Priceline is beta testing a new "Explore" search functionality with its iPad app that frees the travel search from the old price-and-date grid. Developed in cooperation with Travelport, it is designed to inspire.
Users pull up Priceline's existing app and click on the "Explore" icon. They can input a date and a city of origin, but there is no "to," as in a destination city to fly to.
Instead, travelers hit one of eight icons representing a variety of types of travel -- family, romantic, adventure, entertainment, "surprise me" and others.
The icons are overlaid on a map of the world. Click on "beach" and the screen fills with photos of beaches around the world along with the starting price for airfare from the traveler's city of origin to that destination.
"Photos inspire," said Phil Donathy, product director, developer solutions, for Travelport, who demonstrated the new functionality at the PhoCusWright Conference in Fort Lauderdale this week.
Users can drill down to a certain region--the Caribbean for example. Then, using their finger, they can draw a circle around a region to see more options within that circle. Users can adjust their budget just by tapping a finger on a budget indicator at the bottom of the app.
Once users have decided upon a destination, they can then book the air in the Priceline app.
Leslie Cafferty, vice president of corporate communications for Priceline, said that the app offers real-time pricing, it is not cached.
So far beaches, romance and family friendly are the most popular categories.
Cafferty said the options that come up are based on Priceline's own data to see what's popular with its customers.
"Explore" uses Travelport's e-Pricing platform to search for the fares that "Explore" brings up. Travelport developed a similar application for Emirates, called "Inspire." A traveler on the Emirates site can browse for a place with a bit of sunshine to see what options Emirates might offer that traveler.
Donathy said that the "Explore" function is available through a universal API.
"Any customer who wants it can use it to power their own products," he said. It is available to Travelport's developer network as well.
Inspirational search tools are not new. Amadeus' "Featured Results," which it provides on a white label basis, opens with maps that immediately show consumers all the places they can get to from where they live. By merely touching an icon, the consumer can see what destinations are more affordable and which offer the particular activity they're seeking. Five years ago, Travelocity's ExperienceFinder did the same thing, enabling travelers to experience what they could do rather than giving them a two-dimensional grid for planning. Ahead of its time -- and ahead of the mobile era -- ExperienceFinder faded away, but the concept is gaining ground again.
Follow Kate Rice on Twitter @krtravelweekly.