Question: What do you call take-out tacos, oceans of Red Bull, midnight beer-and-pizza, bottomless pots of coffee, dozing on beanbag chairs and futons, wads of cash as prizes and bulletproof wifi?
Answer: A code-writer’s nirvana on the Texas prairie for dozens of newbies daring to reinvent travel.
Some 50 developers and entrepreneurs from the Dallas-Fort Worth area (plus four virtual teams across the US) came together for a travel hackathon last weekend as 14 teams and two feisty loners all chasing thousands of dollars and new travel ideas.
They were hosted by Sabre Dev Studio, themselves a group of explorers searching for new ideas, trends and business partners in digital travel.
What are the chances of a GDS doing that? Can a legacy travel tech company burn the boats and build new outposts in the sharing economy?
Investors are watching and waiting to see if Sabre, with an IPO earlier in the year, can change with the times.
The new digital colony at the company is Sabre Dev Studio, which is reaching out to travel businesses, developers, start-ups and disruptive thinkers for partnerships and commercial relationships both inside and outside the travel industry.
At the Reinvent Travel hackathon, developers represented an eclectic mix of gamer buddies from high school days, collegiate coding whizzes, a couple programming iconoclasts, a veteran user-experience designer from Firefox, and a number of experienced, work-for-hire developers who lacked one resume entry: almost zero experience in digital travel services.
Competing for separate prizes were two Sabre teams of interface designers, usability testers and other tech experts. They also shared the co-working space and answered API and travel domain questions.
The hackathon was the brainchild of the Dev Studio team led by Sean Arena, chief commercial director of online and emerging business at Sabre.
Arena says the outreach strategy is two-way: Sabre brings fresh ideas to business development, and developers and entrepreneurs expose their new ideas, tools, products and businesses to a Sabre distribution network of 300,000 travel agents, corporate travel planners and other travel sellers.
Over many weeks, the Dev Studio team recruited developers at meet-ups and hackathons in the techie Dallas-Austin business corridor.
Five judges from inside Sabre and the Dallas business community evaluated the hacks, which could choose from one or more of four travel industry challenges. Each project was required to use at least one Sabre API.
The challenges (each with a $1,000 prize) and winners were:
- "Social swagger", won by a team that built Kick Travel and merged concepts from Kickstarter and social responsibility culture to match people with legitimate travel needs (e.g., medical, bereavement and other travel) and donors of funds and transport services.
- "Travel in a non-travel world", which asked developers to draw on non-travel concepts to create a travel-related product. The innovation by team Erbase ("Sabre" spelled backwards): an open-bidding system that matched travelers as “sellers” of excess baggage capacity to “buyers” of cheap alternative delivery of their packages to domestic and international locations. Consensus from the judges: Erbase is Airbnb-meets-FedEx for shipping stuff … but beware airport security, customs officials and tax collectors.
- "Mine your own business", with one team named TripBlaze cleverly using customer profiles to create targeted travel offers instead of eye-watering lists of alternatives.
- "API alchemist", with the winning team, Wanderlist, using at least four APIs to deliver a planning service for affordable bucket-list trips.
- The Sabre team winner: Nerd Weekend, a collection of nerdy journeys near and far served up elegantly by an iOS 8 smartphone app.
And the grand prize winner? Winning $5,000 in addition to the $1,000 challenge prize, plus a license and tech support from Sabre Dev Studio valued at $10,000:
- TripBlaze, the data-driven trip-planning service, built by a four-person team of two brothers and a friend (two of them students at the Texas Academy of Math and Science ) and a fourth team member they met at a recent Dallas-area hackathon.
Disclosure - Author's travel and accommodation was supported by Sabre.
NB2: Photos from the event can be found on the Sabre Flickr stream.