A genuine new frontier in travel - is the drive market poised to take off?NewsBy Viewpoints | August 22, 2013Share This article was originally published on NB: This is a viewpoint from Jim Kovarik, president and co-founder of C2G, the company behind Cost2Drive, and former-general manager of AOL Travel.Cars, cars everywhere. We go to work in them, visit family in them, act as taxi services for our kids in them.In fact, the overwhelming majority of travel in the US is by car. However, since online reservation systems catapulted air travel to the front ranks of the travel industry, the car travel segment has played second fiddle.This may be changing as new funding enters the sector and as newly published research highlights the enormous potential of the drive market.Just earlier this month, RoadTrippers, a hot Cincinnati-based travel startup that helps people plan road trips, announced a $2.5 million venture funding round on top of its $625,000 seed funding.The company also revealed eye-popping traffic data, along with claims it is now the fastest growing travel planning site in the US.The news comes hot on the heels of a new research report on the drive market published by PhoCusWright entitled Staying Local, A Study of the US Road Traveler.According to the report, nearly one quarter of all adults in the US (24%) took a road trip involving paid lodging in the past 12 months.There are some compelling reasons why travel providers may want to start paying close attention to this segment:SizeThis is an enormous market as, according to the 2013 Lodging Industry Profile published by the American Hotel & Lodging Association, car travelers make 80% of all leisure hotel bookings. This percentage represents over 600 million room nights per year, equating to $65 billion in booking revenue.MobileThe PhoCusWright study mentioned above revealed that spontaneous bookers account for one in five road travelers, and that 21% of these individuals shop for hotels on their smartphones, more than the 18% who rely on billboards or road signs.Social mediaA significant number of road travelers are passionate about driving. This passion can be tapped to trigger viral distribution in social media, an area in which RoadTrippers has been particularly effective.New direction?Given the reasons stated above it is surprising that, with the exception of AAA in North America and ViaMichelin in Europe, few travel sites are focused on serving the needs of this large audience.This white space opportunity has not escaped the notice of major online mapping services, such as MapQuest and Google Maps, both of whom have introduced new travel features on their maps in 2013.Other entrants, such as C2G and RoadTrippers, have emerged to fill the void, establishing an early foothold in the industry.At C2G, we built the Galculator in 2008 to help people budget road trip costs - a concern due to high gas prices – and have since added more trip-planning features like airfare and top hotels, restaurants and attractions.This approach has enabled us to double traffic for two consecutive years as now over 100,000 trips per month are planned on Cost2Drive.RoadTrippers has taken a different approach. Its application helps travelers discover roadside attractions and independent hotels along a route, and in general is focused very much on tourism.This company has experienced explosive growth in the past three months, growing from 200,000 unique visitors per month to over 750,000.It may therefore be that the drive market is finally ready to take flight.Is it a segment in the wider travel ecosystem that can seriously challenge the dominance of airlines? Perhaps the European marketplace (shorter distances, after all) will grow quicker than its North American counterpart?NB: This is a viewpoint from Jim Kovarik, president and co-founder of C2G, the company behind Cost2Drive, and former-general manager of AOL Travel.NB2:Road trip image via Shutterstock.