kango-logo.pngKango, a travel search engine that finds lodging and activities that match your personal preferences, is launching a closed testing version and announcing that it raised $4 million from Shasta Ventures earlier this year.

This area is extremely competitive. Companies like Kayak and Sidestep, which search multiple sites for the best ticket prices, have raised millions from marquee VCs; cFares, which finds wholesale plane tickets at discount rates, recently raised $4.5 million. TripIt makes it easy to manage your travel plans and share them with others and raised $1 million. We recently used and like Farecast, which does much of this, and offers predictions too. The list goes on and on.

But Palo Alto’s Kango is doing something different. Rather than pricing airfare and hotels, it wants to help you plan what to do once you reach your travel destination. You can already do this using tree-based travel guides like Lonely Planet or by scouring thousands of small sites for recommendations from other travelers. But Kango wants to index these small sites and use semantic technology to detect what destinations and activities they cover, so someone looking for a family vacation in, say, Big Sur will see a different set of results than someone seeking romance or adventure.

Kango’s technology extracts the sentiment from the postings it indexes and only shows results for locations that get positive buzz. If you’re looking for activities, you can filter using a number of criteria, including theme parks, playgrounds, wineries and breweries, and spas.

In its current state, Kango only supports California and Hawaii and doesn’t expand beyond “family friendly” and “romantic.” The ability to search for “pet friendly, “historical,” “eco-friendly” and “thrill-seeking” destinations and activities is planned for later releases.

The company’s founder Yen Lee, who was a general manager for Yahoo Travel, has an insider’s perspective on the limitations of the online travel market and has used what he learned at Yahoo Travel to build a technology with a refreshing spin on travel search. With all of the money and brainpower behind online travel sites, it’s surprising something like Kango hasn’t come along sooner.

That said, getting users to visit yet another site as part of their travel planning process will be no mean feat. Once it’s fleshed out, it’d be great to see Kango’s services integrated into a larger platform that handles ticket search, booking, and TripIt’s central organization from one beautiful interface.

See our first mention of Kango here (scroll down).