Why do most travel planning tools fail?

For starters, most great new ideas fail. The success rate on start-ups is tiny. And I dabble in the “travel planning tools” space with a variety of little things mostly built around what I need or want at any given point in time rather than looking for a massive market to profit on. So, in that sense, I guess I expect most of my tools to be “failures” as commercial operations. But there are a lot of entrepreneurs who have a different view. They want to see great success from their apps. And they still often come up short. Is there a pattern or predictive indicator? Maybe there is.


This is an old story (2+ years, actually), but I just came across it earlier this week. One of the partners at Y Combinator (a technology incubator) wrote out some thoughts on why he sees travel apps failing. The short of it:

No one plans that many trips.

To have a successful site – especially when the goal is to displace established commercial players – there needs to be both a critical mass of users and the site needs to be “sticky.” The users need to come back again and again to get the information they’re looking for and, more importantly, to complete another transaction where the site can generate a bit of revenue. And in the travel space that revenue generation opportunity continues to shrivel, at least in the traditional travel booking sense. Hotels still offer an avenue of decent margins but even those are seeing pressures in some cases.

And when the average family plans only one or two trips each year it becomes very, very challenging to create a new offering sticky enough to be the go-to solution for them. Even if they do love your product what will bring them back next year? Will they even remember the name??

We’ll continue to see travel planning sites crop up and, more often than not, fade away. And that’s okay. Because every now and then one of them will figure out that magic sauce and become a hit. But in the meantime, it also means a lot of flops to try out along the way.

My solution: Just get everyone to travel more. Alas, not particularly practical nor likely, but it would be nice.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Something I think about from time to time as well. I think about travel much of the time, and travel a lot, and I can’t keep straight all the endless hotel sites, apps, etc that pop up. Many are conceptually good, however they are easy to be forgotten. A good rule of thumb comes from the NYT’s Seth Kugel, “Does it do something better than Google Maps?’ In many cases a travel app does not.

    1. That’s an interesting theory but misses out on so many other factors of travel apps. I’m not looking for map directions and Google Maps is awful at most planning tasks other than that, particularly when it comes to communication and imagination.

  2. I plan about 12 trips a year and your tools are especially useful when it comes to SkyTeam partners. So glad they’re fixed now and really appreciate it!

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