DEMOfall 08: TravelMuse plans to simplify social travel planning

Travel sites are a dime a dozen. You can book trips. You can tell your friends about them. But nobody has done a great job of combining the basics of a travel site with tools that make it easy to plan trips and share information with fellow travelers. TravelMuse says it has the answer.

When you visit the Los Altos, Calif.-based company’s site, you can see a breathtaking photo (licensed for free from one of the many photographers on photo-sharing sites such as Flickr). There are also articles from 40 different freelance contributors on travel destinations. But the power of the site is in its combination of user suggestions and collaboration.

One of the most interesting features is the “Find Inspiration” tab. When you click on it, you can use it to figure out where you want to go. With simple sliders, you can set parameters such as the budget per person, duration of trip, season, and class of accommodation. You can enter the distance from home you’d like to travel. Then you can look at a “tag cloud” of activities and then pick which ones are the highest priority for your trip, such as spa visits. It takes just seconds to do.

Then the site suggests an itinerary. You can pull out some of the activities and replace them by dragging and dropping. You can also look up your friends’ trips and see what they did. If you want to do one of the activities they suggested, you drag it into your itinerary. That feature is there because the best advice usually comes from people you trust, said Kevin Fliess, chief executive of TravelMuse.

Once you like your itinerary, you can share it with friends and family, who can then sign off on it. Then you can actually book the trip using Travelocity’s booking engine. The company started in the spring of 2007 and has 11 employees. The company raised a first round from Azure Capital Partners and California Technology Ventures.

Michael Kwatinetz, general partner at Azure Capital, said he looked at 150 different travel start-ups before investing in TravelMuse. He was looking for something that combined a booking engine, rich information on travel destinations and trip prices, and user-generated features. And he was looking for companies that provide the services that travel agents used to perform. If TravelMuse can convince users that it represents the right combination of Travel 3.0, then Kwatinetz’s investment will pay off.

It’s interesting to note that, as much as travel is an old Internet application, it remains one of the most popular kinds of consumer web sites today. Competitors include NileGuide.com, Yahoo! Travel and a variety of others.
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