Online travel planners research. Part 5. Utrip: the two-headed monster
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
Writing this part turned out to be the most frustrating experience of the research.
Doing all the work not understanding why the service didn’t operate.
Finding no people with similar problems on the web and getting crazy (what did I do wrong if I was the only one to experience these problems?)
And finally, when the Part was mostly ready, finding news that Utrip would have been shut down the day after tomorrow.
It reminded me of a personal story. I was dating a girl 5 years ago, we scheduled our next date.
I was in a hurry not to be late and decided to confirm the date while already driving to her.
And she replied that I am not a good fit to her (meaning it’s over).
Hey, why couldn’t you cancel it in advance?
Neither social groups/accounts (Facebook Travel Startups Group or their official Facebook or Twitter) nor Crunchbase wrote about Utrip to be closed.
The service was featuring personalization (read customer-friendly/human-centered approach) and now doesn’t explain to its users (who happened not to receive an email from Utrip’s CEO) why they experience trouble and what (i.e. game over) will be next.
The service had a high mission and served as its evangelist. But when money had gotten over everybody stopped caring. Does it mean that getting money for the job was the only reason they cared? Or that after turning their focus from B2C to B2B market it was unstrategic to care about final users anymore?
The research I made before reading breaking news is below. It doesn’t make a lot of sense though. But you can get a bigger picture of online travel/itinerary planning for the time when Utrip was live.
Utrip is a service that features a blend of best AI and local experts. Maybe this is why its coverage is narrow. The service is in the process of transferring from the old to the new version. The most-covered country in both versions is the USA. When it comes to Europe, the new version currently covers only some major cities (Rome but no Milan or Venice, Barcelona but no Madrid, Paris and London but no Germany or Prague). The old version covers much more (9 cities only in Italy) but there is still no Eastern or Northern Europe or Greece.
There are cities of that region listed in the Destinations catalog but:
- you have to somehow get to the catalog that is not actually featured,
- only several Must See sites are listed for them. You can easily find plenty of Must See lists for any city on the web — nothing new,
- you anyway cannot plan a route for them.
The coverage of Asia is even more narrow. There are Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Tokyo, and Hong Kong in the old version, but nothing more. No other cities in these countries. No India, Mainland China, Vietnam or Cambodia. Only Istanbul in Turkey. Let alone the new version.
It is also fun that the first screen of the classic (old) Utrip features gondola trips in Venice while the new Utrip does not cover Venice at all.
The mechanics of 2 versions turned out to be rather different so I decided to create two plans for 4 days: one for Prague in the old version and one for Rome in the new one.
5.1. The good old version of Utrip
Broadness of possible request - 0/2
Quality of suggestions - 2/5
Quantity of suggestions - 3/3
Real use of preferences - 1/3
Routing and transportation - 1/5
Eating out - 1/3
Absence of other bugs (duplicates, etc.) - 3/5
Variety of free functions - 2/2
UX (predictability, smoothness, etc.) - 4/5
TOTAL - 51,5% good
Despite its coverage, the service looked promising so decided to try it. What did I like about it?
- Advanced filters made that promising first impression. They are featured at the first screen of the new Utrip instead of gondolas. And above you can see how they look at the classic version. At Utrip you not only choose what you are interested in but also the degree of interest. That was the problem with Inspirock: should I check parks if I would like to visit one of two but they are not of my primary interest? The same problem with museums. And Utrip enables not only precise settings but also different numbers for different destinations within one trip.
- Visualization. Unlike Inspirock, the week overview screen at Utrip Classic not only lists all the activities but features different categories with different background colors. You don’t have to read through the list’s item to get the idea of what you have more in the program (parks, museums, other sightseeing or anything else). The only drawback is that it took me several attempts of using the service until I finally noticed this option.
- Eating out and the fact that the service even suggests where to dine along with reserving time for it,
- Free PDF of the trip (unlike Tripplanera)
What I didn’t like.
- Routing. The typical day of a Utrip route looks like that. I suppose you already see the space for enhancement.
- And as it was with Inspirock, nearby places are not grouped. When it comes to Old Town square, the planner suggests to:
- visit it on a Day 1,
- dine there on a Day 2,
- walk through or nearby on Days 3 and 4?
- Why couldn’t the planner make me dine/have lunch there on a Day 1? I checked, that places work on Wednesdays. Why couldn’t the nearby attractions be put into the Day 1 route instead of the mess I presented above?
- Suggestions. I opted for 8 out of 10 for history and 3 or less out of 10 in other activities, 7 for pace and 0 for Spontaneity (to make the service plan all the time). And what did I get? Just 6 suggestions for history (that is just 1,5 per day) and an overall strong accent on food: places with not only Czech but also with Indian (1) and Italian (2) cuisines. And one of the cafes located far from the city center in the area not suggested to visit by the route for any other reason. The budget I chose was 5 out of 10 — I didn’t mean to catch all cheap places in the outskirts. The suggestion overall didn’t seem to reflect my preferences.
