Tourabout aims to plug travel distribution gap by going socialNewsBy Kevin May | November 13, 2009Share This article was originally published on Sydney and California-based Tourabout has partially opened the doors to its new social distribution system, launching in private beta and expecting a public beta launch in January 2010.The system works by allowing tour operators and activity providers to interact directly with potential customers through a number of unusual processes.One of the primary ways is through a question and answer platform where visitors can throw a query into the system and any product provider can reply.The answers are stored and tagged in the system, allowing other visitors to track down relevant answers posed by other users, as well as keep track of their conversations.Chief executive Ben Jackson says the barriers to entry are too high for tour operators wishing to mix with consumers in traditional content and social travel areas such as Lonely Planet, IgoUgo and Frommers."They simply do not permit companies to get involved," he says. "We are allowing companies to reach customers but also giving travellers the ability to find information, get insight into a trip and discover companies themselves."The system cross promotes suppliers products in contextual links when they answer questions.The private beta of the new Tourabout platform (running behind the existing and simple planning service) includes around 80 tour operators with approximately 30,000 products loaded into the system.Another crucial element of the Tourabout system is a Trip Folder tool which allows users to store different trip ideas before sending requests to product providers.Jackson says the company attracted a first round of AUS$1 million in 2007 and is already revenue positive. Revenue for the new platform is gained from a subscription fee and cost-per-sale model against each product and supplier."This is one of the biggest untapped opportunities currently in the industry. We can provide a stream of relevant information to friends and other users at the high end the funnel and see plans and transactions made at the bottom," Jackson says.NB: Tourabout is presenting at the PhoCusWright Travel Innovation Summit in Orlando on Tuesday 16 November 2009.NB2: Beta invites available here.