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DifficultTravel.com. If you build it, I will come.

I realize I’m not a great target market, but I have a great business idea that invite you, the reader, to launch this service and I promise I’ll be a loyal and dedicated client.

The business: DifficultTravel.com

Any travel website can get you from Boston to San Francisco, or get you a Carribean cruise at some nominal discount. But what happens when your travel plans include a business trip from Albany (my home airport) to Seoul, then to Monrovia, Liberia, preferably with a stop in Accra?

(Yes, this is a real itinerary, one I’m looking into for a trip in July.)

Expedia doesn’t recognize the existence of Accra. Orbitz lets me play minigolf, but can’t find either of the airports in Monrovia. Kayak is kind enough to accept four legs of a multileg trip… but it shrugs and tells me no flights are available.

It is, in fact, possible to fly to Monrovia. Sabena runs a flight daily from Brussels, and a number of smaller African carriers (Belleville, Slok) fly from major west African capitals. DifficultTravel would suggest a routing of ALB-DTW-CDG-ICN-CDG, then a train from Paris to Brussels, BRU-ROB-BRU, the train back, CDG-DTW-ALB… Or, honoring my stopover request: ALB-DTW-AMS-ICN-AMS-ACC-ROB-ACC-AMS-DTW-ALB.

It would remind you that you need a Liberian visa on a US passport and check your international travel schedule to find seven days you’re in the US to issue you the visa and that there’s no Liberian consulate in South Korea. It would print out a page of basic Korean phrases, a city map of Brussels and remind you to buy Malarone as a malaria prophylaxis.

If you entered a simple travel request – a nonstop from LGA to LAX, for instance – into DifficultTravel.com, it would make fun of you and unceremoniously dump you onto travelocity.com.

Aren’t there companies that do this? Yes, there are. But they’re surprisingly bad at it. When Geekcorps merged with IESC, we inherited their travel provider. They found us tickets to Africa that were roughly four times as expensive as the ones we got through various ticket brokers. We fired them after three months and went back to booking tickets ourselves.

I’ve got a very good travel agent who often books tricky tickets for me. But I feel really bad about it – she makes as much from my Ulanbaatar to Kigali with a Copenhagen stopover as she does from Joe Salaryman’s three night JFK-LHR with hotel. And when Joe takes the wife and kids for a package vacation in Orlando, she makes even more. No wonder she’s not happy when I call.

I see at least two ways to staff the company. One involves recruiting the bad boys of the travel agencies – the travel equivalent of the irreverent meatball surgeons on M*A*S*H, or perhaps Dr. House, the guy the other travel agents hand the tough cases to. We’d encourage a rebellious esprit d’corps, heavy drinking and tattoos. We’d bill based on hours spent arranging an itinerary, sometimes as little as $50, sometimes as much as $250.

The second option involves harnessing the distributed power of smart folks around the globe, connected by the Internet. You’d post your travel requirements, and they’d be made accessible to “citizen travel agents” around the world. Any of these agents – using existing web tools, phonecalls, and their savvy and connections – could propose a solution to you, complete with carrier details, seat assignments and price. If you chose someone’s solution, they’d get paid a base percentage of the total ticket price plus a fraction of the difference between their price and the price of the next-most-expensive itinerary.

C’mon, Lazyweb, help me out. If someone founds this business, I promise you at least four expensive, near impossible itineraries a year.

16 thoughts on “DifficultTravel.com. If you build it, I will come.”

  1. OMG Yes. I’m so with you on this one. Even STA Travel’s website isn’t helping – it won’t let me fly from Brisbane to KL (two major cities!) even though there are direct flights available. o_O

  2. And oh yeah another website I’d like to see: A place where you input your passport country and it lists out all the places you need a visa for. The other way is easy to find (Who does country X need a visa from?) but this would be mundo helpful, especially for round-the-world trips.

  3. Kerim – you may note that the previous commenter just slammed STA for not allowing him her to book a fairly conventional itinerary. And I just tried Airtreks – they don’t have any flights to Liberia. I really think this is harder than you think… which is why I made the post. :-)

  4. I’m a her ;) And it was precisely Australia’s STA Travel Create-Your-Own-Trip that didn’t give me the flight I wa looking for (I am amused that they had Brisbane-Singapore from Austrian Air though).

    Can be hard living in an obscure city sometimes :P

  5. Well, opodo.co.uk is much better than Expedia and may be worth an occasional look (you’d have to pay in pounds, though) but only while we’re waiting for someone to develop difficulttravel.com as it fails with Monrovia as well.

    I do appreciate it knows Accra, though, and it usually finds reasonable offers (at least from Europe).

  6. This is a market segment that I work with every day. My companies staff travels only this kind of weird routings and with my travel agency we make all efforts to maintain a 94% satisfaction service level.
    If some one would automate this process that would be of great value to us.

  7. Ha ha! I like your smart folks idea–my jet-setting dad can get anywhere in the world with a minimum of fuss by contacting the nearest Youth for Christ program. Missionaries go where angels fear to tread–maybe they should set this up as a fund-raising opportunity!:-)

  8. I’m actually on the prowl right now for a flight into Liberia and I’m running into all kinds of headaches. I will be in Senegal July 2 and need to get to Monrovia for about 6 weeks. I realize that Slok might run that route but I’ve heard some horror stories (crashed a couple times in the last few years). I believe that the SN Brussels flight mentioned earlier might have a stopover in Dakar. Any help?

  9. It’s only possible to fly directly to Liberia with SN Brussels. Hugely expensive. Have heard rumours about KLM starting a service– and there may be some way through Mauritania (?). There is also a bi-weekly Accra to Monrovia UN shuttle but it is not for the public. Some international NGOs may though be able to get people on the shuttle if there is room. I don’t know how it works.

  10. I am having a good giggle reading this as I try to find a flight to join Mercy Ships in Liberia in a few months… any tips now that a few months have passed?

  11. The best advice I can give, Katherine, would be to try to find a travel agency in your country heavily used by expatriate Liberians – you might find that by looking at newspaper ads that feature low rates to Liberia or targetted web ads. But my experience has been that Liberia airfares are pretty damned steep.

  12. Dear All,
    We now feature London / Monrovia / London service every Monday and Friday which commenced three weeks ago (Jan’07) for further information contact USA (410) 659 7776 or UK 01293 822922
    Kevin McPhillips Travel

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