Online travel planners research. Part 1. Inspirock

Pavel Nosikov
27 min readJun 27, 2019

Table of Contents

Part 1. Inspirock + its official response with my comments
Part 2.
TripHobo
Part 3.
Fancy apps: Sygic Travel, Blink (Tinder for Sightseeing), Google Trips (then: Google Travel)
Part 4.
Underdogs of online travel planning: Roadtrippers, Tripplannera, TripFactory
Part 5.
Utrip: the two-headed monster
Part 6.
Timescenery
Part 7.
Overall conclusion

The research was originally published late May — early June 2019.

Several years ago Valentin Dombrovsky translated Nadav Gur’s article about travel planning startups. I’ve read it several times since then and shared it in support of the exact same argument “you should never consider creating a travel planning startup”.

Yet there are some travel planning services in the market that have survived Startups Death Valley. And there are dozens of them, really!
If you want headache-free planning (“let the service suggest where to go and what to visit”) not knowing any appropriate service/app — you could stumble upon one of numerous “Best travel/itinerary planners” lists and even get stuck there realizing you first need time and effort to choose the right one.

My fellow also expressed the exact same pain recently:

  • he wanted to plan a holiday with his family,
  • he didn’t know where to go and is open to new opportunities,
  • he didn’t have time to conduct research where to go, what to visit etc.

And with all these services at the market, I wouldn’t suggest anyone to him. That was the start of my search for the best trip planner.

Are there other ways to get to know the best services (except browsing through lists)? One is “professionals proof”:

  • what service is regarded by professionals as the best?
  • what service do they use for themselves or make their visitors use at their websites?

Here is a service that falls to both of these criteria.

Meet Inspirock:

  • it is the partner of the official travel site of the USA,
  • it won Brand USA Travel Innovation Award at PhocusWright 2016,
This is how Inspirock looks like at the official travel site of the USA. The list of countries is limited to 2: the USA and Puerto Rico.

Founded: 2012
Social following: 84K on Facebook
TrustScore: 8.9/10; 2K reviews

1.1. TL;DR

Broadness of possible request - 2/2
Quality of suggestions - 3/5
Quantity of suggestions - 2/3
Real use of preferences - 1/3
Routing and transportation - 2/5
Eating out - 0/3
Absence of other bugs (duplicates, etc.) - 3/5
Variety of free functions - 2/2
UX (predictability, smoothness, etc.) - 3/5
TOTAL - 57,6% good

When I initially used Inspirock.com I tempted to share it to a fellow with an actual headache-free planning task and was thinking “Have these guys finally created the service that is so much needed to the market?” But then my initial fascination started to dissolve.

I am Russian and most examples are about Russia. But as the service works the same way all over the world I am sure they are universal.

1.2. Why Inspirock is that cool

Mostly features and declarations rather than implementation:

  • Customization. Unlike many other travel planners, Inspirock customizes routes according to users’ preferences. It is not “everybody goes there — thus you also should go there”.
  • Moreover, you can choose the pace and the popularity of places to visit. Experienced travelers could try to catch hidden gems via the service while newbies could opt for most popular places,
  • Fewer restrictions. The less detailed your inquiry is the more surprises you may experience. While most other services ask for specific destinations Inspirock can build you a route if you enter just a region or even a country. It was a dream expressed in another popular article about trip planning,
Their best features are presented right at the first screen
  • Suggested routes are editable, you can not only reorder the places but also add/delete items, change the duration of a trip, etc.
  • All places and experiences have a suggested duration of the visit that contributes to a detailed plan of the day.
  • And there also is an automatically created checklist for everything you would need in a trip (tickets, bookings, etc.) It is also editable so you can add your own items there and not need to store it elsewhere.
  • You could not only choose the pace but also change the start and end time for your route. But why you can do the latter only after building the route, not before? The same for 2 more options for pace.
Compare this setting box with the previous one.

