Seattle was the latest stop on the THack global travel hackathon train — and, despite the town's reputation for a consistent light drizzle, the weekend was picture perfect Puget Sound.
As the sun shone, the hackers hacked, creating some alternative ways of considering how to visualize, plan and manage travel spend.
The teams powered through the night, fueled by the coffee, trail mix and jelly beans peddled by the THack team, making it through to the final presentations. Here's the redux of what came from the diverse teams of coders and designers.
Holodeck: Virtual reality flight search
Virtual reality is one way to explore a destination before you have been there, and this hack is a way to use the emerging Occulus Rift headset to be able to check out different destinations.
Photos from places around the world are pulled in from Flickr, meaning that the startup wouldn't have to create any content upfront to deliver the experience.
The one-person team of Mike Douglas used Kayak as the basis for the interface, providing a small eye button that transports the user from the pricing to a virtual rendering of the place.
An integration with SoundCloud is well-placed, bringing in the sounds of the place to match the sights by searching complex keywords and filters to match sounds to the photos.
And while it is based on 2D photos rather than full 3D content, Holodeck is an immersive experience which allows the user to truly feel what it could be like to be there.
Pricing information is pulled from Sabre within the same Kayak flight search interface to offer users a buy recommendation — if the price is good historically, the interface recommends a buy.
Currently the main limitation is that the user must have the OR headset to experience this.
WINNER: People's Choice Prize
TattleTale's $PENDTRAK: Tracking flight spend for B2B
Nitin Khanna and Nipun Khanna have created a B2B application that should make heads turn among travel managers.
The team is addressing the enromous travel and expense spend by large corporations — in 2012, $50 billion was spent by Concur customers alone, of which airline travel is nearly a quarter.
The service tracks how much employees are spending on flights and benchmarks behavior across an organization by using A, B or C grades as far as spending performance on air travel.
The special sauce comes from flight data that demonstrates how much other travelers paid for the same ticket, showing how much more or less a particular employee is spending on a specific fare.
Other features include data mapping for travel managers to monitor employee spend and direct emails that will allow engagements with employees to increase awareness of spend.
The future roadmap could also include other spend, such as hotels, and also connect it to a company's general ledger to match top performers with travel spend to get a granular look at the entire organization's performance — and how travel ties into the big picture.
The return on investment is also quickly visible, as it demonstrates the amount of money saved can be clear once performance is benchmarked and behavior is changed.
WINNER: Dwellable Staycation Prize
ConnectJet: E-mail marketing tool for event organizers
ConnectJet is a tool for event organizers to more effectively offer transportation options to potential conference or event attendees.
Rather than simply send people off to a third-party tool or direct to supplier with a discount code, the tool sends fares directly to people using geo-location so the fares reflect the true cost of travel.
Rather than try to make money on flights, the target market is actually travel organizers seeking to sell more tickets and boost attendance to their live events.
Organizers could select specific flights that are the best deal or routings and then send that email out to a subset of users based on location – for example, those within 50 miles of Seattle would receive emails that highlight flights from the nearest airport.
Ottosee : Visualizing travel habits
This is a neat hack that gives travelers a full picture of their travel habits, from miles traveled to carbon emitted. Travelers are able to "not just see your impact on the wallet, but also on your heart."
A Gmail integration is used to simplify the on-boarding of information by travelers, who can simply forward e-mails to the app for parsing. The data will then be pulled in to track miles, spend and carbon usage (via Sabre APIs).
Since mileage is tracked, various rules for loyalty programs can be leveraged to also show users how many miles they have earned for travel.
There's a clear appeal for this feature in particular to certain credit companies who might want to focus on data visualization for travelers as a bid to increase redemption of points — and therefore encouraging more card spend.
There's also integration opportunities with other data trackers, such as Mint, that might want to offer more drill-down for travelers.
Of course, data crunching and visualizations are easy targets for copycat features, and those who own the data are able to do these things without having to go out and secure data for analysis.
The initial visualizations needed some further tweaking; however, one that was immediately of interest was a map that shows how much was spent by the user on flights to different cities worldwide.
Eventually smart analysis would be added so that users could see if they were making smart financial and/or carbon decisions with their travel habits.
WINNER: Small Team Judge's Prize
Planned Serendipity: Making a journey more full
While it's not easy to deliver a travel planning app that either gains sufficient traction or monetizes sufficiently, this team worked to deliver a bit of structure to the downtime in a particular trip.
The use case is for a destination that is already planned, and that needs optimization for time and space.
So rather than planning in advance, the app shows various points of interest on a map that integrates with a calendar that allows users to efficiently plan out a trip.
Seeing things to do nearby means that there can be some planned serendipity as far as discovering things that may not be on the beaten path.
While there are plenty startups, such as Utrip and TripScope, that work to craft itineraries for specific types of trips, PS makes it possible to fill the moments within a trip that's already planned while also building in that nearby serendipity without forcing it.
Travel Pal: Increase efficiency and ease of air travel
When traveling, there's always downtime. The team is solving for the problem of wasted time while traveling — such as arriving at the airport too soon and waiting around the terminal rather than be able to enjoy that time at home without rushing to the airport.
The team "provides in-location targeted and time specific information to help travelers get to their flights on time." If there's ever a travel exception, the team would then offer other options during that experience.
The interface has three different options: the home screen, which explains what is happening before the trip; the airport screen, which explains different states within the pre-gate experience; the post-security screen, which offers information via beacon technology related to the traveler's current location.
One intriguing concept is a red, yellow and green system for the pre-security screen that shows if a traveler needs to be let to the front of the security queue due to a nearly closed gate for their flight.
If every traveler has the app, then it would prioritize waits in security. Novel, but not practical for the realities of the TSA life.
Small World: Connecting couples with things to do
This one-person team built a tool for "keeping the world as small as possible," specifically focusing on planning weekend getaway with friends and loved ones so that they can find places to meet up.
Users have multiple fields for entering destinations that match the locations of the users and any friends.
The top destinations by fare are then pulled out from the Sabre API which would be matched not only to location but also interest and likes from Facebook.
The addition of Facebook likes makes it so that there can be a better match, and the location is tracked according to what would be the most popular destinations that are also close to the users.
Scrimpist: Eliminating buyer's regret in travel
Airfare drops can often be frustrating for travelers, and Scrimpist wants to simplify monitoring fare drops and any related refunds. The service inputs travel from emails and then tracks those itineraries for pricing changes. When there is a fare drop, the user receives a credit automatically.
The team processed 94GB of data from Sabre and optimized the data to show how the price drops would be identified for consumers, claiming that there was a $6,117,975 returned across 1,216,345 simulated bookings.
Pointing to the $334.16 per year that the average Yapta member receives, the team believes that there can be a large impact on customer loyalty and trust as far as the airlines are concerned — basically, by making refunds seamless, travelers could start viewing airlines as partners in the game rather than adversaries.
The main issue there is that price drops by airlines work to book more seats in order to protect revenue per seat on a flight, which means that automated refunds would eliminate this revenue management ability — thus discouraging fare manipulations overall.
When comparing itself to Yapta, Scrimpist would focus less on the corporate market and be a standalone consumer feature or work with airlines on that automated refund with an eye to boosting loyalty for airlines to offset lost revenue.
WINNER: Sabre API Prize and Large Team Prize.
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The Ottosee team celebrates the small team win. Kai Loh is on the left, next to teammate Wale Ogundipe.[/caption]
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The Scrimpist team consisted of Matthew Strax-Haber, Thibaut Labarre, Andy Ernst, Kevin Wu and Derek Harn.[/caption]
NB: Photo credit Flickr user Ian Sane.