Kukunu’s Slick Travel Portal, Maybe Google’s TripAdvisor

Kukunu Travel Portal

A new player enters the online travel niche today. A UK startup called Kukunu emerges from private beta testing with some exciting features, at least for a very early stage innovation. We took a look inside Kukunu for you, what we found was a cutting edge simplicity, but some lacking areas as far as social interaction, and deep content or data. Kukunu’s striking design and simple interface offer potential. More importantly though, is Kukunu designed to be Kayak’s or Google’s TripAdvisor? Let’s see.

Kukunu is the brain child of Gerald Goldstein PhD (physics), and Itamar Lesuisse, engineer and guru consultant at Boston Consulting Group and Amazon. Their obvious technical expertise is reflected in Kukunu’s minimalist design, as well as the flawless ways in which it currently works. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Kukunu is striking in some ways, and misses the boat in a few others – so far.

Bon Voyage with Kukunu

Signup through planning your first trip(s) with Kukunu is probably faster and more efficient than signing up to Facebook. I started a trip to Copehagen, as you can see in the screen I made, because I have been there several times. For new Kukunu users, adding elements to your trip is drop dead simple.

The navigation on Kukunu is near perfect actually (a couple of bugs), but everything from creating a vacation by adding venues, to sharing them on Facebook, and people being directed back to Kukunu – works perfectly. Then there are the negatives. But, let me say the design elements are super nice too, so the engineering types did not just set out to type in some code that works great (like so many do), they actually had a designer in the closet somewhere.


Simplicity is key to any cutting edge startup actually, but particularly so for emergent travel ones. As anyone can clearly see, Expedia’s TripAdvisor, TripWolf, NileGuide, and several others betray this principle. This is for two reasons. First, the massive amount of data on say TripAdvisor, lends itself to a grossly complicated UI and navigation – and almost unavoidable cluttered platform – almost I said. Secondly, TripAdvisor and the others mentioned, are really renditions of Web 1.0 design and function. It is easy to see Kukunu is addressing this, as our clients at Stay.com have. But here is where Kukunu’s problems really begin and end.

Kukunu Review

Kukunu’s Coming Elements – Or Else

Kunkunu’s developers have the “slickness” aspect down pat. As suggested though, a clean UI and flawless interface to nowhere is not exactly a value proposition worth mentioning – but let’s take a quote from Charlotta Hedman at TechCrunch UK for some insight.

Kukunu wants to offer a broader service than their competitors and guess their way to all your travel needs.

The hard part of building a cutting edge, super valuable online travel hub is the libraries of content. Even TripAdvisor’s volumes are hollow magazine clippings compared with what they should be. The challenge for “the next” great travel startup is to be clean like Kukunu, but possessing Wikipedia-like drill down for people’s scrutiny. Kukunu will no doubt add a mobile app – it is the next frontier for all actually. But gateways to less than perfect data are simply useless, or will be in the very near future. Google is in the game, Facebook is in the game, social is about to be in a paradigm shift, and as Richard MacManus so aptly put it:

So if I was an entrepreneur or developer wondering what to build for this era of the Web, I wouldn’t be thinking social. I’d be thinking: How can I use all of this data and build on top of it?

Data. A heap of it. Organized and accessible from a multiplicity of angles – this is what my old friend is talking about. Social is here to stay too, but that is the “people” end of things. I disagree slightly with Richard on this point, especially where travel is concerned.

Kukunu Reviews

Media and data elements created, shared, added to, and enhanced by THE People of THE places is the most powerful “convincing” factor there is. Call my nebulous thoughts “real people advertising” for lack of a better term. Kukunu is not so very well tied into this YET. As an early stage startup, Kukunu is fine – for now. But, as you can see, subjective ratings and suggestions, limited choices, unrefined media elements (pint sized views of places), and the ability to print some names (the limited equivalent of Stay.com’s personalized PDF guides) won’t get it.