1.3. Why Inspirock isn’t that cool

I divided all that I have on Inspirock into several sections.

1.3.1. Suggestions for places

  • Let’s start with a feature that I have already mentioned — route alteration. If you use the planner for a region (not a single city) chances are you will be suggested to visit different destinations. And as with any trip planners, you can be unsatisfied with the suggestion. And the option to delete a destination is right there. What will the service do if you delete it? Just decreases the duration of a trip! If you want to have an alternative you can browse several options and include it in the trip in “hands mode”. This is much less user-friendly than initial “abundant route with just a couple clicks” mode.
  • The same situation happens with single activities on the route. If you are not inspired by something, you can delete it from the route. But the service will not offer you any alternatives for the day.
  • Adding destinations or activities? The same pattern! The service offers what else you visit and if you add it — you won’t be asked do you want to change the overall duration of your trip. It will be altered anyway. You could say it’s right: if deletion decreases the duration — then the addition should increase it. But people are open mostly about their plans rather than dates of their trips.
OK, why not? Let’s add Goreme.
I thought the question mark shoud much be bigger here than the exclamation one.
  • Lunches. OK, I got the idea that you have breakfast at your hotel or B&B and for dinner, and the planner offers you to explore the nightlife. But what about lunches? I chose medium pace — but anyway there was no time reserved for food intake during the day. I would agree that dealing with an additional source of information would add complexity to the service. But Inspirock anyway uses information from Tripadvisor and Google — the biggest sources of information about cafes and restaurants as well. And the pain of choosing a place to eat in an unknown place is real.
  • Hidden Gems. When listing advantages, I mentioned that experienced travelers could try to catch hidden gems via the service. I tried to do it for Moscow several times in several browsers. But every time I was offered to visit places near Moscow but quite no places in Moscow itself.
    I suppose the rule should work in every part of the world: e.g. if you enter San Francisco in the planner rather than Bay Area or California — you expect to see most suggestion inside the region you chose rather than outside it, right?
    There are hidden gems in Moscow and there is plenty of information about them on the web. Unfortunately, Inspirock wasn’t able to grab it correctly.
Hidden gems of Moscow are so hidden that they aren’t actually inside its borders.
  • And finally: do they really follow the criteria they ask users to set? I thought it would be the best example of headache-free planning (if dealing well): a family with kids that knows that there are good beaches (e.g. in Spain) but don’t know anyone of them and asks the planner to suggest one. OK, when it comes to beaches it may be a better idea to follow the good old way to a human travel agent. But why Inspirock lists “beaches” option then if not for these cases?
    My input was: Spain, 8 days, 2 adults, 1 teen, 1 kid, slow&easy pace, popular places, activity: only beaches.
    The result is below. What I have to say:
  1. 2 times changing the destination isn’t a slow&easy pace,
  2. changing a beach within one day (see Ibiza) neither,
  3. Madrid has no beaches at all,
  4. Barcelona is a well-known beach destination but the planner suggested only 1 visit to a beach for 3.5 days there.
The only beaches suggested for “beaches only” trip are underlined.

This seems to be a common issue:

  • when I chose a less-attractive country (Azerbaijan, Luxembourg) to plan for 2 adults with no preferences — the planner suggested staying in one city,
  • but when I chose only beaches with a slow&easy pace at a popular destination (Italy, Greece, Turkey) for 2 adults with 1 kid and 1 teen — the planner suggested at least 3 destinations.

