Jack Dorsey, Eric Schmidt Back Peek, Another Beautiful Curated Travel Startup

But why would people who want to book flights waste time "navel gazing?"

Another beautiful travel site is launching on Thursday. This one, called Peek, helps users find and book the best activities to do while they’re traveling.

It’s built on a familiar premise: That in the big, wide world of the Internet, too many choices can be too overwhelming. There is a segment of the market yearning for a pleasant, curated experience.

“We’re not showing you absolutely everything,” co-founder Ruzwana Bashir tells Fast Company. “We’re showing you the best things.”

Instead of asking local businesses to create their own pages or asking users to submit reviews, a la Yelp or TripAdvisor, Peek scores the guidebook options in each city (for now only those in California and Hawaii) to personally select the best tours, museums and other activities. It then adds striking large photos, a description that’s actually coherent and reviews pulled from other sites. Under another tab, a handful of micro-celebrities outline their “perfect day” of experiences —all of which can be booked directly through the site.

With investors that include Jack Dorsey and Eric Schmidt, Peek joins a string of startups approaching travel from a curated discovery perspective rather than the utility function of travel giants. Startups such as Trippy, Gtrot and Wanderfly aim—whether through social features, user collections or pure editorializing—to serve up the best options at your destination and catalyze discovery.

None have exactly experienced breakaway success. Gtrot, once a social planning service, switched to a local focus, then abandoned the idea altogether in favor of a social gifting product. Trippy, which launched as a “friend-sourced” travel recommendation service, has since become a “Pinterest for Travel.”

“I think the vast majority of people who want to travel kind of know where they want to go and what they want to do and are just looking to buy the ticket or get the hotel room,” Kayak's Chief Architect Bill O'Donnell tells Fast Company.

Of course he thinks that. This is what Kayak does best—to be fair, Schmidt, who oversaw Google's $700 million acquisition of travel company ITA, also knows plenty about the nuts-and-bolts end of trip booking. But Kayak hasn't stayed completely on the sidelines as the travel discovery and inspiration trend unfolds. It has, for instance, launched an “explore” feature that locates last-minute flights according to budget, flight time, and activity categories such as beach, ski or golf.

O'Donnell says that less than 1% of Kayak’s visitors use the explore tool. Even if people used it more often, he says, there would be another problem: people looking for ideas aren’t necessarily the same people who are buying travel services.

“You’re by definition reaching out to people who aren’t really sure what they want to do and whether they want to do anything,” he says. “The farther away you get from that buying decision, the harder it is to monetize.”

Wanderfly, arguably the most successful of the curated wanderlust variety of travel startups, shifted its business model a few times before it found something that worked. Originally, all of its travel suggestions were lovingly curated by the site’s staff, and the site sent people elsewhere to book flights and hotels. By the time TripAdvisor acquired Wanderfly for an undisclosed sum earlier this month, the site had switched to a format in which users curated the travel experiences and brands could buy white-label versions of the product.

You only have to note that Gilt Groupe’s Jetsetter gets away with charging $250 for personal travel planning to see there are, in fact, some people who want curation in their travel shopping.

“That’s why people still use travel agents,” says Wanderfly co-founder Christy Liu .

Fab.com and Thrillist, meanwhile, make a pretty good case that curation can lead to purchase decisions. But O'Donnell isn't buying into the theory when it comes to travel, a purchase that is rarely impulsive.

"I wonder if it’s a little bit introspective, and navel-gazing, of, we’re all computer nerds, and this is the way we think about finding out stuff—of course we’re going to use the web to do it," he says. "And that’s not the way most of the world actually is."

[Image: Flickr user Ianus Keller]