Kukunu problems

The problem with scraped content – a limited view

I mailed Kukunu’s CEO, Itamar Lesuisse, about the ratings issue above, and some other issues. He responded almost immediately. According to Itamar, Kukunu’s suggestions now are based on their own algorithm, plus ratings for hotels by Booking.com. Apparently Kukunu will tilt these toward user generated results once user engagement goes up. Itamar fended off my question about “content” by suggesting more open source and no premium content acquisition basically. User generated stuff being again, the Holy Grail (which it is).

Ways To Skin A Cat

As far as the “data” question, Itamar says Expedia and Bookings.com provide much, while Google API’s and others should allow users to access a wealth of data – generating it in suitable and usable form being the hurdle there.  On Kayak? Itamar told me my visit to Kayak was inconsequential, Kukunu is intent on their own booking engine doing the “hook” up work (that one I want to see). Itamar says Kukunu already has “100,000 hotels and more then 200,000 activities, ” an unless their is an open source booking engine out there I am unaware of, rates and commissions included? Well, I could be wrong.

Regardless of my criticisms, this is a very nice development, to say the least. But, there is no way in this world around an immense data structure in travel – without it every travel agent in the world still has the edge for many millions of travelers. I guess Kukunu can scrape all the data necessary – but given their level of funding so far – I seriously doubt it. The loss of SEO and high quality data value would be greatly lost any way. But, maybe Kukunu has something up their sleeves I do not know about. Maybe it is being made for Google? There are many ways to skin a cat.


  1. Stephen says

    Sorry, it’s just because the i is near the u. Anyway, thanks for the answers. I wonder how much of what you guessed will turn out valid. Another thing… why are all these startups making things so easy and crisp? It’s travel, people, not fried eggs. I look for information when I go, and Kukunu doesn’t make things easier for me. But let me make an account and check this out. I see that you are the only one who found negatives, maybe you are biased… TechCrunch and another one find it cool. In fact, Itamar thanked them. Obviously he no longer likes you. But please don’t change your style. You are not the best typist, but there is one thing I appreciate (and I know that other people do too) and that’s your honesty.

    • Phil Butler says

      Stephen, I think he still likes me, I am just not as important as TechCrunch ;) Besides, if he or anyone there thanked me they would sort of be admitting some of my thoughts were right – unless they wanted to clarify – but that would not be crisp would it? I like Kukunu, but redoing a press release is not exactly testing is it?

      Let’s see what happens. (maybe they don’t like me after all?)


  2. Stephen says

    What a great start for the people at Kukunu, Phil. The concept is interesting, and shows a lot of potential. I don’t think that is made to sell, or if it is… someone made the wrong bets. As it stands now, I could use Google Calendars to organize. Yeah, more time consuming, but so what? (Loved the pitch on Google though, you did them a great favor.)

    I have a few questions, if anyone there is listening:

    Where do they get the content from? Hotels I figure come from Booking.com. But the rest? Who is providing it, and how do we know it is relevant and trustworthy?

    When is the iphone app coming out? That would make Kikunu more valuable than a web app. I personally don’t use my PC much.

    Last, how is Kukunu a game changer?

    • Phil Butler says

      Hi Stephen,

      Uh oh, you misspelled Kukumu, kookoonu, I mean Kukunu too! I got hammered for misspelling it myself :( But then, I am the world’s worst. As for the content, I have not the slightest idea, perhaps they scrape via API’s to gather restaurants and the like? As for trust? This is a huge issue as you guessed. Just like TripAdvisor even, not only should no one care about a totally subjective and unsubstantiated review, the value is just perceptual. Top rate restaurant – foey – show me. I can go to Yahoo!, or elsewhere, and create an identity just to say my restaurant is great on TripAdvisor – no big loss of time.

      However, shooting a video, uploading one, or pictures and other data in context? Well, that is a little bit more time consuming. The more credibility a thing has, meaning proof, the more adapted it will become – especially in the face of slim content. Google has made a living seeing to this to a degree. Kukunu has made a nice starting point, but without the funds to effectively add massive quality content – there is no real value. I bet they know this, and maybe they intend on providing tools to help users do this for them ala Facebook?

      As you say, credibility is what will change the game.


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