Tripbirds, the social travel startup based in Stockholm, today unveiled a significant shift in direction for its product and website. No longer is the startup focused broadly on collecting and sharing travel experiences of all kinds, organized by geography. Instead, the site now aims directly at hotel booking, though it retains the social element upon which its previous approach was based, albeit with certain stipulations that no longer tie it so directly to a user’s Facebook network.
Originally, Tripbirds was designed as a way for people to plan their travels with the help and guidance of friends. Users connected their Facebook account, and then could see all the destinations and travel-related content of others in their social graph, so long as they were also signed up for Tripbirds. Therein lied one of the network’s early problems; not only did it rely heavily on Facebook for login and registration, it also had very little to show unless a user already had other Facebook friends on the network.
The redesign reflects both a desire to simplify, and to make it very clear what users are getting out of the service. In an interview, Tripbirds communication manager Martina Elm explained why the startup decided to narrow its focus for this second kick at the can.
“After being in open beta for a while, we learned that our service needed to be easier to understand, as well as instantly create value for our users,” she said. “After a long discussion and listening to user feedback, we decided to focus on one part of the trip, hotel bookings, and doing that really well.”
To instantly create value, Tripbirds now doesn’t require that friends are connected, allowing users to book hotels and view pricing, description and images around hotels as well as drag them to a persistent tray for comparison even if they’re the only one in a network on the service. But Facebook integration still adds much to the experience, by providing users with hotel recommendations culled from friends if they are connected, and allowing them to plan hotel bookings together for group trips.
“Social media is really changing the travel industry, but we think there’s been less innovation int that area with hotel booking,” Elm explained about retaining the social focus as a key element. “In most hotel booking sites, they don’t include social data to show you ratings and reviews, they’re from strangers, so there’s no context to that information, meaning there’s no reason to know if you can trust it or not.”
That’s likewise true for photos, which Elm notes are often taken and/or chosen for the express purpose of inclusion with a web-based review. Tripbirds provides official hotel photos, which other services often do, but also mines Instagram for public shared images from that location, which are taken when users want to capture an experience, not just illustrate something to back up their review. Elm believes the difference in intent behind those two types of pictures can make the difference between a more accurate and a distorted view of a hotel.
Where before Tripbirds allowed users to lay out their entire itinerary, looking not just at accommodation but also attractions, tours, restaurants, cafés and more, creating a lot of potential power but also not very clearly defining how it might be used, now the intent of the site is obvious at a glance. That’s not only better for users looking for clearly defined value, it’s also good for Tripbirds in terms of providing a clear and direct path towards generating revenue. The site is starting its new life with one partner for booking, Booking.com, but hopes to be able to establish more partnerships down the road.
Asked whether or not Tripbirds might try slowly expanding its focus again to include categories it’s now left out, like restaurants and attractions, Elm couldn’t say for certain. Tripbirds had a lot of potential in its previous form, however, so if it can find a path back to being a more comprehensive travel tool, only this time without making things confusing for users, that seems like a good direction for growth.