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Rafat Ali Launches Travel Intelligence Site Skift; Raises Angel Funding

Rafat Ali has launched a new online venture, Skift, which is being positioned as a travel intelligence media company, offering news, insight, data, tools and services to the travel industry and to business travelers seeking expert advice on travel. According to Ali, the company aims to be a  crossover media plus information entity, building a business across the professional as well as the consumer side. In its first phase, Skift will start with news, information, and data site for the travel industry, and will later add a consumer site aimed at business travelers offering news-you-can-use for active travelers.

For the uninitiated, Ali founded ContentNext Media whose online portfolio includes properties like paidContentmocoNews ,contentSutra and paidContent:UK. ContentNext was sold to Guardian News & Media (GNM), the news media division of UKs Guardian Media Group (GMG) in 2008, before being acquired by GigaOm, earlier this year.

Team: Jason Clampet, an online travel specialist who ran Frommers.com’s original content efforts and editorial partner relationships, is the co-founder/head of content, while Dennis Schaal, who was North America Editor of travel blog, Tnooz and a member of its launch team, is a news editor at Skift.

Funding: The company has already raised $500,000 in angel funding from a group of 14 investors including Vishal Gondal, Luke Beatty, Chris Ahearn, Gordon Crovitz and Sanjay Parthasarathy. Ali self-funded the site, till its launch.

Content strategy: The content on the site will be a mix of aggregation (pure software), curation (semi-software, human intelligence), licensed (from sources such as AP, Reuters, Bloomberg, LAT, Guardian, Telegraph & many others), and original reporting.

Focus on data: Skift intends to build and manage a suite of meta-services that are a layer on top of existing services and open-web data, delivered to users in different ways: online, dashboard, apps, alerts etc. The site will build a data warehouse of publicly available travel industry data such as tourism stats, airport data, among others.

Monetisaton strategy: The site plans to use a mix of endemic advertising for trade to the consumer advertisers for the  business traveler segment. In addition to that , it also plans to offer premium/subscription services for the industry and freemium services for business travelers.

Competition: Skift sees legacy companies like Northstar (with TravelWeekly & PhocusWright brands) and industry blogs like travel tech-focused Tnooz as possible competition. It also sees USA Today as a rival on the consumer side.

The site has a neat layout, with news and information offered across six broad categories – Transport, Destinations, Rooms, Cruises, Insights and Digital, with information scattered in an easy to read widgets and lists format on the home-page. Although the focus is the US market, the site offers information across all geographies. We’d expect to see more India specific travel data as the site grows.

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