In this month’s One-on-One blog, ExpertFlyer talks with Adam Goldstein, CEO and co-founder of Hipmunk, a new travel search site that aims to take the agony out of travel planning. Adam discusses Hipmunk and the need for a travel search site that simplifies the confusing over-abundance of travel choices today. Adam also discusses trends in mobile booking, and how the user experience ultimately affects loyalty.
Founded in 2010, Hipmunk helps people who are overwhelmed with pages of irrelevant travel search results. Flight results are presented in a visual “timeline” that allows people to select the best flight at a glance. Hotel results are shown on a map so that people can view geographic locations of where they will be staying and the landmarks or points-of-interest nearby.
“We’re taking the agony out of travel search!”
— Adam Goldstein, CEO & Co-founder, Hipmunk
There are so many travel search engines out there today, Fly.com, TripAdvisor, InsideTrip – just to name a few. Hipmunk has been generating its fair share of buzz, but how does your “twist” on search trump the competition?
We show our users a unique visual display that makes it easy to see all the relevant options on a single page. For flights, our “timeline” makes it possible to quickly and easily identify things like departure time, trip length, and number of connections. It also lets you see whether a flight or train (yes, train!) has WiFi.
For hotels, our “heatmaps” let users see where the hotspots for food, nightlife, shopping, and other activities within the city they will visit.
The great part is that this information can be integrated directly into your calendar so when you run a flight search, you can see which flights fit into your schedule. When you run a hotel search, you can determine which hotels are most convenient based on the locations of meetings and other business activities.
How have your vendor partners (airline/OTA/etc) reacted to how Hipmunk shows its flight search data vs. traditional meta search websites?
They love it! In addition to the cool interface, they love the fact that we’re not sorting flights or hotels by price like our competitors. We’re encouraging users to think, “do I really want to take two connections when there’s a nonstop for only $10 more?” We think the answer is no for most people, which is why we sort by “agony” (for flights) and “ecstasy” (for hotels) instead of price.
What do you think is missing from flight search today? What do you think the “killer app” in flight search is that isn’t available today?
I don’t see a killer app for flights coming anytime soon; rather, I think there will be continued improvements along several dimensions within flight search: speed, accuracy, and relevance to a user’s preferences.
Have you encountered issues with flight searches you would like to address or improve, but for whatever reason, can’t at the moment?
It’s always frustrating when you search for a flight, and then in the time between deciding and buying, someone’s bought the last ticket at that fare. Unfortunately, this is part of the business. Until the back-end systems start allowing you to do “5-minute holds,” this will still happen from time to time.
Back in September, we spoke with John Boris of Lonely Planet. He talked about the increased use of mobile devices among their business travel community. Some reports indicate that mobile internet will outpace desktop access by 2014. What does that mean for Hipmunk and the travel industry, at large?
It means we have to make our mobile apps even better—and we are! Keep an eye out for some major updates over the next few months.
For the industry at large, I think it means a shift in the way of thinking. On a desktop, you can afford to have dozens of flashing ads; on a mobile app or site that would make the experience almost impossible to use. We’ve always eschewed ads, so we think we have somewhat of a head start.
You recently launched a Hipmunk app for Android, which received rave reviews. Talk about Hipmunk for PCs vs. smartphones and the benefits to users?
We’ve tried to make the experience as similar as possible, while taking into account the fact that a finger is a much larger pointing device than a cursor.
We see a bunch of benefits to Hipmunk on mobile. If you’re stuck at an airport after your flight gets cancelled, you can quickly find flights that will get you where you want to go, and show them to a reservations agent to get rebooked. (I’ve done this several times.) It’s an easy way to dream about visiting your friends when you’re on your morning commute. And it’s a great way to show off Hipmunk to your friends at a party!
Your business model and site framework is geared around giving your visitors an excellent user experience. How have you tied user experience with improved customer loyalty and the decision to purchase?
This happens automatically; a great user experience gets people talking about us constantly (see our Twitter feed!). It also means that people feel more confident that found the “right trip”—our suppliers tell us that our users are far more likely to actually book their trip when Hipmunk sends them.