Hipmunk launched two weeks ago, but it was only the other day that I got a chance to take a look at the site.
In fact, I had been so busy the only way I knew about Hipmunk was when two different people both told me I should try it out. Since then I've seen a huge number of mentions, so whoever is running their PR probably deserves a medal.
Plenty of others have written on the benefits of the website itself, so I'd prefer to instead follow the PR angle a little - there is no doubt the world of public relations is changing, and I'm not the only non-PR person trying to claim some insight into a field in which I have never worked.
When I look at some travel tech startups, I think of companies like TripIt and Hipmunk that really seem to have tapped into the non-travel industry Silicon Valley-types as a launch pad for building hype both within and outside of the travel sector. Nadav Gur of Worldmate made a similar point in reference to Tripit back in January 2010.
Anyway, the first press mentions I can find for Hipmunk were on August 17 in Venture Beat, TechCrunch and Lifehacker. A day later Hipmunk was given a TLabs Showcase on Tnooz, and then other travel sites picked up the story.
A few days later Read Write Web gave Hipmunk a good review as well - being covered so extensively by the non-travel press is rare for a travel startup, but it really helped Hipmunk get the message out to thought leaders in non-travel technology and the more general field of website innovation pundits; indeed, it is these people who then spread the message virally to other influencers and their followers.
After the influencers and their followers, you then had various people coming and telling me I have to try out this new site.
In the case of Hipmunk, by this stage the hype genie was well and truly out of the bottle and it seemed like I must have been living under a rock for a few days, having not already heard of it.
I can't help but think that Hipmunk is really a very similar type of user experience to Wotflight, and a somewhat similar business model to Wotflight as well; except that Wotflight was first, and in many ways is actually better.
Too bad Wotflight is closer to Fortitude Valley than Silicon Valley, so the PR hype is never going to get anywhere near what Hipmunk founder Steve Huffman can generate.
I'm sure Wotflight would love to be selling $70,000 worth of tickets a day, as Hipmunk reportedly did only eight days after launch.
At the other extreme to Hipmunk on the hype-o-meter, you have a new travel inspiration start up called Wanderfly trying to generate some pre launch buzz.
PC Mag gave it a positive writeup, Tnooz also got in with a TLabs Showcase, and I too had been given special access to the site prior to launch.
I first asked a non-travel industry type to review it, but got back the response after a few searches, that it wouldn't stop them using TripAdvisor as a preference.
At this point I decided to take a look for myself. They are really pushing their integration with Foursquare, Facebook, Yelp and the like, but spending a bit of time on the site really got me thinking about how difficult it is to get travel inspiration right.
Social integration is one of the keys, but given that the future of travel search and travel inspiration are morphing into the one stream, I can't help thinking that to really generate some buzz in this space (and then the subsequent traction with repeat users) some serious filtering from a large cache done within the user interface layer combined with a totally fresh approach to user experience is required.
And, of course, be hooked into the Silicon Valley personal networks. A big ask I know, and hence why the opportunity is still wide open on this.
Qantas launched an inspiration tool called Trip Finder over six months ago, but I haven't seen too much mention of it in the press other than a few early stories.
The user interface contains some nice filters in an effort to help guide and then sell to undecided leisure travelers but once again, unlike Hipmunk, the PR machine will have a hard time getting out of first gear being so far from Silicon Valley.
Maybe the next best alternative is to substitute Silicon Valley for a day at the Hunter Valley, an excellent wine region less than two hours from Sydney!