Oct. 22, 2012 at 10:09 AM ET
Eenie, meenie, minie, mo: Would you let a website pick where you’ll go?
That’s the premise, more or less, of GetGoing.com, a new website now in beta and set for a consumer launch on Nov. 1. The site promises airfare discounts of up to 40 percent to users who are willing to let the website pick their final destination.
Here’s how it works: Users conduct a flight search, either by regional destination (Europe, Asia, U.S./Canada, etc.) or by interest (family fun, beaches and sun, history and culture, etc.) and are shown, on average, 10 possible destinations, along with a full selection of flight options for each one.
The site then asks you to narrow the options to two final choices and provide your booking and credit-card information. The good news is that only one of the two itineraries will be booked; the potentially nerve-wracking news is that you don’t find out which one until after you've clicked the "Complete this Purchase" button.
It sounds crazy, but co-founder and CEO Alek Vernitsky insists otherwise: “Giving somebody the option of selecting two destinations instead of one fits with how people think about vacations,” he said. “People naturally think in terms of options — do I want to go here or there?”
Imagine, for example, that you’re looking for a beach vacation from Boston in early January. Inputting that information, the site returns 10 possible destinations, ranging from Florida to the Bahamas to Mexico, along with photos, flight options and airfares, including both GetGoing’s price and one scraped from Kayak.com.
Among the options are two flights to Florida: Fort Myers for $124 round trip (vs. $176 on Kayak) and West Palm Beach for $140 (vs. $192 on Kayak). Select them both and the site will choose between them, revealing where you’ll be going and who you’ll be flying.
In fact, it’s that flip-a-coin philosophy that serves as the secret sauce that allows the site to provide the savings it does. As Vernitsky explains it, the uncertainty angle eliminates the bulk of travelers who have a specific destination in mind, such as those visiting family, attending events or traveling on business.
The result is de facto market segmentation. As long as the airlines know that passengers who would otherwise pay full fare won’t opt in, says Vernitsky, they can offer any remaining seats at significant discounts to attract more price-sensitive fliers.
In other words, it’s a bit like a flash-sale site (exclusive availability) but with no date constraints, and a bit like an opaque site (temporary carrier uncertainty) but with no risk of a three-stop, 14-hour ordeal as you get to select your flights before you book.
As such, it will appeal primarily to what Carroll Rheem, director of research at PhoCusWright, refers to as “discretionary travelers,” i.e., those who take “true holidays that are not constrained by social obligations or other outside influences.” According to Rheem, some 19 percent of U.S. travelers fit the category and roughly half of them don’t have a specific destination in mind when planning trips.
“When consumers are thinking about taking vacations, especially in the very early stages, they most often say, ‘I just want to get away somewhere. What are my options?’” she told NBC News. On the other hand, “People like to be in control of big decisions and choosing a destination is definitely a big decision. Even if the choices are good, leaving things to chance makes most people uncomfortable.”
For GetGoing, the challenge will boil down to whether or not there are enough travelers out there who are willing to forgo certainty in exchange for big savings. At launch, the site will offer departures from 12 U.S. airports and itineraries to roughly 2,000 destinations. Going forward, Vernitsky hopes to add similar offerings for hotels and local getaways.
In the meantime, Rheem suggests sites like GetGoing are part of a larger trend in which the travel industry gradually moves away from traditional “date and destination” products built around schedules and specific places to ones that offer inspiration, a sense of discovery and a more personalized approach.
“You need to start with the infrastructure — the geography, the schedules — but now it’s time to build a layer that’s more ergonomic,” she said. “Companies that build flexible, layered search parameters [will be able to] align more closely to the way travelers instinctively think about their trips.”
Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him on Twitter.