Technology often moves between applications as companies look to replicate previous success in a new industry. Playcation is a new travel startup doing just that, using tech originally developed to help pharmaceutical companies with research and development.
In the travel space, the technology analyzes the stream of information online about destinations worldwide, and ranks them according to user-inputted values. This means the user can search for the best snorkeling spots in the world - or just in Thailand, for example.
The homepage simply asks for an activity (and a region if specified) and then the algorithm spits out its opinion on the top places.
The top destinations appear in the left column, and offer up more detailed information once selected.
The photos and review information are pulled from around the web, offering a more comprehensive view than would be achieved by browsing all editorial and review sites solo. The information also suggests ancillary activities with attached ratings, showing other potential activities in the destination.
Other filters include weather, time of year and rainfall - allowing for a user to search for the least rainy times to visit a top snorkeling spot, for example.
The overall utility of narrowing down options according to in-destination activities is convenient, and something that no one has really mastered. By aggregating reviews and editorial content, the startup makes it that much easier to begin selecting places and things to do in the research stage.
Co-founder Jim Moriarty shared more about the plans for the technology in travel with Tnooz.
Tell us more about the technology. What does it do?
Playcation helps people figure out where to travel to and what to do when they get there. We have moved it over to the travel sector because we were frustrated travelers. We created a solution to answer questions we had as travelers.
We developed technology that reads hundreds of millions of travel-related pages and sites on the internet, interprets associations and meanings and learns as it does these things. This has been called machine learning, artificial intelligence and big data. We are all of these things.
We can not only tell you every place for a given activity such as theme parks, hammer head sharks, snorkeling or hiking, we also tell you where the best places for those activities are. The solution is wide (covering 10,000 different activities) and quite deep (we've ranked those best to worst at 300,000 places on the globe).
The technology underlying this is successful in the biotech and life sciences sector. Today, nine of the ten ten largest pharmaceutical companies use our technology today for drug discovery, research and development.
How will the technology be implemented in travel?
Our information helps people figure out where to go for what they are interested in doing. We also help people learn the best things to do once they get there. This applies in a number of ways and to a myriad of types of travelers, from discretionary travels to family travelers and from adventure travelers to business travelers.
We wanted information we couldn’t find anywhere. We wanted to know things like the best place in Canada for heli-skiing, family-friendly options in Southern California and the best place for trekking in Asia.
The team knew what they loved doing and finding the best places to to those things was super hard and so we solved that problem.
We also wanted the ability to do a region-led search. I’ve done a number of business trips to Germany and never knew how many amazing castles were less than an hour away. Now we know where every castle is on the planet and we’ve also ranked them best to worst. We can even tell you which ones aren't great to see in the rain (and when it's most likely to rain).
There are over ten thousand activities in our solution already and we’ll keep going, building more relevant presentation of this information and increasing the accuracy every step of the way.
What aspects of the travel industry make it particular amenable to this use case?
It takes a long time to figure out where to go. Research on this sector states that in the U.S. the average discretionary traveler spends 21 days researching where to go. They then have another 87 days on average between that point and the actual trip.
We want to deliver information that helps them find out where to go faster and easier. If you’re looking for all the black-sand beaches we can help you find them in seconds. If you want to travel around Peru, where are the places to go, and why?
We also want to help travelers make valuable activity-related decisions before they get there.
Of course, it’s important to offer value to other types of travelers. If you’re traveling on business we can help you turn your trip from one more trip to a nondescript conference room to include a memorable side trip to engage with coolest thing in that area. We can help you plan trip to see jaw-dropping waterfalls in Iceland, a nude beach in Florida or the best hikes close enough to be a cab ride from the Golden Gate in San Francisco.
Beyond the technology, what's your strategy for marketing this new business?
Our primary interest has been the creation of the information dataset and making it as accurate and comprehensive as possible.
Now that we’ve achieved many of our initial milestones in that area we’re seeking partnerships. We want to partner with organizations and create or extend user experiences via what we are building and what our technology can achieve.
We also want to stay close to actual consumers and travelers so we’ve launched the public site, Playcation.com. It can help you find the best places to go for the things you love. We’ll be extending this site to deliver a larger travel planning experience with the emphasis on the earlier stages, travel discovery and travel planning.
What's the elevator pitch for this new use case?
Playcation helps you create your dream trip. We’ll help you find where to go for the things you love and what else to do at those locations.
If you’re a travel site we can expand and deepen your relationship with your users by offering them deeper functionality related to discovering and planning trips.
Looking forward, how will the product evolve?
A billion people travel every year and they spend billions in the process. We want to help people figure how where to go and what to do when they get there. We will take advantage of the ongoing growth of online information and marry that to solve users interests and needs.
In 2014, there is no reason for a person to travel to a destination and not have certainty around the experience they’ll get there.
We want to listen to the dreams people have related to travel and develop the solution (and location) that meet those dreams.
NB: Cyborg beach image courtesy Shutterstock.