PlanetEye: Plan your Trip using Virtual Exploration

Yesterday, PlanetEye opened its beta to the public and I took some time to review it. This innovative travel site lets users plan their trip by exploring the location they are going to visit. The core of the user experience happens on a map where hotels, restaurants, attractions, photos can be displayed and collected in the Travel Pack(s), that’s very intuitive and efficient for selecting the perfect hotel. Then users can check reviews written by local experts, rank everything themselves, access the top items lists and share their Travel Pack with their friends.

I love the concept but the user interface needs a lot of improvements. I was surprised that the public launch happened although the website is not good enough regarding usability. PlanetEye CEO Butch Langlois told me that they are re-designing the user interface and that virtually almost all the improvements I had in mind will be in the next version. Flight booking via Travelocity will be added in the next weeks as well. According to Butch Langlois, launching prior to the update was decided in order to collect more feedback from the users. If you feel like it, hit the feedback button in the top navigation bar and send them your thoughts or post a comment here.

The Travel Pack is the key feature, it allows users to collect their interests (hotels, restaurants, attractions, photos) for each trip. Each travel pack is in fact a map of the location displaying all the collected items in the user profile page. PlanetEye is also a social networking website with the standard offering: profile page, friend list, sharing capability, photos uploading… Users can book hotel via Travelocity, make restaurant reservation with OpenTable, buy tickets to attractions with StubHub and book Spa appointments (WaySpa).

PlanetEye licenses the Microsoft World Wide Media eXchange (WWMX) technology and developed its application in collaboration with Microsoft research.
According to Forrester Research (March 2006 – view full article) travel represented a quarter of all online sales in 2005 and is steadily growing at a double-digit rate per year (17,6% to 27% per year since 2004). Microsoft bought Farecast last April, getting back into the online travel business… and there were rumors of Google buying Expedia at the same time. No wonder why Microsoft is partly behind this experiment!

Travel Online is a very lucrative market and a great venue for advertising. It has not reach its full potential yet: Forrester estimated in 2006 that by 2010, 46% of total travel sales will be booked online. With a new generation of customers grown in the Internet Age, providing a one -stop-shop with an enriched Web 2.0 experience makes sense.

Here is my short list of suggested improvements for PlanetEye:

  • Filter the hotels by price and stars on the map
  • Display the hotel picture thumbnail directly on the map
  • Display the photos’ legends directly below the thumbnails in the photo row
  • Display the cross icon to close the photo closer to the picture (it is too far away )
  • Access my Travel Packs from the left navigation bar (or another location accessible from all the pages) without having to go back to the profile page (2 clicks)
  • Display the hotel picture on the Hotel detail page
  • Provide icons for the hotel amenities (quicker than reading)
  • Be able to customize the hotel detail page to be able choose to show the stars and the amenities before the long overview text
  • Provide flight booking capabilities (coming in the next weeks)

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