Monday, February 9, 2009

Alfonso Castellano Interview - on TripSay, content models and staying focused (part 2)

This is part two of my interview with TripSay’s new board member Alfonso Castellano. In part one of the interview Castellano and I talked through the online industry in general. We covered topics like the pressures confronting the OTAs (complexity, margin pressure, marketing costs), meta-search and the impacts of the global financial crisis (GFC).

In this part we talked about TripSay and the travel content model. Castellano believes that the next “ten year space” for travel is the 90%+ of the travel experience not captured by the OTAs – the discover, search, research and decision process that goes on before the trip and the collaboration, sharing and recording that goes on after the adventure.

His view is that TripSay will focus on the planning and sharing element using the traveller’s own community as the best resource.

Balancing UGC and Editorial Content

A challenge we discussed is finding the right balance between community generated content (UGC) and editorial content (see earlier discussions here and here). TripSay’s approach to this is to work with partners that have editorial content and combine with the TripSay community content. This does not mean doing a licence deal with a Frommers or Lonely Planet to white label the content on TripSay. Instead they propose to provide the TripSay as a white label community system for a travel company. TripSay provides the community content and platform, the distribution partner provides their traffic and editorial content. I like this idea. Giving travel companies like destination sites, tourism boards, tour operators etc to use TripSay in a software-as-a-service style model for launching a community structure. I see how this works towards a good balance between UGC and editorial content.

Monetising Travel Content Traffic

Castellano and I agree that if you can build travel content traffic (and make it sticky) then the advertising and paid traffic revenue will come. This places the monetisation pressure on the TripSay marketing team. On traffic acquisition, Castellano admitted that TripSay does not have a lot of money to buy traffic. Therefore the traffic plan combines with the biz development strategy for content acquisition. Using the partner deals for content generation to also drive traffic to TripSay. This will be driven through the acquisition of online affiliate partners but also through a push to sign up travel agents into a industry based community.

Focus and product development

The final challenge we discussed – which impacts all startups – is keeping the business focused on the product pipelines. In effect channelling the enthusiasm within the business. The GFC plays are role here too according to Castellano. Keeping an enthused entrepreneurial team focused on products that can make an immediate impact. Their hope is that they can do this faster and more nimbly than the larger companies.

I agree with these strategies but the main downside is that it places an involved (and complicated) biz dev obligation on TripSay. From my rules for content companies – this will take time. They will need great sales people and patience (read financial backing).

The last part that interested me was when asked about competitors he mentioned that the only other major player in the same space as TripSay is Travbuddy. I do not yet have my head around the distinctions between (or if there are distinctions between) the different travel content, review, planning, community etc sites. This came up in a comment in recent Tripwolf fund raising post. There clearly is some sort of categorisation between these sites but I have not figured it out yet. It is important to have categorisation because that helps with the development of competitor fighting and customer acquiring strategies. But done badly, categorisation can lead to the wrong focus – witness the distortions in parts of the online hotel sector in creating distinctions between last minute, full service, retail model, merchant model,etc when all consumers care about is booking a room. What do you think?

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