1.3.2. Routing

  • Place sequencing. This thing really drives me crazy. The planner has the base of places to visit and arranges the sequence of the visit. There are coordinates for each place in the selection. Then why the routes do not suggest to visit neighboring places one after another, not on different days?
    Here is an example from St. Petersburg.
Right places arranged in a wrong way
  1. Peter and Paul Cathedral is situated inside Peter and Paul Fortress. The former is suggested to visit on Day 1, while the latter — on Day 3.
  2. The General Staff Building is situated across The State Hermitage Museum. In fact, it has become its part and exposes the museum’s collections. But the latter is suggested to visit on Day 2, while the former — on Day 5.
  3. Both of them are situated on Palace Square. But it is not suggested to visit the square right before or after them.
  4. OK, as I have stated above, there is an opportunity to rearrange places and thus one could probably blame me for cheating and say that it is impossible that the route is thus weird and thus it was me who had arranged that sequence.
    Along with an invitation to create a 5+ day plan for St. Petersburg yourself and share your results I would like to show you the map for Day 5 as well. The order is messy, isn’t it? And what else? No pedestrian routes (while the places are really in walking distance to each other). Is it because the service is American (that is notorious for its car-driving-for-everything culture)? But even if we stay only with car driving — why not to offer to just cross a street and save time (because thus you won’t need to drive through another island in this case)? Taxi/Uber apps have been offering this trick for years.
Do you also find this sequence and this route weird?

1.3.3. Accommodation and transferring

  • Accommodation near sightseeing? The planner doesn’t know hidden gems in the exact city (in this case Moscow) and suggests traveling around it. It is rather OK but things got weird when the planner still suggest staying in Moscow.
    Do you remember that example with hidden gems of Moscow? Let’s look at in once again.
  1. The end of the program of a previous day and the beginning of the program of the following day is within the same town.
  2. This towns is 100 km from Moscow (a suggested place to stay).
  3. But the planner suggest to stay in Moscow anyway.

I got this 2 times with 2 different towns (Serpukhov and Kolomna) and didn’t get the logic.
OK, you may say some people travel with huge luggage and don’t like relocating during the trip. To store all their belongings in one place and move day by day with little carry on will be a preferable option for them. But are these people a target audience of the service? And is this really OK to drive somewhere 2 hours in the evening only to drive 2 hours back in the morning? This is a much-hated working day routine for some people living in suburbs and Inspirock suggests to follow this reality during your holiday.

2 days in Kolomna and a night in Moscow (100 km one way)?!
  • Check-in and check-out times. OK, let’s suppose that the service is created for travelers who stick to one accommodation. But why doesn’t it suggest late checkout or luggage store when moving from one region to another during a trip? And no time to formal checkout procedure or t0 grab belongings (if they are stored somewhere)?
  • One-way transfer?! It is good that transfers from one point to another are included in the route. Unfortunately, the planner’s approach to transfers is not consistent. Here is an example from a route to St. Petersburg and nearby Shlisselburg. You may have noticed a transfer from St. Petersburg to Shlisselburg at 2 screenshots above (about the arrangement of places). It is also included in the checklist. But what about the way back? The planner suggests taking a flight from Shlisselburg to Moscow, while for moving from Moscow to St. Petersburg it suggested taking a train. Why? Because there is no direct train to Moscow from Shlisselburg? But what about flights?

The bigger problem that there are no airports in Leningrad Region (to which Shlisselburg belongs) with passenger flights to Moscow. The nearest option is… the airport of St. Petersburg. But in this case, the planner doesn’t inform you that you should arrange your transfer from the town to the airport.
A funny thing is that their booking partner Skyscanner knows it well and openly declares from the beginning that the flight will be from St. Petersburg. Unfortunately, Inspirock doesn’t use this fact properly.

Inspirock, why don’t you know that taking a flight from Shlisselburg requires getting back to St. Petersburg?

The detailed description of getting back to Moscow also poses questions. The flight duration is only 1h15min while the overall duration of the transfer is 4.5 hours. Does it include driving from Shlisselburg to the airport — or only time for formal procedures in the airport?

