How consumers choose a destination - an untapped opportunity for travel startups?News / OnlineBy Alex Bainbridge | May 26, 2015Share This article was originally published on Web 1.0 travel services tend to start with a website homepage with the question: "Where do you want to go?"The next generation of services, primarily mobile based, tended to assume location (and time) from your current position.Not only is destination inferred, but you are already there. It is all about spontaneous travel, no need for trip planning.Regardless of recent evolution, these two service types assume the leisure traveller knows where they want to travel to in the first place.How do they make that initial decision? Why are there so few active travel startups in this phase helping the customer decide where to go?While there may not be too many startups in this phase, every travel website designer or travel ecommerce project manager has been involved in a destination choice project.These are normally called "Inspire me" or "flight route map" type tools, but destination choice is what they are about.Travel bloggers are also active in this phase, writing listicle-type articles such as "where to go in January" or such like.Frankly though, this phase needs some tech magic dust that only travel startups can bring.What could the solution look like?This destination choice phase has a lot of interesting opportunities for innovation: Social - your friends enjoyed city A, B or C, you may enjoy this city.Live social - your friends are in city A, B or C in June, do you want to join them?Vertical/prior trips - you enjoyed going skiing in A, B or C last year, how about skiing in resort D, E or F this year?Who to go with - collecting top destinations (or activities) that friends want to see/do, suggesting destination / activity ideas based on shared interests. "You should go sailing with friend A, B or C in June"Family decision making - say you have an extended family going on a trip. Each accesses the service and enters their criteria (one wants nice walks, once wants great evenings out, one wants watersports). The app will guide you through these questions, then, on behalf of the group, suggest the right destination outcome.1:1 - Live video discussion with local destination expertsPsychotherapy - as the video below explains, how about suggesting a destination based on what the traveller needs to complete their inner journey. Whatever you think of psychotherapy, the video is worth a view.What is the business model?Speak to any local destination marketing organisation and it is their goal to get their destination onto a traveller's "bucketlist" (a macabre term that should be canned, but as industry jargon, sadly it still has its place).Will DMOs pay for quantifiable outcomes based on destination suggestions from our hypothetical startup built tool? Maybe. Maybe not.Will a tool remain editorially independent if some destinations are paying for action, others are not? Doubt it. Consumer trust would be lost if its just advertisers appearing in the destination suggestion lists.Could destinations pay for understanding factors that make them win (or lose) vs their destination choice competitors. Could you trade on the market research budget, not the action budget. Probably a smaller budget though.Hummm - fix this aspect, then you have a travel startup home-run.Who is in this sector?As mentioned, very few startups exist in the destination selection phase. Perhaps its the business model challenge that is the problem (however lack of business model hasn't put off most travel startups in other areas ever before!). Bad Atlas - Cold/Warm, Rural/Urban, Cheap/Expensive - simple selectors that give you a destination as an outcome. Not yet quite launched.Trip Tuner - More sliders. Immediate gratification for destination selection.Adioso - Flights to anywhere. Key difference with this service and other flight selection (product selection) tools is that the initial result set is a series of destinations, not just flight price data for a single destination.Hitlist - Add a few destinations - and get prompted when a flight may meet your price point.Exit opportunities?As outlined earlier, every product website has an "inspire me" or destination choice tool.Hence worst case, if you get some consumer direct traction, or build a tool that could work with someone else's audience, you will always get an exit to a B2C website wanting to gain understanding of their upstream traffic, or just a new tool for their existing audience.But, let's face it, you would need to get to some kind of a traction point (which is always easier said than done).SummaryThe purveyor of destination choice used to be human travel agents."I want to go somewhere sunny" was a clichéd, classic line and human travel agents were skilled at replying with suggestions and questions that ultimately helped narrow a choice to customers.Us dear techies disrupted this part of the industry because we could deliver a better (and often cheaper) booking service digitally.The travel agent commissions that used to be paid to human travel agents paid for time spent on the destination choice discussions.With agent commissions cut to the bone, they no longer provide this human service at the scale as they used to. Destination choice service has yet to be replicated by digital services.In other words: an opportunity.Focusing on new areas is ever more important given that the product selection/booking part of the travel ecosystem is now, frankly, just an SEO and keyword-buying war.So, if you are a travel startup wanting to make a splash in what is an increasingly difficult industry to capture momentum, perhaps thinking about the destination choice aspect of the journey is where to start.NB:Destination choice image via Shutterstock.