Tag Archives: Travel

Can Facebook REALLY Threaten Google in Search?

Only In The Most Lucrative Categories…

There’s been much speculation lately that Facebook is finally staffing up to take a shot at improving their internal search product, a product that many would agree has been woefully under utilized in the past.  Along with this comes the usual debate around social search:

  • What exactly is social search?
  • How compelling is it, both to users and advertisers?
  • Can it really compete with Google?

The answer to the last questions is ‘No’, and this would be a wonderfully short blog post should that be a complete answer…but it’s not.  Incorporating social signals in search can improve it in a way that is so exciting and compelling that Google has to not only be aware, but deeply concerned by it as well.

Social Influence in Purchase Decisions

For the uninitiated, much of the opportunity (or concern, depending on which side of the fence you sit) around social search has to do with how purchase decisions are influenced by your social connections.  Research has repeatedly shown that friends and family are big influencers in purchase decisions, and the larger the purchase the more these social connections are sought out for advice.

Given the above it’s not surprising so many companies in the larger priced categories such as travel, electronics and automotive have been aggressively experimenting with social media.  But how does this tie in with search?

It’s a Temporal Issue

Think about the last time your friend cornered you and forced you to view the photos from his recent trip to the Caribbean.  You probably enjoyed the first few photos of turquoise inlets and stunning sunsets, but your mind likely wandered around the fourth restaurant photo or the nineteenth beach shot.  The reality is this really isn’t all that relevant to you right now, but it might be very relevant to you the next time you’re planning a vacation.

The key is to aggregate and structure this content in a way that it can easily be retrieved when needed (sound like search yet?).  Companies like TripAdvisor have already built hugely successful businesses on the aggregation of anonymous content, just think how powerful this becomes when it gets plugged into your social graph.

Exhibit from Facebook's S-1 Registration filing

The above is from Facebook’s recent S-1 registration filing, illustrating the deep integration of Facebook’s social graph on TripAdvisor’s core site.  However what’s far more compelling than the main page integration is what happens when you search for a destination in the big white search box at the top of the page and can immediately see which of your friends have been to Paris, Cape Cod or South America.

It’s this social search experience that’s so compelling to consumers, and likely to cause the greatest amount of concern at Google, especially when you consider as much as 15% of Google’s total revenue is rumored to come from the travel industry.  Is it any wonder then that recently there have been rumors flying around regarding Google and Facebook expressing interest in acquiring TripAdvisor.

How is this Relevant to Automobiles?

Let me answer this by posing two questions.

  1. How many Facebook friends do you have?
  2. What cars do each of of them drive?

Question number two is the kicker, and I’ll bet the majority of people can name less than 10% of their friends’ vehicles.  And why should they? It’s really not important unless they’re searching for a new car, at which point it may become highly relevant and important.

Let’s say I’m searching for a new car and interested in finding out more about Infiniti’s G series.  If I type that query into Google I get the following results as part of their social search experience.

Google Social Search results for 'Infiniti G series'

The above social connections are pretty useless to me in my research of new cars to buy, however the following would be immensely useful.

Ideal Social Search Experience

For this to become viable, Google (or Facebook) would need to know one additional piece of data about you: what car you drive.

We think about this alot at C2G as over 1 million people have now entered this exact piece of information into our Galculator, and the volume is growing at a rapid rate.

Travel and Automotive represent two of the biggest advertising categories online.  What are your thoughts on social search?  Do you think Google has anything to worry about with Facebook’s latest moves?

Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Happy Driving!

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Gas Prices the Biggest Turkey This Thanksgiving

On Track to be Highest on Record for Holiday Season

Heading into the 2011 holiday season its beginning to look like getting a lump of coal for Christmas might not be such a bad thing as it can at least be converted into fuel for electric vehicles like the Volt and Leaf.  Absent that, or a dramatic end-of-year retreat in fuel prices, we’re all going to be paying record amounts to drive home to visit family as gas prices are at historic highs for this time of year.

Weekly Retail Gas Prices: 1990 to Present (US Energy Information Administration)

Looking at the above chart of average weekly retail gas prices from 1990 to the present one can clearly see the two spikes in 2008 and then again this past summer.  At first glance it appears that this year’s trend mirrors that of 2008, with gas prices rising rapidly heading into the summer months only to be followed by steep declines in the fall.  However on closer inspection it turns out this is not the case.