5:30 + 1:15 = 10:00? What exactly is missed — a transfer or formal procedures?
  • Neglected transfers. If a destination is recognized by the planner (with offers to stay there etc.) — the transfer between destinations is included in the route. In the case of St. Petersburg and Shlisselburg the planner suggested 1 hour for a 60 km drive. But if the planner (in my case — in search for hidden gems) suggested stepping outside the destination (Kolomna in one of the previous cases) — the transfer is not included in the checklist. Moreover — it is shown neither in the overall plan nor in the timeline nor in maps (only in the calendar). The overall plan, the timeline and maps display only transfers between “official” destinations and within the route for a day. If the place you stay and the place you are suggested to visit first are even 100+ km apart — nothing makes you question how to get there (unless you happen to look at the calendar).
    Do you remember that example of visiting Kolomna and making 100 km trips for a night stay? I have already shown you the calendar 2 times and here is how the overview looks like for this trip (no 2h transfers at all):
Hey, and where is Kolomna (where actually 2 of 4 days in Moscow are spent)?

And here is the timeline:

I don’t show maps but they are neither better.

1.3.4. Bugs — or flaws?

Bugs is an inevitable part of software development and I didn’t plan list to list them initially. But there were so many cases induced by the fact that different objects shared the same name that I changed my mind. What do I mean?

  • A wrong picture is neglectable — wrong coordinates aren’t. We can only guess at which part of routing the problem starts. Because sometimes it seems that the choice of initial object is right for the route — but when it converts into its twin, the route becomes wrong. If you follow it (even if it seems strange) you come to a wrong place,
  • Or to the right one? Do we know in case of duplication whether the overall recommendation is given because the initial object is worthwhile or because the duplicate is?
  • Sometimes things get even worse and even 3 objects could be mixed into one. Look at the picture below:
  1. “Where in the world” refers to one location — Republic of Tatarstan,
  2. “Contact” refers to another one — Moskovskaya oblast’ (aka Moscow Region),
  3. Most pictures refer to a third one from the city of Moscow (not a part of Moskovskaya oblast’).
By the way, what do that copyright signs on images mean? The copyright to a fictional fact that all these pictures belong to 1 single object?
  • The opposite is also true. Here is an example from St. Petersburg: 2 Pushkin museums with the same address. No transportation time also suggests that this is the same museum. But this was not enough for Inspirock to realize that it isn’t worth suggesting both clones of the same museum. They just accepted the fact that these are 2 different objects at TripAdvisor with different rating and reviews.
If it’s a TripAdvisor fault — why should we do anything about that, right?
  • It was rather easy in the previous case to conclude that the museum is the same. But what about 2 churches with the same name with the right side of the page also suggesting no transportation and the left side suggesting going from North-Western Russia to Prague?
Hey, are there really 2 dirrerent churches — or 1 church and 1 bug?

1.4. The conclusion

Some people like Inspirock: its overall TrustScore is 8.9 based on 2K reviews.
Some people don’t: the experience of Unbiased Flight Reviews users is mostly negative, the experience of Conde Nast Traveler author was like mine: bubbled expectations at first glance, a discouragement afterward.

I would like to recommend Inspirock but with weird sequencing, incorrect suggestions, twin objects and a necessity to input lunch time manually… thanks but no thanks. If the only thing left is the list of attractions I would still recommend browsing TripAdvisor.

1+. Part 1 continues: Inspirock response, my comments

After I had published the first part (about Inspirock) a representative of the service contacted me and sent their official response. Its authors acknowledged my efforts and were thankful for the comments helping them make a better product. The rest of the response is their comments on my writing and details of thought processes behind their design decisions.

Me: If you use the planner for a region (not a single city) chances are you will be suggested to visit different destinations. And as with any trip planners, you can be unsatisfied with the suggestion. And the option to delete a destination is right there. What will the service do if you delete it? Just decreases the duration of a trip!

Inspirock: Our thinking is that while planning, people want to experiment. We don’t want to constrain them; e.g. if a user adds a day in a city, then we don’t want to ask them to reduce a day elsewhere at the same time before they can save. We understand that users may add a few things together and reduce/delete a few other things together.

