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Summary:

After trying its hand as a pure-play social recommendations service, travel website Tripbirds has relaunched with a strong focus on hotel booking. But will its smart look and Facebook integration be enough to help it overcome the vast amount of competition and expertise out there?

Tripbirds co-founder Ted Valentin, used under CC license courtesy of Eric Starck

When Swedish startup Tripbirds launched its social travel service earlier this year, I thought it looked beautiful, worked well — and would, inevitably, struggle.

The reason was simple: the site was dipping its toes in a competitive-but-ineffective market for travel services built on top of the social substrate of the web. It’s an idea that is appealing, but unrewarding; a niche that has failed, time and time again, to produce any truly viable businesses. The problem? There are loads of products fighting for similar territory (Gogobot, Wanderfly, Everplaces and many more) but overall, demand for what they’re offering seems to be low.

Or, as I put it at the time, it was in danger of being the tallest dwarf: a great service in a scene “stuffed with startups who all seem to do the same thing without ever finding much real success”:

Whatever the case, this proliferation of services surely can’t happen forever. Companies with a different take on what “social travel” means, like Airbnb or TripAdvisor, seem to be doing well… but those tapping the social graph for a layer of tips and recommendations seem to find it hard.
So is the reason nobody has won social travel because — essentially — there isn’t anything to win?

No surprise that co-founder Ted Valentin (pictured) disagreed with me. He suggested that a social travel service could work, if it got enough critical mass.

Fast forward a few months and a few thousand users, and the small, Stockholm-based team have taken some time to look at what they’re doing… and they’re choosing to rework it.

The new Tripbirds, which opened up on Tuesday, is a hotel booking site that uses social data to help recommend potential locations. Sign in, connect to Facebook, and Tripbirds will filter the hotels it thinks you’d most appreciate. It tries to make its listings come alive by bringing in Instagram photos to spruce the place up, and you can apply other filters too (normal ones like price and star rating, or more unusual ones like the number of Instagram photos). And it uses data from your friends, listing places they’ve stayed higher in the rankings — although, as yet, it does not determine whether they liked the place they stayed, which seems like a pretty important feature.

In this, it’s not really a pivot as much as an attempt to really focus on one aspect of the previous product — the one which, coincidentally, has potential to be a serious revenue generator.

But will it help the site — which has funding from Creandum, Index and a number of angels — grow? Hotel booking is even more competitive than social travel, and it’s an industry dominated by large players which operate at huge volume and are well-established. The company certainly hopes so, as do its investors, but they are going to have their work cut out for them.

Still, there are possibilities. Hipmunk, for example, seems to have made some impact with its pretty pain-free airline booking service. There’s a lot to be said for focus, and for something smart, simple and user friendly — all of which Tripbirds has.

Right now, I’ll keep looking to see what happens. I still like the feel of using Tripbirds. I still think it’s a tough, tough business. Which means that in the end, I’m left in the same place as I was in March — which is kind of funny for a travel service I suppose.

Photo of Ted Valentin courtesy of Flickr user Eric Starck. Photo of suitcase courtesy Shutterstock user Alex Kalmbach.

  1. To me the niche is actually Group Bookings which other players like Expedia and Hotels.com already do but do badly. I.E. Please contact us if your booking is for more than 8 people. Really? I dont want to talk to you, if i did, i’d be at the local travel agent.

    Being able to look at, share, discuss then select and book at flight or hotel for a group is an issue. For instance, i’m heading to a wedding, myself and 13 of my friends need a place to stay. We currently email around a list of Airbnb, VRBO or Hotels before one of us puts down a credit card, pays the host and then collects payment from his friends.
    Which is a right pain in the arse. Why cant some service take the credit card as deposit, make the booking and split the payment per person emailing them a link to make payment. The organizer (person who puts down the credit card) can see who has paid or not.

    Social Travel to me is about travelling with friends not travelling to where friends have been before.

  2. A great site for booking transportation and flights is http://www.worldwideetravel.com ! Great photos, reviews, and discounts !

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