AFAR Connect launches, using social media technology to bring travelers together

The buzzword in travel today? “Experiential.” Guidebooks, magazines, and even websites like this one strive to provide insider accounts of great travel experiences around the globe. But even we can’t be everywhere at once. What if the coverage of the latest city you wish to visit happened, say, two years ago? And how can one assure that the author of the article has the same travel “personality” as you?

Enter AFAR Connect, the latest platform from AFAR Media (yes, the same people who brought you the magazine). This social media based website is dedicated to connecting like-minded travelers and locals.

Using a proprietary Travel Personality technology and entry “quiz,” travelers are guided through a series of questions that categorizes them into one of 36 different groups with a corresponding color. On one end of the spectrum you’ll find the safe, relaxation-seeking traveler who prefers destinations like Florida. On the other, you’ll find the “Discoverer,” a traveler whose ideal experience would involve, say, volunteering in Haiti.

Users can ask questions about their upcoming travel plans and the site will connect the user directly with others who share their same travel profile and have intimate knowledge of the specific destination. “Tour books are generalized for the masses and lead travelers to the same spots as all the other tourists, and your friends may have general, but not in-depth knowledge of a destination,” said Derek Butcher, CTO of AFAR Media. “When looking for travel advice, it’s not who you know, but who you should know that can make the difference in your experience. Our proprietary technology facilitates intimate knowledge sharing for the enrichment of travel experiences.”

AFAR Connect continues to learn about and evolve a traveler’s personality through a user’s posts, advice, questions and travel experiences. On the site, a user can ask a question about a place that he or she is interested in visiting and the site’s technology will push the question to those users AFAR finds are best suited to answer based on their knowledge of the area and activity, as well as his or her Travel Personality. Those users are then able to engage in direct one-to-one communication that will enable the traveler to have a unique, personalized experience.

In addition, users can also comment on posts, ‘follow’ other members whose advice they value, share photos, and more. Users can create an AFAR-specific profile or log in using Facebook Connect, which will import information already stored in their Facebook profiles. The technology is the key differentiator, and ensures users receive travel recommendations from travelers who appreciate the same types of experiences as they do.

“AFAR Connect is the next step in our goal of promoting experiential travel,” said Greg Sullivan, co-founder and CEO of AFAR Media. “While the magazine is meant to inspire, AFAR Connect is a practical tool for travelers who want to pack their bags and experience a destination from a local’s perspective. For me, the best travel advice comes from locals or from other travelers who share the same values and interests as I do. Until now there was no site that could help facilitate that exchange of information on a personalized one-to-one basis.”

AFAR also encourages local businesses and travel brands to participate in the community. Businesses can set up profiles similar to travelers, and respond to questions, offer advice, and share information about their company. From airlines to snorkel shops, travel brands that participate in the spirit of the community can use the platform to drive customers to their front door.

Gadling readers interested in trying the private beta version of AFAR Connect can gain access through with code GADAFAR. The code is good for the first 100 readers.

A conversation with Joe Diaz, co-founder of AFAR

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last year you’ve heard of AFAR media and their new magazine that’s currently making waves around the travel industry. As one of the few companies to risk starting a print publication in a transitioning media landscape, there’s plenty at risk in this endeavor, but the strategy runs deep at AFAR and the innovation is plenty.

Earlier this month, Gadling’s Editor in Chief sat down with AFAR co-founder Joe Diaz to catch up on new developments at the startup.

Grant Martin: Congratulations on the success of Afar to date — how are things settling in for you as the co-founder of a major publication?

Joe Diaz: Things are going well. We have the opportunity to work in media in such an exciting and evolutionary time. AFAR has entered the game at an opportune time. Others call this the “bottom” or “worst time ever” to start a media company. Obviously, we see it another way and believe that the demands of today’s consumers were not being met in the travel space. Judging from the success of our launch it looks as though AFAR is fulfilling the desires of today’s experiential travelers. Our magazine launched with much success and I’m really excited about the upcoming launch of

GM: Right, your magazine is only a small part of the Afar portfolio with a large portion of Afar Media set to unfurl on the web in 2010. How is that progressing?

