Zaptravel is an online travel booking service that wants to recreate the experience originally perfected by high street travel agents of offering consumers inspirational and curated trips.
At first, it might seem like a foolhardy endeavor. Traditional travel agents are disappearing because they’ve been unable to compete with the price and flexibility offered by online tools and providers.
Andrew Lacy, former co-founder or Tapulous and now CEO of Zaptravel, argues that while the Internet has “killed” many of these companies, it’s also replaced them with “something much, much worse.”
“There are many experiences to be had, places to go and events to see,” he told TNW. “But what I found was that it was very difficult to figure all of that out. Where to go, where I can fly to, what it costs, and what can I do there. It was just so complicated and took so many hours that eventually I just gave in, or I got distracted and I ended up spending another weekend at home.”
It’s a common problem. Services such as Expedia offer an almost infinite number of flights and accommodation bundles, but working out the best deal and the best time to go can be a bit of a nightmare. There’s no pointers, no expert advice from someone who has done it. There isn’t a travel agent, in short.
Zaptravel combines a smart semantic search engine and millions of structured items containing information about a certain destination, such as what to do there, points of interest, events, hotels and other types of accommodation.
It all starts on the homepage. Similar to Graph Search on Facebook, the user can type in a query using natural language or a question, such as “I fancy a hiking trip in Germany later this year.”
ZapTravel then does the heavy-lifting for you, building a list of complete packages that enable the experience, first and foremost.
“We score every deal that we put together,” Lacy explains. “It relates to the price of the air ticket, versus how far you have to travel, the price of the hotel, the number of stars, the ratings that customers have given the hotel, the price for that combination versus other weekends. So there’s a number of factors that come together to make this composite score.”
Zaptravel displays everything in a visual, easy-to-digest format. There’s a large image slideshow filled with photographs of the event, peppered with quotes to try to grab your attention.
There’s some filters along the top of the page to change the flight dates and accommodation, but the emphasis is on a curated experience. The user is supposed to trust the Zaptravel team’s judgement for a deal that is both affordable and relevant to their needs.
It can feel a little restrictive at times, but it’s the curated approach, similar to high street travel agents, that the company is aiming for. A weekend trip, for example, will only show a flight leaving after 6pm on a Friday.
“We don’t want to give you the option of travelling out at 11am on Friday because for 99 percent of people, that’s not useful for them,” Lacy said. “If you’re that 1 percent, you’re going to be heading out specifically to find the flight that meets your exact requirements, and there’s other providers that can meet that need.”
One of the most interesting skews for Zaptravel is a site category dedicated entirely to technology events and conferences. Recognizable gatherings such as The Next Web Conference reside alongside smaller but no less interesting events such as Converge in Edinburgh or jsDay in Verona.
The idea is that developers, CEOs and investors can discover new conferences to attend and book the entire trip in one sitting. If you were planning to visit the city anyway, take Barcelona for instance, the site can also factor in additional days around an event like Mobile World Congress.
The platform is interesting and smart, but never forceful. That’s an interesting proposition in a space that for too long has looked like a series of spreadsheets stitched together across multiple webpages. Sure, there’s websites such as Lonely Planet that can inspire your next trip, but Zaptravel has made the logical next step by joining it with real, tangible trips.
The platform is launching publicly today, following nine months of development. The team has 15 employees, split across Paris and Romana, and from what we’ve seen there’s something quite special here.
Image Credit: ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images