Rome2rio expands its engineering team

We’re excited to announce another addition to the growing Rome2rio engineering team based in Melbourne, Australia. Miles Izzo completed his Software Engineering (Honours) degree back in 2004 and has worked on a range of interesting data science problems during his career so far. As a seasoned developer he’ll no doubt play a major role in our mission to organise and search the world’s transport information.

Miles Izzo

We’re actively looking for two more experienced engineers to join our team. If you are based in Melbourne, have a Computer Science or Software Engineer background, and would like to work on a range of interesting problems with a fun, creative group of people then check out the job description.

Job description

Transportation Images Add Real Value To Search Results

Besides demonstrating that an A380 is a lot bigger and probably more comfortable than a 737, there’s not a lot of consumer value in showing an image of the airplane in a search result. Most of us know what to expect when we fly; we’re familiar with the planes, and with the on-board experience. But that’s not the case when it comes to other forms of transportation. 

At Rome2rio, we suspect many people choose to fly even when apparently better (lower cost, more comfortable, faster door-to-door) options are available. The same goes for train travelers and self-drivers, who might be reluctant to choose bus or rideshare, even in cases where those options offer real benefits over their usual choice.

Therein lies the reasoning behind Rome2rio’s new Transportation Images feature, which is being progressively rolled out. By displaying images of the various transport offerings within our search results, we expect our users will look at alternatives more closely, perhaps deciding that their bias towards air (or rail, or self-drive) might be a prejudice that deserves closer examination.

This example demonstrates how the Transportation Images feature is integrated into our search results:

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This image of the fast-train operating from downtown Milan to downtown Rome will convince many travelers it’s a better option than flying.

In some cases, we expect that seeing an image of the vehicle will dispel a fear that it might be antiquated, slow, or somehow uncomfortable. Buses are a case in point: they simply don’t enjoy a great reputation for luxury. Images like these help reduce those concerns:

Buses

Modern buses compete with trains for luxury, and often beat them on price.

With ferries, there is often the fear of the unknown. How big is it? Is it safe? Will I need to wear a life jacket? When people see the ferries that operate on many routes nowadays, they express surprise… which is not surprising, given their space-age designs, which positively ooze speed and comfort.

Ferries

Wave-piercing hull designs (from Tasmania!) have revolutionised ferry travel.

That’s not to say that all ferries are ocean-going liners, or that travelers are always looking for that type of experience. Sometimes, it’s good to know your travel experience will be authentic, and somehow connected to the history and culture of the place you’re visiting.

Boats

In many destinations, travelers are searching for the slow option.

Finally, there are some forms of transportation that are so specialised and site-specific that only a photograph or video can deliver a useful explanation. Funiculars, suspension railways and maglev railways all fit this bill.

CableCar

Wuppertal’s suspension railway, and Schilthorn’s funicular: now you know.

As we continue to roll-out this feature over the coming months, we’ll be loading tens of thousands of images for trains, buses, ferries and other forms of transportation. As a result, we expect to see our users make journey plans with greater confidence to try something new: something that’s probably less expensive, possibly “greener”, and perhaps a change from their old travel habits.

Rod Cuthbert

11 New Features On Rome2rio

Whilst we are continually adding new functionality to Rome2rio, most of our improvements do not warrant a blog post or announcement in their own right. So, here’s a quick summary of 11 recent additions to the Rome2rio website:

Directions to the hotel

Rome2rio’s integrated hotel display now includes an important new component; when you hover over a property, the travel time to that hotel, from the current search destination, is displayed. We expect that knowing their transport options to and from the property will give users the confidence to book properties that are a bit further from the center of town.

W Barcelona is a more appealing choice knowing that it's a 14min bus or 10min taxi from the centre of town

W Barcelona is a more appealing choice knowing that it’s a 14min bus or 10min taxi from the centre of town

Hotel filters

Speaking of hotels, we’ve also added a range of filters to our hotel search feature. You can now filter properties by price, star rating, type, user review score and facilities such as a fitness centre or indoor pool.

It's now easy to only view apartments with an 8+ rating, WiFi and parking

It’s now easy to only view apartments with an 8+ rating, WiFi and parking

Intermediate stops

A simple but useful addition to the site; you can now hover over any bus, train or ferry route with the cursor and Rome2rio will highlight where the services stops. Hover over each stop to see the stop name.

A stopover at Cannes is an appealing option knowing that the Nice to Marseille service stops there

A stopover at Cannes is an appealing option en route from Nice to Marseille

Events on the homepage

The background and example search on the Rome2rio homepage now highlight big festivals and events that are happening that day, or soon thereafter.

