Southwest Creates Travel Guides; Will Anyone Care?

I recently had an email conversation with NileGuide CEO Josh Steinitz about airlines expanding into the world of destination information. While some airlines have cautiously dipped their toes in the water, it appears that Southwest is jumping all the way with its new Travel Guides. Southwest and I seem to have different views on this idea.

As I said to Josh in one of my emails,

I think it’s a hard sell to get the airlines to [put comprehensive destination information up]. People may plan their air, hotel, and car at similar times, but all the other stuff tends to happen after the plans have been made. I’m not convinced there’s a huge benefit to putting those on the airline site yet.

But let me back up for a second. What exactly did they do?

You could always book hotels and car rentals via Southwest, but now you can do much more to actually learn about the places you’re going. As the site says, “Where to Go & What to Do.” You can figure out where to go by searching by activity or even by “theme” of your trip. Clearly, there’s a Texas bent here since Austin is supposed to be the best place to go boating and Amarillo is the best for fishing and hunting. (Amarillo?!?) But the good news is that much of this info will be populated by users, so that Texas slant should hopefully get washed out . . . if people use it.

Southwest Travel Guide Screenshot

So far, however, there aren’t many users. Considering some of the user names I’ve seen have been “swacouple1″ and “christi532″ (Southwest Twitter guru Christi Day), it appears that the internal folks have been mostly populating this so far. But will it gain traction with their customers?

I suppose we’ll find out, but I’m skeptical. Why would I write a review on Southwest.com when if I really wanted to do it, I probably already have a site or two I use for that purpose (TripAdvisor? TravelPost?). Will people really care about restaurants at the time they’re booking their tickets? If not, will they come back to Southwest.com when it’s time for those decisions to be made?

We’ll get to find out soon, but what do you all think? Will you be using this site to post or read reviews on hotels, restaurants, etc? Hit the comments.

11 Responses to Southwest Creates Travel Guides; Will Anyone Care?

  1. enplaned says:

    Agree that it’s unlikely that Southwest’s site is likely to become an active forum for passengers.

    Which is why airlines (and others like them) ought to see about cooperating with more general travel sites like tripadvisor and so forth.

  2. The Traveling Optimist says:

    Nope.
    Wasted space. About as beneficial as boasting the most headroom in coach where the pitch is 30″.
    Offer a discount for posting an entry or completing an survey and they may have something.

  3. Who Dat? says:

    Nothing wrong with a little Texas slant by a Texas airline!

  4. Frank says:

    My fear would be that all the linked information comes from “marketing partners” or “possible future marketing partners” and thus would have a profit motive.

  5. David SF east bay says:

    You know that airlines don’t do anything unless it makes money for them, so someone is paying them in some way or another to offer this ‘service’.

  6. Brett, this is a timely post. At NileGuide, we believe that travel suppliers like airlines and hoteliers will increasingly look to monetize their customer base in non-traditional ways. One obvious way is to leverage the millions of visitors to their websites by providing them with additional travel planning functionality, and earning revenue from additional transactions (restaurants, tours, events) and non-competitive advertising. In addition, while some users may not be inclined to contribute content of their own, I would venture to say that for a large proportion of Americans, Southwest is a more identifiable brand name with positive association than TripAdvisor. Offering these value-added services (destination content, trip planning, a free guidebook) can be a powerful hook to encourage consumers to book directly on airline sites (their low-cost channel of course), rather than through an intermediary who doesn’t offer these services. As a result, these offerings can support conversions on their own site for their traditional business, open up new revenue streams, and also support their customer relationship and marketing goals.

  7. CF says:

    Thanks for chiming in, Josh. I still don’t think going it alone will work out well for them, because they just don’t have the initial volume of information to be useful. Maybe, as enplaned suggests, a partnership with an existing site would be a smarter way to go.

  8. Flying Dutchman says:

    Delta has been doing this for some months. They call them euphemistically “destination guides” that appear when you check in online and then print the boarding passes. Only at the very bottom of the more than busy page can you find a tiny clickable button to just print the b&w standard boarding pass. The content is, of course, mostly sponsored with I suspect pay-per-click deals between Delta and the “destination guides” advertisers.

  9. Dalaman says:

    Finally someone who can write a good blog ! I loved your post and will be telling others about it. Subscribing to your RSS feed now. Thanks

  10. Great blog. Do you know of any relevant marketing forums or discussion groups?

  11. Nice blog btw… Swineflu is gonna go global – better grab a mask asap b4 suppliers run out.

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