The word “curate” is now entirely overused when it comes to websites, to the point that most people I talk to refuse to use it when referring to their own ventures. But how else to describe the host of sites in a variety of areas–food (food 52), home decor (Apartment Therapy), books (Shelf Awareness for Readers)–that aim to whittle the overwhelming amount of content available online down to only the good stuff. Fathom, a new site helmed by former Daily Candy editors, aims to do this with travel. Early investors in the site, which is still in beta, include MTV founder Bob Pittman.
Pavia Rosati, the former executive editor of Daily Candy, and Jeralyn Gerba, the former Daily Candy New York editor, launched Fathom at the end of July. It contains three main sections: Postcards, Guides and Tools. The Postcards section consists of first-person stories, photo galleries, videos and product guides categorized around different answers to “I travel for the…”: Stuff, Food, Kids, Culture, Quirk, Romance, etc. and readers are invited to submit their own content. Guides cover “the essential and special” in various cities and regions–currently London, NYC, Berlin and the Hamptons. And the Tools section, “one part amenities mixed with two parts hack,” is a large collection of links to travel sharing sites, apps, car rental and other resources.
“I found that the Internet failed me as a traveler, and I would go through this process of looking at 200 websites, spending 80 hours researching to narrow it down to the essential nugget of info I needed,” Rosati told me. “If you’re a big travel company, it’s easy to work with airlines to sell seats, but it’s hard to do content. We are trying to take the best of travel journalism and combine it with the best tools and features that people are used to on the web.”
Carl Fremont, EVP of media at advertising agency Digitas, says he divides travel sites into three categories: Pre-planning (exploring online and “dreaming about where you want to go”); planning (deciding on a destination, making the plans and booking the trip–online travel agent (OTA) sites like Orbitz and Travelocity) and post-booking. The OTAs have tried to “stretch into” the pre-planning and post-booking stages, Fremont says, but “they’re not a place for inspiration.”
He fits sites like Fathom into the pre-planning category. “It is really a very niche-oriented site, focused on those people who want a certain type of travel experience,” he says. “I think there’s a need for it, but how big it can get and how much it can scale remains to be seen. They will attract more niche-oriented advertisers. It’s a lot of work to find sites like this, and many national, broad marketers looking to reach travelers would rather go to a Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) Travel, for instance, than a small, niche-oriented site. There’s an opportunity for them, but it may be limited.”
Rosati realizes this, and future plans for the site, along with apps and mobile versions of Fathom travel guides, include a boutique for travel products. Fathom will work with an affiliate shopping site and take a commission. “We had a piece on how the name ‘bikini’ came about,” Rosati said. “How cute would it be if a side module was, ‘Do you want to buy a bikini?’ But the idea here is that we do editing so you don’t have to wade through 700 rolling bags.” The site will also have traditional advertising.
“Fathom will never generate the traffic that a Trip Advisor does,” Rosati said. (Trip Advisor’s network of sites has over 50 million unique monthly visitors.) “But we’re not going after mass numbers. We’re going after the qualitative traveler.” The payoff for that, Fathom hopes: A smaller readership, but a more passionate one that keeps coming back.
What Fathom’s intended audience is looking for, she believes, is the places that are “special,” “a high-low mix. Luxury has become a catchword in travel and I think it’s limiting because it overlooks special.” Daily Candy, she says, was “so focused on what’s new and trendy that they sometimes missed out on what’s awesome. A lot of travel magazines won’t write about a place if it’s been there for five years. Which is great, but if I haven’t been to, say, Seattle in the last decade, then I don’t know about [the five-year-old place]. There’s not as much of an expiration date on the stories we do.”
One other challenge for Rosati: Sites like Fathom reach “people who are not just planning a vacation but aspiring to,” Fremont says. “If I’m a marketer, aspirers are good because they add to the audience. But I really want those people who aren’t just aspiring, but are actually going to plan and take a vacation.”