How do you quickly find restaurants and hotels that match your taste and style? nara a new trip planning tool uses Big Data to do the legwork for you.
Doing exhaustive trip research makes me happy, but I know I’m in the minority. Most people don’t have the time or interest to search 1000s of sites to come up with a list of the best restaurants for a 10 day or weekend trip.
Business travelers certainly don’t have time, unless they’re hardcore foodies – or they have a dedicated administrative assistant. As food focused as I am, researching restaurants for the meals when I am not entertaining clients is pretty low on my priority scale.
nara eliminates the searching and drives recommendations to you once it gets a quick feel for your style and taste. In fact, it markets itself as the end of search. Searching through 1000s of sites is undesirable and inefficient according to Tom Copeman, nara’s founder, and he put together a team of brilliant MIT artificial intelligence engineers to find a better way.
Sort of a cross between Pinterest, Pandora and Tripadvisor, when you launch nara you are faced with a screen full of Pinterest-ish boxes with photos and blurbs about restaurants or hotels. As you give the suggestions a Thumbs Up or Down, nara can develop and push more accurate personalized recommendations on to your screen. You can also pin items to review later, or pin them to your Pinterest boards.
I played with nara prior to meeting Tom at NY Travel Fest, but really started using it last week to get a feel for the product before recommending it here. Since I know NYC restaurants well, I focused on my own city to evaluate the suggestions. Not only did nara suggest a good mix of hotspots like Saxon and Parole and older favorites like The Little Owl, but it must have picked up on my particular interest in restaurants that serve wine – or offer no corkage nights. Several of the places my wine tasting group regularly uses popped up – and these places aren’t on most NYC top 10 lists. Yet, most of the NYC restaurants nara recommends for me are moderate and above; none of my choice cheap ethnic dining options appear, which I guess is a good thing since most of them are tiny.
However, when I enter a city like San Francisco, where my familiarity with the restaurant scene is dated, I would have to do additional research to know whether or not the places nara suggested for me are worth visiting. Boulevard and Jardiniere are the only recommended places I’ve tried and Bubba Gump’s is in the original group of recommendations. Also, San Francisco is a Mexican food mecca and most of nara’s initial recommendations are more American/Continental. But, many of the nara suggestions look client worthy, and I’m known in my industry for my new, exciting restaurant picks. The tool would likely save me time and energy when planning my next San Francisco business trip.
The photos range from professional-looking food shots to dark, blurry ones; the San Francisco shots are particularly good. In general, the food shots are tempting enough to enlist me to try new restaurants.
nara claims to have over 1 million North American restaurants listed and is adding more all the time.
Out of curiosity, I threw in Ithaca in upstate NY – and there were quite a few listings including places I know. Applebees was also included.
nara’s partnerships with Open Table and Grub Hub allow users to instantly reserve tables or request delivery from restaurants who offer those services.
nara’s hotel tool suggested a range of hotels to me when I began my San Francisco search, and I was familiar with none of them. When the user clicks on any of the smaller hotel boxes, a full page of info about the property appears, with more photos, location map, access to Tripadvisor reviews and booking via Expedia. When I asked Tom why Expedia and not the ability to compare pricing across all online travel sites like Tripadvisor offers, he explained that nara chose to go with Expedia.com first as one of nara’s board members was previously SVP & General Manager of Expedia.com.
What was interesting was when I switched over to NYC hotels after randomly clicking on the San Francisco Travelodge just to see how the hotel information is displayed. Suddenly nara assumed I was a cheapskate and began suggesting NYC budget hotels, but the reality is if I was a guest in my own city, I would be looking at bargain hotels!
nara’s applications will go well beyond restaurants and hotels. As their ambitious tagline states “a life well found” is the plan. Tom mentioned planned future product expansions into golf courses and other points of interest to travelers. In one of the articles I had read about the product, wine was mentioned. I’m particularly excited about the prospect of artificial intelligence identifying what characteristics I most enjoy in wine so it can recommend others.
nara doesn’t eliminate the need to do further research for us trip planning geeks, but it is a great starting point. For travelers who want to invest less time searching for hotels and restaurants, it is a very useful tool. As more components are added to nara, it may become an invaluable life curating tool.
Screen shots courtesy of nara except for the wide one.