Gas Prices 2008 compared to 2011

During the 2008 spike a record high price of $4.11 a gallon for regular grade gasoline was reached the week of July 7th, a price which subsequently cratered to nearly half that amount by the first week of November.  This year’s trend has been quite different with the peak price being reached much earlier in the year (May 9th) and the seasonal drop-off much less dramatic as gas prices are now only 14% below this year’s peak price of $3.97.

November Gas Prices

Taking a look at the historical price of gas for the first week of November  reveals that gas prices are 22% higher than they were heading into the holidays last year and at the highest price ever for this time of year.  This despite the fact that the Arab Spring is far behind us and the removal of Qaddafi from oil-producing Libya is no longer in doubt.

So what does this mean for gas prices heading into 2012?  Although the US Energy Information Service doesn’t see a return to the near $4 peak we saw earlier this year, some analysts disagree.   “I think we will see prices in 2012 that will break … records” said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service.

Don’t be caught off guard by high gas prices this holiday season.  Before heading home for the holidays be sure to check out the Cost2Drive website or our new Cost2Drive iPhone app to see what it will cost to get there based on current gas prices along your route.  It will also help you save money by locating the cheapest gas at refueling points and displays the cheapest airfare so you can see if it will be cheaper to drive or fly home.

Happy Driving!

Who Cares About the Cost of Driving?

Summer Travelers Are At the Top of the List

I have to admit that when we launched our trip planning application Cost2Drive back in October of 2008 we weren’t sure of the answer to this question.  Gas prices had just come off the record highs of  the previous summer and were beginning their precipitous fall to levels we hadn’t seen in 10 years.

Fast-forward to today and, in large part due to once-again soaring gas prices combined with a struggling economy, the cost of driving seems to be on everyone’s mind.

As a result we’re continuing to see the surge in traffic to Cost2Drive that began earlier in the year as over 40,000 people visited the site in June to plan upcoming road trips.  This represented 20% growth over May and was more than double the number of visitors from June of last year.

So where are all these people going?  When we look at the destinations people are entering on Cost2Drive the top two destinations are consistently Orlando, FL and Las Vegas, NV.

Top Travel Destinations on Cost2Drive

Anyone that’s worked in the travel industry (I previously ran AOL Travel) knows that year-in and year-out these are the two most popular leisure vacation destinations in the US, indicating that we’re attracting a leisure travel audience to the site.  So far this year over 15,000 routes have been entered on Cost2Drive.com with Orlando as the destination, and another 5,000 with Walt Disney World or Disneyland meaning that as many as 20,000 travelers have used Cost2Drive to help plan a Disney vacation.

Other popular searches on Cost2Drive so far this summer include National Parks (as we pointed out in a previous post).  We’re seeing a surge in interest from summer travelers who want to find how much it will cost them to drive to the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone or Yosemite National Parks based on current gas prices.

Ocean City, MD (Photo licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License.)

Another indication that leisure travelers are finding their way to Cost2Drive is the recent spike in searches on beach destinations like Duck, Corolla and Nags Head in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Myrtle Beach in South Carolina and the beaches of Cape Cod in Massachusetts.  These are all popular drive-to  destinations so its not surprising our trip planning application comes in handy.

And last – but definitely not least – are hotels.  Users are starting to figure out that with the new autocomplete functionality we added to Cost2Drive last month they can simply start typing in a hotel name and, if the hotel is in the database, a few keystrokes is all it takes to locate and enter an address.  As a result we’ve seen hundreds of searches on hotel names in the past month.

Recent Hotel Searches

So what types of hotels are Cost2Drive users staying in?  A common misconception about the car traveler market is that it is purely budget focused, and although we certainly see a cluster of searches on hotels in the moderate price range like Travelodge, Fairfield Inn and Staybridge Suites, we also see plenty of searches on full service hotels like Marriott, Sheraton and Hilton and even some in the luxury segment like the Beverly Hills Wilshire, Ritz Carlton and the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, MI.

So don’t assume that ‘drive equals cheap”.  After all, as anyone that’s driven a family of four to Disney World can attest, its far from inexpensive…but the memories are priceless.

Happy Driving!