The Songkran Water Festival features as one of our homepage event

The Songkran Water Festival features as one of our homepage event

More transport options

Rome2rio search algorithm has historically focused on showing you the fastest, cheapest and simplest ways to get from A to B. We’ve improved the search technology to be more diverse and comprehensive, so that more routes for a range of operators are included.

Rome2rio now displays 6 different bus companies that serve the New York to Boston route

Rome2rio now displays 6 different bus companies that serve the New York to Boston route

Improved mobile experience

We’ve continued to improve our mobile web experience. The browser back button now shifts focus between result pages. Inputs include clear and current location buttons. Touch and hold on the map to display a menu with from here and to here options.

Improved mobile inputs with current location and clear buttons

Improved mobile inputs with current location and clear buttons

Street view

We’ve included Google Maps’ popular street view feature in Rome2rio. Simply right click (or touch and hold on a mobile or tablet device) any location on the map and select street view.

Right click on the map to active street view mode

Right click on the map to active street view mode

Via here

You can now select any point on the map and choose to add it as a via point to your current search.

Right click to add a intermediate stop to your itinerary

Right click to add a intermediate stop to your itinerary

Terminal and aircraft information

We’ve added information about the departure and arrival terminals, and we’ve also included aircraft information.

Departure and arrival terminal information and aircraft type

Departure terminal and aircraft type for this LOT flight

Frequently Asked Questions

Finally, we’ve added a Frequently Asked Questions section to the site. You’ll discover hints for using the site plus some bonus Tips’n’Tricks for getting the most out of Rome2rio.

New FAQ section helps our users navigate the site

New FAQ section helps our users navigate the site

Meta-Search-Plus Approach Makes For Strong Traffic Growth

The gradual shift away from the established OTA model—Expedia, Orbitz, et al—to newer sites that are either hotel specialists (Booking.com, Venere) or some combination of air & hotel meta-search (Trivago, TripAdvisor, Kayak, Skyscanner) is not an overnight phenomenon. Consumers have taken their time falling out of love with OTAs, and just as long becoming comfortable with the newer meta-search model.

That’s understandable. The new model involves spending time on one site to search and discover, and on a second to complete the actual booking. That seems like a step backwards from the OTA’s one-stop shop, and explains why the change has been so gradual. Still, the meta-search companies deliver a great user experience, and their users are clearly of the view that they’ll see the widest range of options and the best prices on meta sites rather than OTAs.

Now Rome2rio is taking the popular meta-search concept one step further, by searching across all types of transport—not just air—and allowing users to build door-to-door journey plans that include transport, accommodation and attractions. Meta-search plus.

For a user, the differences can be profound. On an OTA site, a New York-based user can plan a week’s trip to Heidelberg, Germany, with only a limited degree of completeness. Expedia, for example, suggests flying to Frankfurt, which is fine, though travelers might also like to know they how they are going to reach Heidelberg, which is 80 kilometers away. Expedia knows that Frankfurt is nearby to Heidelberg, but it doesn’t know how to get from one to the other, and makes no suggestions on that score. It offers hotels in Frankfurt instead; not exactly what the customer was looking for.

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No mention of Heidelberg: OTA search results focus on air, and often leave the user short of their final destination

A “traditional” meta-search site wouldn’t do much better, but Rome2rio’s multi-modal capability offers its users a more perfect result. We display flights from New York to Frankfurt, or to Stuttgart or Dusseldorf; train, bus and rideshare options for the final leg trip to Heidelberg; and hotel suggestions in the beautiful town of Heidelberg, not its big-city neighbour.

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Door to door search results require surface transportation data, not just flights

As an e-commerce site focused on selling travel, we are finding this an attractive model. The ability to recommend door-to-door journey plans that include high speed trains, ferries, buses and other non-air transportation delivers real advantages in terms of customer satisfaction,  as well as opportunities for an incredibly broad range of commercial arrangements and revenue sources. The ability to recommend hotel options at the exact destination and tell users precisely how to get there is an obvious step forward.

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Our hotels, from Booking.com, are integrated into the map display

During 2012-13 we focused on making our platform available to partners through White Label and API offerings; 100-plus partners sign up each month and we’re beginning to see some really neat integrations emerge. But with 2.7m unique visitors per month to the Rome2rio.com site and traffic growing at 30% per month, it’s hard to ignore the consumer-direct side of our business. Keep an eye on us as we continue to test the marketplace.