And for some strange reason, it didn’t include Prague Castle and the Cathedral — the most iconic venues of Prague along with Charles Bridge and Old Square (that happily were included into the route).
I thought, what can I do with that?
- The first thought was to increase the pace to the maximum. What did I get? The number of historic sites was decreased from 6 to 4, museums — increased from 3 to 5 (thus making it most-packed category) and nature from 2 to 3. The overall number of suggestions for maximizing the pace was changed just from 16 to 17.
- Maybe iconic landmarks are not shown because I chose 3 out of 10 for Must See? But I didn’t want the system to show me only well-known classics. So I changed Must See level to 6 out 10 (the pace was already 10). What changed? 6 museums instead of 5, 5 historic sites instead of 4, the number of venues became 19. Still no Prague Castle or the Cathedral.
- High volatility of suggestions. When I changed my preferences of arts and adventure to 0 (they anyway were not presented in the route) the suggestion changed dramatically: most cafes/restaurants and lots of historical places were changed (though I didn’t mean to alter this part). Neither Prague Castle nor the Cathedral were added to the route — but the Royal Garden was. It was excluded from the route at the previous alteration and was put back again. And called “a baroque garden” while in reality, it is a renaissance garden. Bad move, local experts.
- Loss of preferences. When I added another city to my route — my last preferences were not saved. Interestingly though preferences I experienced weren’t the default ones either. They were ones that I chose before final alterations (see above).
- Ground transportation. Unlike Inspirock (that suggests moving by car only but all in all — it pays attention to that part of the trip) Utrip doesn’t address this issue at all. There are time slots between places to see but we can’t know whether this is time for transportation or spare time. And which means (taxi, public transport or feet) to take.
- Eating out price range. Initially (with a budget set 5 out of 10) the planner suggested all but one places with $$$ price range. I wondered whether it is 3 out of 4 or 5? To check this I maximized my budget. And what did I get? 1 place with just $ price range, 1 with $$, 2 with $$$$ and the rest 4 with $$$. Isn’t it strange for a luxury trip? And I also came to a conclusion that it was 3 out of 4 — and thus my criterion for moderate budget (5 out of 10) was not followed again.
5.2. Failed attempts to test new Utrip
The mechanics of the new version is as follows:
- You enter the city to plan and adjust criteria you see above.
Inspirock’s regional-wide or country-wide planning is not supported. You can add other destinations to your trip later — but there is no magic when you enter a country/region and the planner tells you where to go,
- The planner lists suggestions for places to visit and asks you to pick your favorites.
The idea to read and pick places yourself was discouraging at least for me. But maybe we will get the best online route then? So let’s continue,
- You pick your favorites and click “Create itinerary” button,
- The itinerary is created.
Or should I have written “should be created” as I failed to get an itinerary?
Here is what I have tried:
- Utrip failed to list any suggestions to anything I typed at my default browser (Firefox) so I opted to Chrome,
- OK, I managed to choose Rome and got the list of suggested places. How much to choose? I initially decided just to check all the places I had visited during my trip to Rome and see the results. I then clicked “Create itinerary” button and nothing happened,
- OK, maybe the system was overloaded with all my preferences and was busy to fit them all into one trip? I also decided to change browser again — in this case, it was another one on Chromium engine called Yandex. Not to overload the system I decided to check only a few places: one of Ancient Rome, one of Catholic Rome, one of contemporary Rome and one of its spectacular piazzas (squares). Result: nothing changed,
- Only then I noticed that while I check places as favorites they are not counted: it is still 0 there. Even a marker at the map suggested I have checked that museum. But the counter still suggested I checked nothing,
- I’m a geek and successfully changed the browser again (in this case it was the default Microsoft Edge) and tried to get itinerary marking nothing. You know the result,
- Oh, maybe the “Let Us Inspire You” option that is also featured at the first screen will help? And then I will be able to use Firefox (as no confirmation is needed)? I chose Amsterdam and everything continued. No checks were counted. Maybe I should had chosen to input dates after clicking on “Create itinerary” button? You bet.
- And what about the mobile version? The same problem with hearts checking. But at least “Create itinerary” button is not clickable there. I suppose it was because no choice was counted. But anyway: no result again.
- The last resort was a mobile app. Although it wasn’t mentioned anywhere at the website I searched it at the store. No results.
There were promising options I wanted to test:
- traveling with kids, pets or disabled people,
- choosing no exact dates but only duration and season (or no season at all),
- tuning the trip to specific interest you can either choose or type yourself.
Unfortunately, I cannot say anything about that. But I noticed that the new version also doesn’t support search by country name. You can’t get confirmation that the service doesn’t cover China or India. You can only type a city by city and suppose there will be no other cities if major ones are not supported.