To optimize for asking fewer questions and giving more flexibility, we had to give up on the date constraint. Our approach is that we give the user a heads-up that their plan duration is different from what they started with. They can add/remove cities as they see fit to match the dates.

This was the thought process behind the current design. But we have received similar feedback from other users and plan to update this behavior based on that feedback.

Me: The same situation happens with single activities on the route. If you are not inspired by something, you can delete it from the route. But the service will not offer you any alternatives for the day.

Inspirock: Trying to guess user’s intention is hard given that different people want different things at various times; e.g., if the user deletes an activity spanning 4 hours, then should we recommend a couple of things nearby that are not so good, or something farther away which is much better but can fit into that time?

What if the couple things nearby together take 5 hours? Should we suggest doing just one thing that takes, say, 3 hours and leaving an hour free?

What is ‘far’ vs ‘near’?

What if the user deleted 3–4 activities and created more space in various days in that city? Should we try to fill those local gaps which will result in a sub-optimal plan? Or should we allow for an overall optimization of the plan for the city?

As you can see, this requires guessing the user’s intention… and there is no way to guess it accurately often enough.

Our research indicates that the users plan activities in a city as follows:

  • They delete the things they are not interested in.
  • They see what else is there to do… and add those.
  • And then they want to optimize the plan with all of those.

Users can do #1 anywhere they see an activity. They can go to our Explore section (under ‘Add’ in ‘Day by Day’) for #2. Note that we don’t force them to worry about scheduling it at this stage if they don’t want to. We keep track of the activities that the user is interested in. They can do #3 from the calendar by doing a ‘recalculate’.

As the user customizes, the system learns about their preferences. On ‘recalculate’, it cleans up the plan. Some of the things it looks at include the geolocation of each activity, the travel time between those, open-close hours including day of the week (and if it is open 24 hours, we use that), if the user showed the intent of just including an activity at ‘some time’ vs ‘at a particular time’, etc.

To give a sense of the depth of factors considered during this optimization,the program takes into account time of year and when it will be dark, e.g. if you plan for St. Petersburg in winter when it gets dark early, it will put outdoor places such as a park in the early part of the day when there is still light; it will schedule a museum or such indoor places for later in the afternoon when it is dark.

With this approach, the user is able to identify the things they really care about (including or excluding) and have the system do a global optimization for the user’s stay in the city.

My response: I tried to find “recalculate” option but failed. Probably it should be better featured.

Me: Adding destinations or activities? The same pattern! The service offers what else you visit and if you add it — you won’t be asked do you want to change the overall duration of your trip. It will be altered anyway.

Inspirock: Same thought process as for bullets 1 and 2 above.

While we went with a similar approach for destinations and activities, the user feedback indicates that that approach works well for activities but not so well for destinations. Users would prefer for us to take a different approach for destinations, more along the lines you suggest.

Me: But what about lunches? I chose medium pace — but anyway there was no time reserved for food intake during the day… And the pain of choosing a place to eat in an unknown place is real.

Inspirock: Doing it well for cities around the world for travelers coming from all over the world with different tastes is hard, and we just haven’t gotten to it yet. As such, we just allow users to be able to add their own restaurant to the plan for now.

My response: My point for lunches consisted of 2 parts: not only suggesting exact places (the last stage) but also reserving time for lunch at least. The fact that you have a pause within a day will alter the number of suggestions if starting and ending times of the day are the same. That is what your competitors TripHobo (see Part 2) and Tripplannera (see Part 4) do: dedicated time with no suggestions. And it is better than nothing.

Me: When listing advantages, I mentioned that experienced travelers could try to catch hidden gems via the service. I tried to do it for Moscow several times in several browsers. But every time I was offered to visit places near Moscow but quite no places in Moscow itself. There are hidden gems in Moscow and there is plenty of information about them on the web. Unfortunately, Inspirock is not able to grab it correctly.

