Friday, May 15, 2009

SideStep Dream Team Launches Voyij, but Parts of the Voyage Appear Shaky

Well, I guess flight metasearch really, really isn't dead.

Case in point is that a few of the key players in SideStep, which was sold to Kayak for around $200 million in 2007, this week debuted travel-metasearch site

They even baked a cake, or ordered one, to mark the occasion.

Among the SideStep alum taking the Voyij are Brent Stewart, Nick Atkins, Paul Kim and Brian Barth. And Voyij even recruited Rob Solomon, ex-SideStep CEO and formerly head of Yahoo Travel, for the kickoff press release.

The team of ex-SideSteppers now playing for Voyij reminded me of the Kayak "Dream Team" press release of October 2004. (Has it been almost five years? Sheesh! Time flies in metasearch.)

Voyij has some interesting twists.

But, some warning flags were flying high for me this morning.

Voyij has a dazzling array of suppliers and online travel agencies appearing in its search results, but I wonder how many of them have agreed to be there, and whether Voyij is engaged in some old-fashioned -- yes -- screen-scraping.

I know ITA Software, which helps Kayak, TripAdvisor, Farecast and FareCompare avoid scraping because of ITA's direct airline tie-ins, has no relationship with Voyij.

And, one of the travel companies that appears in Voyij's airfare results told me this morning that it did not authorize Voyij to use its inventory, and that the newbie metasearch site isn't even displaying the intermediary's correct logo.

I reached out to Voyij's public relations firm about this and other questions, but haven't heard back yet.

After a cursory look, I found the following cast of characters appearing in Voyij: Travelocity, TripRes,, Hotwire, Expedia, Farecast,,, Orbitz, US Airways, Perfect Escapes, JetBlue, Continental Airlines, American Airlines, Virgin America, United Vacations, Cheap Caribbean, Funjet Vacations, Southwest Vacations, TravelWorm and Apple Vacations.

It is very unusual to see Orbitz, Travelocity and Expedia appearing together in one metasearch engine. Again, it points possibly to some scraping, which leads to all kinds of problems, from earning the wrath of suppliers to availability weaknesses.

You would think that Voyij's team, with all its experience, wouldn't go down the scraping road. Tell me it ain't so, Voyij.

Voyij's search-results displays have a supplier-friendly -- but not necessarily consumer-friendly -- feature, in one respect. It appears that each fare or room rate appears in its own box. In other words, although a JetBlue fare may appear higher in the display grid than an American Airlines fare, they don't compete side-by-side for consumer attention in the same box.

This is the kind of treatment that American Airlines has insisted upon in other metasearch engines.

Also, concerning the displays, I don't like the way icons from suppliers and OTAs appear in the search results. For example, an American flag icon appears in some search results, but you wouldn't know it is supposed to signify US Airways unless you clicked on it or looked elsewhere in the display grid to identify it. I found it confusing.

The Voyij Price Challenge may be another feature that might give suppliers pause.

Here's how it works: I searched for a flight and found a $75 base fare for New York-Boston on US Airways. When you opt to select the Voyij Price Challenge connected to that display, it tells you that the US Airways fare saves you $96, or 56 percent, off another unidentified "airfare."

And, in this example, when I selected "airfare" to see which fare the US Airways flight beat by 56 percent, it directed me to for the more expensive -- are you ready -- US Airways fare.

And part of the discrepancy was that Voyij was comparing the base fare on to a US Airways fare through that included the taxes and fees.

Actually, there are a lot of confusing and not-ready-for-prime time aspects to Voyij -- it's almost as if the company launched the site prematurely.

For example, when I selected "the best sales and offers from your city," and I selected Newark Airport, and then clicked on hotel deals, the hotel that appeared first in the display was the Orleans Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

Yes, I can get to Las Vegas or, in fact, any hotel in the world from Newark Airport, but I was expecting to see deals from local hotels.

So, Voyij is off to a shaky and apparently scrapey (it's a new word) start.

The capable Dream Team of SideStep expatriots that Voyij drafted needs to huddle and get its act together.

1 comment:

Joe Buhler said...

Do we really need one more site that feeds the public and industry obsession with finding the absolutely, positively, definitely lowest possible airfare or hotel deal?

Why not focus on selling value in a smart and compelling fashion and maybe help to reverse that downward spiral in the travel industry where the ability to collect five bucks on a transaction makes or breaks the balance sheet? Maybe I'm just naive and old fashioned thinking there's an opportunity there.