Desti joins the ranks of travel startups claiming to be on the path to "travel nirvana" with their Siri-spawned travel inspiration and planning iPad app.
Currently only available for the San Francisco Bay area, Desti promises to bring the technology behind Apple's vaunted virtual personal assistant Siri to the travel space.
Using both natural language intelligence and semantic search, Desti allows users to ask questions to the app and receive real responses based on those questions.
The idea is that the app is a full-service travel agent that understands context, tone and intent, and can help deliver more targeted results in the inspiration and planning stages of travel. At the moment, direct bookings within the app are not possible.
The company's website describes itself in the following terms:
"Desti is changing the way people search and plan their travel. Instead of sifting thru hundreds of search results and reading countless travel reviews, Desti can find precisely the right places to stay and things to do based on your needs. We harken back to the days of travel agents, where consumers could ask tough travel questions like ” What are the best hotels near the beach that are kid-friendly?”
We are working on game changing technology that leverages natural language search technology and artificial intelligence to let users find precisely what they are looking for based on multiple criteria, not just price or travel dates. Our mission is to make travel planning as fun and painless as possible.
The app pulls in the standard content available from other travel-related companies: photos, tips and check-ins from Foursquare, maps from Apple Maps, and reviews from TripAdvisor are all available.
Users can save items to a specific collection, which can then be shared with others via Facebook or email. Individual items can also be shared, liked or marked as "Been."
The interface is enjoyable, with a sleek cascading effect as the user browses results. A tabbed browsing experience brings "Stay," "Do," and "See" into the mix, and each sub-category filter can be removed at the top of the screen to unfilter results as desired.
At the moment, without a greater location reach, it's hard to get a handle on just how this is going to be better than anything else out there. It will be interesting to watch how Facebook login will allow users to have customized collections of travel items, and how this information will then be used to customize results and learn about each individual user.
Another thing to watch will be how the revenue model of affiliates and direct bookings is integrated into their core offering.
Q&A with Desti CEO Nadav Gur:
How is the way you are solving this problem more special or effective than previous attempts you or the market has seen before and how different do you have to be to succeed?
We are creating a new travel search experience on multiple different levels. First, we are launching on the iPad, because we see a move towards planning trips while sitting on your couch leisurely. Secondly, we are using Natural Language on the front end and Semantic Search on the back end. This allows for a more effective search experience for consumers because they can request, specifically what they are looking for.
Desti, on the back end, acts most like a human travel agent in the senses that is understands that users intent and process is. So Desti know that a romantic place to stay is perhaps a property that is a B&B, is secluded, has scenic views, and perhaps has a twinkly fireplace.
Why should people or companies use your startup?
Because we are not just a social travel startup. We are entering the market with a strong tech bias towards organizing travel knowledge. For consumers it means a super enjoyable and quick way to plan trips.
We are actually doing a lot of work for the users. On top of the semantic search Desti is actually reading 1000s of reviews, photos, articles, and other online sources to come up with holistic snapshot of a place, including understanding if a place is lets “say good value for the money” and we are doing this automatically.
Other than going viral and receiving mountains of positive PR, what is the strategy for raising awareness and getting customers/users?
We are partnering with a number of organizations to help gain with distribution on the local level, which we feel is a big opportunity in the travel space. So DMOs and other local travel organizations, as well as, special interest groups that we feel match our target. For example, Moms Groups who want to plan day trips with their kids, or foodie groups [interested in food experiences].
What other options have you considered for the business and the team if the original vision fails?
We are launching this has a consumer play, but there is an opportunity to be more B2B focused and work with brands & travel companies.
What mistakes have you made in the past in business and how have you learned from them?
Location is everything. Being in the Valley makes such a difference. In the past the founders have launched ventures outside of the Valley, and it just takes so much effort. Serendipity really does work in your favour when you live and work in the Valley. The team currently has offices in Menlo Park and in Tel Aviv.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
There is just too much information, into many places across the web. Even the big guys don't let you plan “end-to-end” trips or they are just starting to. By that we mean accommodations, activities, and attractions. On top of that, who is to say that the information is objective, we take a holistic objective approach to travel planning.
After covering countless trip inspiration and planning apps, services and websites, we are always weary when approached by yet another app promising "travel nirvana." Travel nirvana is generally not dealing with those who proffer travel nirvana.
Nonetheless, Desti has plenty of features that will likely be exciting for those looking for a tool to make their travel inspiration process less frustrating. The ability to ask questions is refreshing, and the shear number of options on the web means that any curation of options will be a relief.
Desti is also useful in the reduction of the number of websites one has to visit. By using Desti as a hub, would-be-travelers can branch out to those activities, hotels and sights that interest them the most.
The Facebook and email sharing of collections is the killer feature here - by aggregating options into one place, users will be able to get feedback from a group of people on a potential group experience. This is a headache for anyone trying to plan a group trip that involves multiple personalities and a more loose itinerary.
There's also the content problem - how quickly can Desti scale to be the go-to app for all travel inspiration and planning activities? At the moment, it's not useful to anyone outside of the Bay Area - a giant hurdle.
In addition, every single activity we found in this first version has a "Desti Rating" of either "Excellent!" or "Exceptional." The team needs to work on this if it's going to be seen as a relevant rating for anyone except an overzealous and falsely enthusiastic marketer.
Overall, Desti is very promising. The limitations to the Bay area makes it extremely hard to gauge effectiveness across a wide range of trips, and it remains to be seen how travel options will be integrated into the product. How will a user book a collection? Will it be seamless and who will provide customer service? How will the user determine the best travel dates for their collections? How will the user book the activities that they want?
With big players like Expedia getting into the T&A sector, this whole space is red hot and there are often more questions than answers.
Desti is now available in the App Store.