As the editor of Perceptive Travel, I don’t normally chime in too much here because I have five capable bloggers writing great stuff all the time. But I’m at the PhocusWright conference right now, a place where the brightest (and best-funded) start-ups in the travel technology space come to strut their stuff.

This year it’s all about sharing, Facebook integration, and planning your trip in collaboration with others. It’s already getting crowded though and the writers and analysts I was with weren’t sold: after all, a LOT of travel is planned by one person who then dictates to others what’s going to happen.

Anyway, some companies win, some lose, and many innovations are on the back end anyway, invisible to those of us actually spending money on travel. But here’s a sneak peak into what I saw that I personally think is useful and cool.

Hipmunk – Apparently I’m late to the party on this one as the company already has loads of traffic and has built up a legion of fans in just three months. These are smart and funny guys with lots of venture funding and a platform that makes booking a flight far easier than it is now. I’m ready to use this tomorrow and for every trip from here on out. The big sea change? They sort by “agony.” As in the trip with the least stops and the fastest time in transit comes up first, with all awful trips hidden away on a different screen, but you can sort by price, by departure time, etc. without ever having to leave your original browser page—new options open in new tabs. The interface is customer-centric instead of advertiser-centric and is a joy to use compared to what you’re used to.

Goby.com is the first site I’ve seen that would actually spur me to carry a smart phone around while on vacation. It’s a great local travel resource for seeing everything to do in a city, with maps directions, opening hours, etc. From within the application you can do pretty much everything you need to do booking-wise or to call or e-mail a place, plus it’s connected to Facebook, so you can patch in anyone who’s on the trip with you and keep them in the loop. (They can make suggestions and add places/activities.) It’s tag-based, so it’s pulling info from all around the web: tourism sites, park sites, festival sites—then putting it into a pretty package with photos. It’s “rich, hyper-local content” for Android or the iPhone family.

SilverRail – This one’s so dead obvious it’s a wonder nobody has made it work before: one-stop shopping for rail travel. Booking a train trip anywhere should be as easy as booking a flight anywhere, but it’s not. This company has done all the very hard legwork of tapping into all the fragmented systems and putting them into one easy interface. Whether you’re traveling around Europe or taking the bullet train in Japan, this site will get it sorted.

GroundLink – Need a car and driver somewhere instead? GroundLink is the one-stop shop for booking ground transportation with someone else at the wheel anywhere in the world. Book through these guys and you don’t have to worry about getting someone reliable after your plane lands.

Bonvoy was one of many social media booking/sharing/planning platforms shown off and this one got my attention because it’s not a website, but a Facebook app. If four of you are traveling together, you use this to plan it together, keep each other updated, and—here’s the key thing—automatically splitting up the costs. No more nagging your friends for that 180 bucks they owe you before your credit card bill is due. Simple and cool, and it cuts down on the e-mail chatter.

TripAlertz is a new members-only coupon site that’s like Groupon or LivingSocial, but just for travel. You get notified by e-mail or text about a screaming bargain hotel deal and if you turn some friends on to it, the price goes down. Just U.S. travel for now, but sign up and check it out.

OffandAway is a little too complicated for my tastes, but the basic idea is that you can bid on a fabulous hotel suite in places like New York and Las Vegas and the worst thing that happens if you don’t win is that you get a regular room for that price instead. So not much downside, but a lot of upside if you’ve got a nice vacation budget.

I heard 32 presentations yesterday, so obviously I can’t cover all of even just the consumer-oriented ones, but hopefully one of these can result in a great trip for you soon!

The following two tabs change content below.
Tim Leffel is author of five travel books, including Travel Writing 2.0, and A Better Life for Half the Price, on living abroad. He is editor of Perceptive Travel webzine and this blog. He splits his time between Guanajuato, Mexico and Tampa Bay. See his writing portfolio, awards, and links to his books at TimLeffel.com.