BookIt.com search puts focus on origin in listing travel deals

By Dan Luzadder

A journey of a thousand miles may begin with a single step, but for millions of travelers it begins with a single click: the ubiquitous search for information on travel opportunities that is almost always based on a traveler's proposed destination.

But at BookIt.com, a travel search and booking website with some new technology to tout, founders are trying to turn the destination-based approach on its head, focusing instead on the first step -- the traveler's point of origin -- to design and produce a menu of travel deals.

Jamin Finlaw is co-founder of BookIt and co-creator with his father of a technology platform that immediately spots a Web visitor's location through his or her IP address and automatically configures subsequent travel search results to deals reachable from the point of origin.

Finlaw's father, Bud, CEO of BookIt, conceived and designed the platform, which the company calls Fast Relevant Origin Method technology, or FROM.

Finlaw said his father's origin-based searches were faster, produced more relevant results and were steeped in both local and destination-related marketing opportunities.

"BookIt evolved into a brand-new way of planning travel," Jamin Finlaw said. "FROM is a good answer for the consumer who wants to find places to go and also a good answer for the supplier who wants to know, 'How are you going to give me brand-new guests that I am not getting now?'"

Jesse Henson, vice president of marketing for Florida-based BookIt, said the travel deals that BookIt collects are filtered through traveler preferences.

Results are produced by an algorithm that blends 100 million bits of data to cover additional information sources, including reviews, that help pick potential deals for shoppers.

Finlaw said that in coming up with bottom-line deals, they are also giving travelers a 60-day calendar that lists which travel days produce the lowest prices and best overall deals. Consumers pick their dates and prices and book on the site.

The difficult part of the technology, Henson said, is matching airfares and airline schedules with the hotel offerings that the company's sales force (there are about 200 employees at BookIt) brings back from providers.

"The hotel deals are generally not the issue," Henson said. "It is getting people there at an economical price."

Flight costs can vary by route frequency, day of the week and other variables, so offering the option to look at potential deals from locations and hotels and then frame those prices against a calendar of available airfares helps quickly establish when the best time would be to travel.

Origin-based searches also eliminate deals that might be relevant for Miami-based travelers but not for travelers who start in Seattle, Los Angles or New York.

Destinations being offered are limited to the U.S. mainland, Hawaii, Mexico, the Caribbean and some parts of Central America. But the company is exploring international expansion.

Finlaw said that, in a way, the site mimics online the opportunities that travel agencies traditionally bring to customers who walk in the door and find locally generated deals for destinations marketed at the agency.

"We are identifying possibilities for geo-targeted marketing, and we are doing some testing with geo-targeted marketing with customized messaging," Finlaw said. "We have plans to delve further into that, because geo-targeting lets you get as specific as possible, from the first time you engage the user to the end of the booking funnel."

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