Inspirock: We had received similar feedback from users. In response to that, we made a change to show a better mix of activities in and around the city. We put in a fix for it earlier this month, but perhaps after you did your research. What do you think?

My response: I’ve created a plan for Moscow with hidden gems chosen once again. It looks better than the previous one. However, most places are still located outside Moscow. And the problem of sequencing (discussed below) is still there.

Besides that, the distance of 35 miles between Dubrovitsy and Arkhangelskoe (see Jun 11) is suggested to be covered in 25 minutes. It is only possible by helicopter :)

Me: do they really follow the criteria they ask users to set? I thought it would be the best example of headache-free planning (if dealing well): a family with kids that knows that there are good beaches (e.g. in Spain) but doesn’t know anyone of them and asks the planner to suggest one. OK, when it comes to beaches it may be a better idea to follow the good old way to a human travel agent. But why Inspirock lists “beaches” option then if not for these cases?

Inspirock: Please note that criteria such as ‘beaches’ are meant to be hints as opposed to filters.

We interpret a request for ‘Spain, popular, beaches’ as the user wants to see the popular things in Spain, with a greater emphasis on beaches. We don’t interpret it to mean that the plan should have only popular beaches. In other words, users still want to see what a destination has to offer, but with a slight tweak based on their interest.

This generally works well with users, although it is confusing for some. We need to figure out a better way to communicate the intent here. Doing that while keeping the UI clean is a constant challenge for us and keeps us on our toes :-)

Btw, we show the beaches in Spain or in a given city in Spain in our Explore section (‘Add / Explore things to do’ and then ‘beaches’ in the left pane).

Pace is subjective, and we continue to monitor user feedback on this. We have observed very large variations on what different users mean with a certain pace, e.g., many users from Asia find our plans (even the fast-paced ones) too slow. Other users don’t want to spend so many hours at one beach. Our recommendations will continue to evolve as the system is used and we get more feedback. Thanks for giving us more data points on this.

Whether the planner suggests multiple cities or one depends on the time available, how much is there to do in city 1, how interesting are other cities in comparison, how easy is it to get there, etc.

My response: OK, got the idea. It’s a pity that you see checked activities as hints rather than filters. Otherwise, your AI could really substitute offline travel agents. But you know your abilities and costs better.

When it comes to pace, the solution could be directly stating how many hours a day does a traveler want to spend on a program. E.g. “9 hours a day on a program” is equally understood by everybody. The duration of a visit is trickier: many hours mean neither long nor short visits. As you use 5 options for pace in detailed settings they could mean e.g. “9 hours, variety preferred”, “9 hours, deepness preferred”, “5 hours, variety preferred”, etc.

All in all, making travelers change 2 destinations when they chose “slow&easy pace” doesn’t seem correct as it should be the easiest option and there is no option left for them to do that.

Me: Place sequencing. This thing really drives me crazy. The planner has the base of places to visit and arranges the sequence of the visit. There are coordinates for each place in the selection. Then why do routes suggest to visit the neighboring place not one after another, but on different days?

Inspirock: Thanks for the feedback. We will look into it for this particular case. Such examples help us make a better product.

The algorithm takes into account various factors such as desired duration in each place, travel time between places, open-close hours, etc. to optimize. Sometimes it will take you to the same neighborhood on different daysas it is not able to fit all the activities on the same day due to desired duration or open-close hours.

My response: I understood the response and why it could be inevitable to visit the same area in different days. But I would like to point your attention to the fact that my examples are about places without conflicting visit times:

  • As of your information, Peter and Paul Cathedral is open always when Peter and Paul Fortress is open (in reality it is vice versa, but it is not crucial for this case). Thus a visit of Peter and Paul Cathedral could be arranged at any time Peter and Paul Fortress is open.
  • Palace Square (Dvortsovaya Ploshchad) is open 24 hours. Thus it could be adjusted and easily substituted with Memorial Sign Strelka Of Vasilievskiy Island (that is also open 24 hours and suggested to visit after The State Hermitage Museum located right at Palace Square)
  • Look at the hidden gems route (the screenshot before that). 2 trips to Sergiyev Posad are suggested there. And your website doesn’t show any limits for visiting the churches from there.