For Many, Summer Means Visits to National Parks

Searches for National Parks on Cost2Drive.com on the Increase

Grand Canyon National Park (Photo Credit: B Rosen)

Heading into the Fourth of July holiday weekend I thought it would be interesting to see if visitors to  Cost2Drive.com have been searching for national parks on our site as they tend to be popular destinations for summer vacations.  I also wanted to see if the new autocomplete feature we added to the site in the beginning of June was having an impact as it now makes it super easy to find national parks on Cost2Drive.

It turns out the answer on both accounts can be seen in the chart below.  There is definitely a strong upward trend for searches for national parks on Cost2Drive heading into the summer travel season, and there was a noticeable bump in national park searches immediately after we launched the autocomplete feature.

Weekly Searches for National Parks on Cost2Drive.com

The autocomplete feature also has the benefit of helping bad spellers (like myself) find the correct spelling for a location and may educate us in other ways as well (did you know that Mount Rushmore is actually a National Memorial, not a National Park?).

So what national parks (or memorials) are visitors to Cost2Drive.com searching for?  The pie chart below displays the top 10 searches for national parks during the week of June 20th.  As you can see in the chart, the Grand Canyon remains the grand daddy of all national parks as it came in first place on the list.

Share of Top 10 National Park searches on Cost2Drive.com

If you’re thinking of visiting one of these national treasures this summer and want to find out how much it will cost check out Cost2Drive.com to quickly calculate the cost of driving to the national parks based on real time gas prices along the route, and then visit the official government site for the US National Park Service for additional information on items like lodging and entrance fees.  For your convenience we’re providing the links to the official Websites of the  national parks referenced in the chart above along with the vehicle entrance fee for each park.

  1. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona ($25 entrance fee)
  2. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho ($25 entrance fee)
  3. Yosemite National Park, California ($20 entrance fee)
  4. Glacier National Park, Montana ($25 entrance fee – summer)
  5. Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota (entrance is free but parking is $11)
  6. Zion National Park, Utah ($25 entrance fee)
  7. Arches National Park, Utah ($10 entrance fee)
  8. Great Smokey Mountains National Park, Tennessee, North Carolina (FREE!)
  9. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado ($20 entrance fee)
  10. Badlands National Park, South Dakota ($15 entrance fee)

We hope everyone has a joyful and safe Independence Day weekend.  Summer is here at last so lets get out and enjoy it, and if you’re interested in other road trip excursions this July 4th weekend check out these 50 Drives of a Lifetime.

Happy Driving!

Wanna Widget?

New Trip Planning Tool Available Free to Travel Websites

Visit Tampa Bay Widget

Almost from the day we launched the site Cost2Drive.com people have been asking us for a widget version they could easily add to their own blogs or Websites.  In fact a number of tourism sites like Visit San Antonio, Visit Philly and California’s Redwood Coast didn’t bother waiting and already link off to Cost2Drive to help prospective visitors plan better car trips to their destination (and for this we are VERY appreciative!).

Today we’re pleased to announce that we’ve built an iframe version of Cost2Drive that Website owners can easily add  to their site by adding a single line of code.    This is perfect for travel sites that cater to the drive-in market and want to provide additional trip planning tools to their users.  With the average price of gas in the US still well above $3.50 a gallon transportation costs can easily eat up 20% or more of an entire vacation budget, so helping travelers better plan and manage these costs will give them another reason to visit your site, and more importantly your destination!

widget Results Page

To use the widget users simply enter the origin and destination of the trip (note, sites can insert a default destination as in the above example for Tampa, FL) and then their vehicle information.  After entering this information the user clicks on the Find My Cost to Drive button and our Galculator takes care of the rest, returning the trip costs based on real time gas prices along the route.

We couldn’t fit all the great features of Cost2Drive in this small widget so if the user want to see more details, such as a map of the route or where to find the cheapest gas at refueling points, they can click on the See Details button which will take them over to Cost2Drive.com for the full results.  For routes over 200 miles in distance they’ll also see the cheapest airfare so they can easily determine if its cheaper to fly or drive to the destination.

If you’d like to test out the widget functionality check out the live version on VisitTampaBay.com.  Many thanks go out to Jeremy Fairley @VisitTampaBay for working with us to help define the specifications for these widgets in preparation for launching them on the Tampa Bay & Co. Website.

