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.