A new type of hotel website launched into the online travel space earlier this year, offering travellers an innovative way to search for hotels. Breaking Travel News checks in with Richard Jackson, founder and chief executive of Mapov.com to find out what makes this hotel search engine so unique.
Breaking Travel News: What was your vision for Mapov.com
Richard Jackson: The vision for Mapov.com is to be a ‘search engine on a map’. Over the last few years mapping content has become incredibly immersive and visually rich.
However searching and comparing goods and services within a map interface is hard work and unrewarding for users.
Mapov.com is changing that.
We are investing heavily in discovering how to do search in a map environment.
BTN: Why the name Mapov.com?
RJ: Finding good, short domain names is hard. With Mapov.com we have found the perfect name which is memorable, relates to our focus on maps but also gives us a blank sheet to create our own brand values around it.
BTN: What differentiates Mapov.com from any other hotel booking website?
RJ: Nearly all hotel booking sites have a map interface.
These are usually linked off to the side of the main list of hotel results.
Low investment in these maps have made them low value for users.
They only show one hotel at time, and each hotel must be individually clicked on to see the details.
It is hard to make comparisons or have confidence you are picking the right hotel for you.
If multiple hotels are shown at once, it is by putting a list of hotels next to the map.
It then becomes hard to match up the hotel to its location.
With Mapov.com we have all the content of hotel lists (prices, photos, reviews, amenities etc.) but layered on top of the map.
Elegant design and sophisticated layout algorithms mean these results do not clutter the centre of the map.
Our interface becomes a fun and interactive way of seeing all the options; it is a visual playful environment in which to quickly and confidently make a good choice.
BTN: Which online agents are currently integrated with Mapov.com? Are you able to discuss any additional agents you have been in talks with for future integration?
RJ: We are integrated with some of the biggest names in the hotel business including Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia and Lastminute.com, giving our users great choice and the cheapest prices from these great companies.
In due course we will add even more hotel suppliers, and since launch one has even approached us for integration.
BTN: Can you tell me about Mapov’s new way of selecting dates / your date picker?
RJ: As buyers of travel products ourselves we have always been frustrated with date pickers.
Choosing dates that fall across two months can leave you not being sure the number of nights you are booking for. Understanding what date format is being used can leave you with a feeling of uncertainty - is it the April 1st or January 4th?
Sometimes even confirming the dates you’ve picked is hard, as they can be written very small and don’t confirm the day of week in question.
For Mapov we have built our own date picker to solve all these issues.
Dates are shown in one quickly scrollable list.
Simply clicking and dragging a date range selects both check-in and check-out dates.
The day of week, months in question and number of nights are clearly displayed.
It is fast, simple and straightforward.
It is only one small part of the booking process but we aim for attention to detail and wish to improve every part of the process.
BTN; What are today’s travellers looking for from their hotel booking experience?
RJ: Firstly, speed.
Secondly, the ability to search for hotels according to what is important to them and thirdly, confidence they have the right hotel at the best price.
We have more work to do to hit all these nails on the head, but our goal is for there to be no better place to find the right hotel for you, whatever your budget or criteria.
BTN: To what extent is mobile technology a priority for you? What are you doing in this area?
RJ: At the time of writing Mapov.com is not available on tablets or mobiles.
Our development team however are now optimizing the interface for touch devices and small screen formats and will release appropriate versions as soon as we can.
Creating a new interface, as we have, has required a lot of learning and iteration to get right, (with more still to do for sure). It’s been important to get the desktop version into beta and we made the decision to release this before other versions were ready.
This will no doubt cause frustration for some but will be worth it in the long run.
BTN: Will you expand into any other areas such as lifestyle or flights?
RJ: The vision goes beyond just the provision of hotels, but there is still much to be done on the hotel side, and that will be our focus for some time to come.
BTN: As a new start-up, what have been some of the main challenges you have had to overcome?
RJ: To date the biggest challenge has been that of design and implementation.
How do we turn a general vision into a specific reality? This has been an internal challenge and to a large extent an intellectual one. Thankfully due to such a great team of developers we are more confident than ever to be on the right track.
And now with real travellers using the site, we can test and improve it further.
The biggest challenge coming up is the marketing challenge.
The hotel space is very competitive with many large companies with deep pockets marketing aggressively. We have a number of options and opportunities, but we need to be smart and make good choices.
We feel we are the best in the market at what we do, and whilst we maintain that innovative edge, we’re confident that growth and success will follow.
The exact path we will follow however, has considerable uncertainty!
BTN: What has been the biggest surprise for you since launching the site?
RJ: User testing has been the biggest eye opener. People do things you don’t imagine, and no more so than when you present them with a new interface.
We have discovered different types of users who have different priorities, some the map, some reviews etc. Since launching, the value of our vision has been confirmed but we have learnt that much has to be optimized along the way to deliver that value.
We are on the right track but there is more to do to make it the right interface for everyone.
BTN: You currently offer deals on 220,000 hotels, how many destinations do you offer hotel deals in?
RJ: We list all the hotels from our providers who together have incredible worldwide coverage.
There is hardly a destination in the world we don’t cover. We even have hotels in North Korea.
BTN: What are your predictions for the online travel space over the next five years?
RJ: Buying travel products is a problem that is far from solved.
We can compare the prices of hotels, but we have no real concept of what value is, or how good a deal really is. We can book a flight, but we can’t integrate all the travel requirements and purchases that fall alongside it.
These issues will be solved in the next five years.
The problem is not a technical one, but a creative one. Whoever can imagine the solution and execute it will win.
BTN: How do you see Mapov.com evolving?
RJ: At Mapov we want to be the first to solve the travel problem for all travellers whatever their demands, priorities or budgets. For us our first priority is in making the hotel content (photos, reviews etc) and hotel location (map) one thing not two, because that reflects reality.
We recognise that not everyone’s priority is the hotels location.
However, whether the hotel’s location is your last consideration or the first consideration it always has significance. It exists at a certain location and you have to turn up there to use it!
Once our new interface has become mature we will invest in solving the other issues mentioned above and extend the site to other markets. Technically and creatively we are ahead of the game, and that is where we wish to stay.
We welcome critical feedback as we want nothing to stop us being the best. Fixing what is broken is easy.
Creating something excellent is much harder.