JD: The entire team is really excited about the launch of, a social network meets social search site that gets people like you to answer questions you have about travel. We are headquartered in San Francisco for a reason and that reason is We plan on entering our beta in late June of 2010. We are now beginning to invite well-heeled travelers and members of the tech community to join us in shaping and improving the site. I encourage you to “try out” for our beta at

Although we see our site as a revolutionary progression in the online travel space, our platforms always drive back to our company’s core values. In this case, it’s all about connecting travelers to other travelers, locals and businesses in ways that fit their individual way of traveling.
GM: So upcoming components of will be socially interactive. How will it be different from, say, Facebook or Dopplr?

JD: will differ from Facebook in terms of the approach. Facebook is effective when you want your “friends” to answer questions that you might have about anything in particular. When traveling, how many of your “friends” have been to the places you’re thinking about going? Then take the number of friends that have been there and ask yourself, “How many of them like to travel the way I do?” Probably not that many. We think there is a whole community of like-minded travelers that you should be able to tap into to give you recommendations that fit your psychographic.

GM: AFAR events is another branch of AFAR Media that’s kicking off this summer. What have you guys got planned around the country?

JD: We are planning an launch party in San Francisco for late September/early October. Stay tuned!

GM: Going back to the magazine that we all know so well, you recently made some editorial changes at the top. What motivated these changes?

JD: Things evolve and change over time and as a company we need to adapt to those changes. The initial launch of our company required a different approach than the stage we are currently in. AFAR is a media company and although the magazine is an important part of our strategy, it was time to move away from magazine-centric thinking and really embrace an audience of experiential travelers rather than any one single platform.

GM: And you’ve been getting some pretty big names in that industry involved — we just saw our friend David Farley off the Belarus on a top secret mission for you guys. Who else have you got coming down the pipeline?

JD: Yes, we’re acquiring top-notch creative talent for the magazine. It’s exciting to see writers like David Farley, Susan Orlean, Andrew McCarthy, and Tim Cahill working with us. I think it speaks to the uniqueness of AFAR and this magazine’s ability to talk about travel in a real way. Photographers who get shunned from other travel magazines because they like to photograph clouds hanging over those white, sandy beaches…no problem. AFAR likes clouds.

New travel inspiration: AFAR magazine

Greg Sullivan and Joseph Diaz, the founders of AFAR magazine, saw a need for a magazine that focused on “experiential travel that helps people experience every destination as local residents do.” So they started their new travel magazine to fill that niche.

When major glossies are closing down at an alarming rate, starting up a new magazine – with an online community, tv partnerships, and books in the works – is a bold move. But, if the first issue of AFAR is any indication of what’s to come, it’s one that will enrich the travel community as the company grows.

The goal of AFAR is to encourage authentic travel that avoids superficial, mass-consumed, beaten path tourism and digs deeper into a local cuture in all aspects of the trip, from where you stay to what you eat to how you can make a difference in a local community. AFAR hits that middle ground between offering details that you can use (a calendar section lists events around the world and each feature has the typical “if you go” logistical info), facts that educate (a piece on the culture of maid cafes in Japan was fascinating) and stories that inspire (a feature on Berber culture in Morocco only fueled my desire to go there).

The premier issue also contained an interview with a long-term traveler, information on ocean-cleanup vacations, a profile of the rock music scene in China, and a closing essay by Tim Cahill. The editors also promise to continue this issue’s “Spin the Globe” section, in which they send one writer on a spontaneous journey. This issue’s destination was Caracas, and while the article didn’t offer much in the way of “where to stay, what to do” information, it did offer a very intriguing, honest portrait of the city. For foodies, there was also a feature detailing how one writer learned to make bread from a French master baker.

The writing is solid, the photos are beautiful, and in keeping with the editors’ statement that “life is about more than how much we consume”, the magazine isn’t cluttered with ads (though, ironically, many of the ads are for luxury products). At $19.95 for 6 issues (the magazine will be published bi-monthly), I recommend subscribing. You can get a taste of what you’re in for if you do, or just satiate your thirst for travel inspiration in between issues, on the AFAR blog.