Me: what else? No pedestrian routes (while the places are really in walking distance to each other). Is it because the service is American (that is notorious for its car-driving-for-everything culture)? But even if we stay only with car driving — why not to offer to just cross a street and save time (because thus you won’t need to drive through another island in this case)? Taxi/Uber apps have been offering this trick for years.

Inspirock: Regarding transfer modes other than drive: The reason to do just drive mode is because the data on transfers is expensive, and we started with drive only in order to control costs. But we have received feedback from other users also requesting various modes. As such, this is an active project and we will improve it in the near future.

My response: That’s good. I understand that adding public transport for tons of cities could be difficult and costly. But pedestrian routes are basic in most maps and are supported by your competitors even if there is no public transport (e.g. Sygic Travel, see Part 3).

Me: The planner doesn’t know hidden gems in the exact city (in this case Moscow) and suggests traveling around it. It is rather OK but things got weird when the planner still suggest staying in Moscow.

Inspirock: We currently don’t recommend accommodation. It is on our roadmap, but we haven’t gotten to it yet. Since you input Moscow, the planner assumes that you want to stay in Moscow and deep-links to Moscow accommodation search on TripAdvisor and Airbnb. Travelers already use those sites, so we just connect them to it. In the future, we aim to provide more information on top of this.

My response: If you don’t recommend accommodation then it’s better not to suggest going back to the initial destination (Moscow for this case) and transferring in the opposite direction the next day. It leads to confusion.

Me: But why doesn’t it suggest late checkout or luggage store when moving from one region to another during a trip? And no time to formal checkout procedure or to grab belongings (if they are stored somewhere)?

Inspirock: We haven’t reached this. We allow the user to enter the hotel information currently.

My response: It is again about the logic behind the route rather than about the exact choice of a hotel. I mean if one day you are supposed to change destination and travel in the afternoon/evening it is worth suggesting visiting your hotel to grab belongings before you leave the city.

Me: It is good that transfers from one point to another are included in the route. Unfortunately, the planner’s approach to transfers is not consistent. Here is an example from a route to St. Petersburg and nearby Shlisselburg. You may have noticed a transfer from St. Petersburg to Shlisselburg at a screenshot above. It is also included in the checklist. But what about the way back? The planner suggests taking a flight from Shlisselburg to Moscow, while for moving from Moscow to St. Petersburg it suggested taking a train. Why? Because there is no direct train to Moscow from Shlisselburg? But what about flights?

Inspirock:

  • The Route page shows the suggested travel mode and other options for the inter-city travel. It allows the user to make changes and even put travel options that the planner may not be aware of.
  • Btw, taking the train one way and flying the other way is a pretty good way of seeing a country. But we can see someone taking the train or flying both ways too.
  • The checklist travel portion reflects the choices made on the Route page. The user controls all aspects of the plan on the other pages. The checklist assembles the list of items that need to be booked based on the plan state in one easy view.

Me: The bigger problem that there are no airports in Leningrad Region (to which Shlisselburg belongs) with passenger flights to Moscow. The nearest option is… the airport of St. Petersburg. But in this case, the planner doesn’t inform you that you should arrange your transfer from the town to the airport.
A funny thing is that their booking partner Skyscanner knows it well and openly declares from the beginning that the flight will be from St. Petersburg. Unfortunately, Inspirock doesn’t use this fact properly.

Inspirock: For the flight from Shlisselburg to Moscow, we show that this really entails flying from St. Petersburg to Moscow, as you have noted. To clarify the airport to the user, that dialog is presented by our system (Skyscanner takes over once we do the search). In the checklist, we want to show the items the way they are in the Route page so that the user can connect them with the plan easily. Perhaps we should display the airport name in addition to the Checklist itself to avoid confusion.