We’ll be posting a self-serve page shortly where you can go to grab the code for the widget and add it to your site.  If you can’t wait and are interested in getting one sooner drop me a line at jim@costtogo.com and we’ll get you hooked up!

Happy Driving!

Cost2Drive Adds Autocomplete Functionality

Improves Speed, Accuracy and Comprehensiveness.

If there’s one thing we obsess about at C2G, its creating absolutely seamless experiences that delight our users, and so its with great excitement that we announce today that we’ve enabled the Google Maps autocomplete functionality on Cost2Drive just in time for Memorial Day weekend.

When we first launched Cost2Drive.com we thought we had created a pretty simple user interface to our application, and that’s been supported by all the positive feedback we’ve received.  But we’ve also noticed a pattern of feedback related to issues users were having around getting Cost2Drive to recognize certain addresses.  As we investigated this further, we discovered this is often related to one of two issues:

  1. The location was not recognized by the Google Maps API
  2. The user misspelled or mistyped parts of the address

These issues are further compounded by the fact that Cost2Drive is attracting a traveling audience, and as a result many of the destinations being entered are not technically geographic locations.  For example, Disney World and Disneyland have been entered over 3,000 times so far this year.  Other examples include geographically ambiguous locations like the Outer Banks in North Carolina, which used to result in an error message in our application.

Well not anymore.  Right on the cusp of the peak summer driving season we’re excited to launch this new feature which not only recognizes non-geographic locations like theme parks but also dramatically reduces the time required to enter long addresses.  This is even more helpful when accessing Cost2Drive.com from a mobile device, where every keystroke counts.

And best of all, bad spellers like myself will finally have a crutch to fall back on when entering locations.  Here’s an interesting tidbit from our search logs,  Niagara Falls is misspelled over 30% of the time its entered as a destination, but now with autocomplete never again!

Let us know what you think of the new feature.  We wish everyone a happy and safe holiday weekend and if you’re looking for some wonderful road trip ideas check out the 20 Memorable Memorial Day Road Trips we posted last year.  They’re available in Google Maps and look awesome on an iPad!

Happy Driving!

Route-Based Targeting; The New Frontier?

My route Obsession

Several years ago as I was planning a car trip for me, my wife and teenage son from Washington, DC to Sarasota, FL, I faced the all-too-common challenge of trying to figure out where to stop along the route.  Using Google maps I plotted out the route and then eye-balled some of the likely stopover points based on  the larger names that appeared on the map. Hmmm, Savannah, GA always sounded like a neat place to visit, lets make that one of the stops.  None of the other names incited any interest and so it took a good bit of research to finally settle on St. Augustine, Florida for our other stopover.  We’d stop at St. Augustine on the way down and Savannah on the return trip to DC.

I remember thinking that this was a rather inefficient way to plan a trip, and that there must be many great cities to visit and sites and attractions to  see along this route (besides of course South of the Border).

The problem then occurred to me;  driving directions have blinders on.  They don’t illuminate all the great possibilities along a route. Even though some sites like AAA TripTiks and MapQuest are attempting to solve this problem,  they have no sensitivity to distance so they serve up the same information whether you’re traveling 2 miles or 2,000.  This has implications on many fronts, and so it seemed like a very worthwhile problem to solve.  Thus began what I now refer to as my route obsession.

When you look at our flagship site Cost2Drive.com, you’ll see evidence of this type of thinking.  For example, when a user enters a route we surface the cheapest flight found on Kayak for that route, but only if its over 200 miles in distance (it’s distance-sensitive).  We also view routes not as simple origin-destination pairs (a very flight-centric view of the world) but as a corridor with many wonderful things to see and do in between.  For example, we plot out the refueling points along the way, not only to identify the cheapest gas prices at those points, but as a visual cue to users of where they’ll likely need to stop.  The trip-planning process logically unfolds from there.

This is all enabled by the Galculator, our route-aware technology that powers all of the C2G applications.  With hundreds of startups focusing on location-based targeting, we see a vast new frontier emerging in a related field, one that we call route-based targeting.  We feel we’ve only scratched the surface on this exciting opportunity, and as the peak summer travel season approaches you’ll see some more examples of how we’re feverishly working to remove the blinders from driving directions, both for travelers and advertisers alike.

Happy Driving!