francisco, he has only 15 tips for places he’s checked in at.
GETTING IT SET UP
So, how would the ultimate travel site be set up? Would it be best to crowdsource this? Instead of one company focusing on filtering through all the great things different cities offer and creating specific day plans, could uber users just create their perfect trip and classify it under different categories of trips (with the best/most popular itineraries getting voted to the top)? One such category might be “the perfect weekend for a shopper-centric-tourist”.
What would using the site feel like? Would you be able to choose between type of trip (e.g. walking-oriented, museum-heavy, great food, etc.), or something different? Would you be able to answer a list of questions and then have the perfect weekend trip automatically assembled and then recommended for you?
In a couple days, I will profile 5 startups in the ‘social travel space’ that are working on solutions to parts of this problem. I hope you will check it out and tell me which one you prefer to use, and why!
I have to leave on this note: New Year’s Eve was something like my 10th time in NYC, and I still would find a site like this very useful. So, any recommendations? If a site exists that you think solves this problem, please share it in the comments!