Rod Cuthbert

On Its Way Out, Commercialisation Australia Extends Our Grant

Back in December 2012 we wrote about our success with the Commercialisation Australia (CA) program, after we were awarded a grant of $385,000 to help us commercialise our technology. 

CA has  now approved a significant extension, for a total of $1.2m, to our original grant. The funds will be used to bolster our development team, underpin the continued growth of our content, and generally assist the process of making Rome2rio the world’s leading multi-modal travel search engine.

The timing of this grant could not have been more finely tuned: we made our application just after a Federal Election, with the new Government hinting that they would review the entire CA grant scheme, and possibly eliminate it altogether.

Our application went to the CA Board  in February, at a time when CA themselves did not know their fate. We were in the dark not only about the Board’s decision, but also about whether it would be funded even if it had been approved.

We were not to find out our fate until some  four months later, and only after the new Government had announced that CA would indeed be eliminated and its functions assumed by the newly formed Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Programme (EIP). That news seemed to suggest that we would not be receiving our grant extension, but shortly afterwards we learned that all grant applications that had been approved at the February meeting would be fully funded. Talk about just scraping in!

As “outsiders” to the process of Government it’s tempting to look at changes like this as being driven by political rather than practical motives. With details of the EIP still emerging we can’t make any observations or comparisons to the now defunct CA scheme, other than to say we viewed CA as a well-managed, relevant and practical programme that clearly assisted many Australian companies, including Rome2rio, to grow and compete on a global scale. If EIP can improve on that, we’ll be the first to applaud.

Rome2rio retreats north to Townsville

Last year the Rome2rio team decided to escape Melbourne’s drab winter for a week by setting up shop at Palm Cove (near Cairns in Australia’s far north). That company retreat resulted in the development and launch of Rome2rio’s hotel feature, which has been a big success and has since become an integral part of the site.

Rome2rio's integrated hotel view was developed at the 2013 company retreat

Rome2rio’s integrated hotel view was developed at the 2013 company retreat

This year we decided to do it again by spending two weeks in Townsville. The Australis Mariners North Apartments provided an ideal base for work and Townsville offered plenty for the team and their families to do in their spare time, such as trips to nearby Magnetic Island and walks up Castle Hill.

A day at the office in Townsville

A day at the office in Townsville

We took the opportunity to focus on ideas, features and analysis that we wouldn’t normally have time to work on. The most significant project was the development of a new sights & activities component for Rome2rio. By the end of the retreat the team had developed a compelling prototype, which we plan to ship soon.

An early prototype of our attractions layer

An early prototype of our attractions layer

The second major project was the addition of transport images to Rome2rio. As our image gallery develops, Rome2rio will provide informative pictures of trains, buses, ferries, bus stops, stations, scenic views, ticket booths and much more. We also expect to launch this feature soon.

Showing transport images for certain transit lines.

An early prototype that shows transport images

We also took the opportunity to conduct a relevance analysis. Similar to an approach we used at Bing, the team divided into two groups and spent the day studying Rome2rio results for around 100 user queries that were drawn from our user logs. The search results for each query, such as Zurich to Bologna, was graded on a four-point scale of Perfect, Good, Fair or Bad. Relevance problems were categorized into buckets such as geocoder problems, missing transport data, inaccurate pricing or routing engine problems. The exercise is invaluable for prioritizing improvements to Rome2rio and is something we expect to do regularly.

Other projects included the development of a new A/B testing framework, experiments around new UI, conversion and SEO treatments, and new approaches to visualizing our query logs.

 Michael Cameron

Rome2rio To Present At WIT Japan

Rome2rio CEO Rod Cuthbert is making one of the keynote presentations at the upcoming WIT Japan Conference, to be held in Tokyo on May 16. Titled “The Next Chapter In Search” the presentation will look at some of the key factors having an impact on search in the travel sector, with specific emphasis on multi-modal search.

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WIT Japan has emerged as the most important networking venue for participants in North Asia’s online travel space. With an emphasis on Japan, China and Korea, the conference attracts 400-odd delegates from around the region, with almost 50% from outside Japan.

Rod will also be moderating a panel at the WIT Bootcamp, an event for startups held on the day prior to the main conference. He’ll be interviewing CEOs from previous winners of the Bootcamp event, and hoping to learn something about the journey they’ve each been on in a market which is not known for its startup culture.

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Ryokan specialist Relux is one of the startups on the Bootcamp panel

Panelists include the CEOs of Relux, a website for finding and booking ryokans (luxury Japanese inns); Trippiece (a social travel startup); and Voyagin (a tours and attractions seller, aimed at foreign visitors to Japan).