Another day, another online travel site. In fact, at a time when hotels are half-empty and airlines are on the brink, it seems as if the only optimists in the business are the developers of new travel Web sites.
“There’s a lot of talent out there,” says Henry Harteveldt, vice president at Forrester Research, “and an entrepreneur can say, ‘Gee, I’m frustrated with this or that aspect of planning my trip.’ Out of those frustrations can come some great business opportunities.”
Furthermore, says Lorraine Sileo, an analyst at PhoCusWright, the average online traveler looks at three or four sites, with many looking at far more: “You can’t just rely on one site to find everything you need.”
Put it all together — along with low start-up costs — and the plethora of new sites should come as no surprise. Whether they’re all viable is unclear, but in the meantime, here are some of the newest additions to the mix:
It had to happen. With discretionary spending down and bus ridership way up, someone was bound to come up with a meta-search site for intercity bus travel. That’s the idea behind BusJunction.com, a brand-new aggregator of bus fares.
The site searches fares and schedules from BoltBus, Megabus and 11 others. It covers 30 cities throughout the busy Northeast corridor and as far west as Minneapolis and St. Louis. Searching for a trip from New York to Washington, D.C., next Monday, returned 60 results, complete with travel times, availability of Internet access and power outlets and one-way fares of $8 to $28.
If you’ve ever wondered whether a hotel deal is for real, DealBase.com may be able to help. Scouring more than 3,500 sources, it crunches the numbers on hotel packages throughout North America and the Caribbean to determine whether those “special offers” are really all that special.
The heavy lifting is done by the site’s Deal Analyzer, which calculates whether a package price is truly less than the sum of its parts. Consider the “Freedom Trail Experience” package at The Midtown Hotel in Boston, which includes a room, parking, breakfast for two and admission for two adults and one child to three Freedom Trail museums. As a package, it’s $158 per night; à la carte, it’ll cost you $314.
As the newest kid on the social-networking/travel-recommendation block, Nextstop.com invites users to recommend places to go and things to do and to create travel guides that can be shared with others.
That, of course, isn’t all that new, but Nextstop lets you find information by destination, theme, map or individual contributor. And because nothing is more communal than gameplay, you can even earn “badges” and compete in challenges to create new guides. It’s all very mashable and Google-esque, which isn’t surprising since it was founded by expats from the Googleplex.
Overwhelmed by endless anonymous hotel reviews and unsure who to believe? Rather than add even more to the mix, Raveable.com seeks out the relevant info embedded in other online reviews and ranks hotels according to the collective wisdom of the Web.
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In a nutshell, the site uses natural language processing (NLP) to parse reviews both for subject matter and sentiment. (A “spotless” room, for example, is different than a merely “clean” one.) Based on the most common raves (and rants), hotels are rated for various amenities (rooms, service and value) and ranked against other hotels in the area. The site currently claims 35 million opinions for 55,000 U.S. hotels.
Launched last month, Voyij.com is designed for travelers who favor flexibility over specific dates and destinations. Punch in your home airport and potential travel dates — from this weekend to four months out — and it will return a comprehensive list of hotels, airfares and air/hotel packages that are currently on sale.
The site features deals throughout North America and the Caribbean. A recent search from Seattle, for example, returned $15 rooms at the Golden Gate Hotel in Las Vegas, $218 roundtrip flights to Orlando and 10,573 other deals. Be forewarned, though: if that package deal sounds amazingly good, the availability probably won’t be.
Finally, consider BestTravelDeals.net, which debuted just last week in a bid to provide what it calls “digital democracy for travel deals.” Translation: it’s a social-media site that lets travel providers post deals and invites users to vote on their perceived value. Deals with the most votes rise to the top and are posted on the homepage.
Although new, the site already posts a diverse assortment of deals for airfares, hotels, cruises, vacation rentals and travel packages. Top vote-getters last week ranged from free children’s movies at a Connecticut-based movie chain to 5-night/6-day Disney World packages, including lodging, meals and park admission, for $58 per person per day, a savings of $654 for a family of four.
Then again, the polls are still open.
Rob Lovitt is a frequent contributor to msnbc.com. If you'd like to respond to one of his columns or suggest a story idea, drop him an e-mail.
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