From The Desk Of PSFK Consulting: Getting Away The Right Way With New Curated Travel Services

PSFK’s Director of Consulting discusses how the travel industry is now aiming to inject a level of personalization and relevancy back into the online vacation planning process.

Each week, PSFK’s Director of Consulting, Scott Lachut, will serve up key insights about trends that he sees developing in our on- and offline lives.

With precious few weeks of summer remaining before the kids get back from camp and early Friday afternoons become a thing of the past, there seems no better time to plan one last seasonal escape, but how best to ensure that this last getaway exceeds all expectations? In recent years, the travel industry has been turned on its head thanks to a bevy of trip planning and booking tools that allow individuals to find the best deals on hotels and flights, largely replacing the need for actual agents, albeit at the cost of human advice and expertise that can make the difference between a few days off and a memorable vacation.

In an effort to reverse that trend, while simultaneously transforming the classic image of a travel agent from blue blazer-ed, headset wearers into digital-savvy, lifestyle experts, three new sites are building partnerships with online media channels and respected travel professionals to offer tailored suggestions on where to visit based on individual interests and preferences. These services are particularly noteworthy because they’re foregoing automated algorithms (recently compared to echo chambers and mediators of culture), in favor of a human touch.

Wanderfly has expanded its current recommendation model, based on individual budgets, time frames and tastes, with its Wanderlists feature, which asks cultural sites like Flavorpill and Urban Daddy to weigh in on the best destinations for activities like music and nightlife. From these handpicked lists, members can view estimated budgets and book their chosen trips. For those seeking a bit more one-on-one attention, Gilt’s flash travel site Jetsetter and NYC-based start-up Fortnighter are connecting upscale tourists with exclusive travel journalists and correspondents to help them design the perfect itinerary for any interest from food to outdoor adventures, with up-to-date tips and insider advice that can’t be found in a typical off-the-shelf guidebook. Both sites charge between $150-200 for their respective consultations.

For those travelers who are seeking vacations with more flexibility and a bit of targeted serendipity, while saving a few dollars in the process, several sites are integrating local deals into their business models, giving people the ability to experience their destinations on a budget. These services are leveraging the targeted customer data associated with direct bookings or shared travel intent to provide travelers with special offers that coincide with their visits.

Delta Airlines, who is already selling tickets directly through Facebook, has begun providing location-specific deals via Living Social to customers who book flights. While gtrot, a social travel service that allows people to connect with friends through Facebook to share upcoming trips and travel advice, aggregates relevant deals across multiple platforms like Groupon and BuyWithMe based on current itineraries. In an effort to go beyond prepackaged deals in order to deliver a greater level of individual attention, Flextrip, an online marketplace for tours and adventure activities, connects local operators with potential customers who are visiting their area, allowing them to send targeted offers about available services.

Given the current drive to develop smarter curation tools to help people deal with the deluge of available information in everything from news and entertainment to shopping and even relationships, it seems only natural that the travel industry would follow suit with a number of new services that are attempting to inject a level of personalization and relevancy back into the online vacation planning process, helping people discover new places and uncover surprises while they’re there.

Header image via Ben Margolin.

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