Me: The detailed description of getting back to Moscow also poses questions. The flight duration is only 1h15min while the overall duration of the transfer is 4.5 hours. Does it include driving from Shlisselburg to the airport — or only time for formal procedures in the airport?

Inspirock: Regarding blocking 4.5 hours for a 1 hr 15 min flight, it includes drive time from Shlisselburg to the airport + check-in time. Thanks for your feedback on this. We should make it clearer.

Me: But if the planner (in my case — in search for hidden gems) suggested stepping outside the destination (Kolomna in one of the previous cases) — the transfer is not included in the checklist. Moreover — it is shown neither in the overall plan nor in the timeline (only in the calendar).

Inspirock: Yes, the current behavior is that it does not show the day-trips in Route, and it shows the items in Route in the Checklist travel section. The side-trips are mentioned in the destination boxes on the Route page. They are also shown in Calendar, Timeline and Maps, though they are most clearly marked in the Calendar. It seems like we have room to improve here. Thanks for the feedback.

My response: When I wrote the transfer was shown neither in the timeline nor maps I meant it is not as visible as the transfer between suggested destinations. Paying more attention I can see the transfer both in the timeline and maps but it required effort.

Me: Sometimes things get even worse and even 3 objects could be mixed into one. Look at the picture below — “Where in the world” refers to one location while “Contact” refers to another one and some pictures refer to a third one (this is quite famous UNESCO World Heritage object neither from Tatarstan nor from Moscow Region (Moskovskaya oblast’) but from the city of Moscow itself.

Inspirock: These are bugs. Thanks for reporting them. We will correct these and see why these were not caught by our automated quality checks. Using these examples to improve our automated checks, we should be able to improve the data globally. Thanks again.

My response: While merging different churches into one be a bug of your system, placing this church to Tatarstan turned out to be a bug of TripAdvisor that you could do nothing with. It’s a misfortune that different bugs met at one place.

Inspirock: Some other thoughts and points we would like to share:

1) We do use open-close hours for activities when scheduling them. If the user were to move them to when they are closed(try doing this for some attraction in the calendar), then we would give a warning along with the open-close hours.

We also provide an option to fix it manually by dragging and one to fix it automatically by asking the system to recalculate the plan for the city. We also display the open-close hours if you click on the activity to go to its Detail page.

2) Different people plan differently. Some plan at a high level while some go into details, some enjoy planning while others don’t, some want to just get a plan that they can execute while others want to do their own research and read a lot, etc.

With the UI design, we aim to appeal to all these personas. As a result, we give one plan with very few questions for users who just want a plan.

We separate the high-level plan (Route page) from the detailed plan (Day by Day page). The user can drill-in to get a lot of information from around the web, e.g., link to the official website for the attraction, link to its social media pages, reviews from TripAdvisor/Google/Facebook with links to them, contact information, open-close hours, parking situation, etc.

The goal is to give user 360-degree information about the attraction, including references to other places on the web. We bring in tours from Viator, show accommodation from Airbnb and TripAdvisor, flights, and other transportation information, Google maps, etc.

For the users who enjoy doing research and planning, we let them view pictures, read, and take action based on what they like (increase or decrease time at a city, add/remove an activity, etc.).

Table of Contents

Part 1. Inspirock + its official response with my comments
Part 2.
TripHobo
Part 3.
Fancy apps: Sygic Travel, Blink (Tinder for Sightseeing), Google Trips (then: Google Travel)
Part 4.
Underdogs of online travel planning: Roadtrippers, Tripplannera, TripFactory
Part 5.
Utrip: the two-headed monster
Part 6.
Timescenery
Part 7.
Overall conclusion

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Pavel Nosikov

Founder&ex-CEO of a local B2B marketplace in a ready-mix concrete industry seeking the professional transition.