A new app created by a Santa Barbara travel shop owner caught my eye when I walked into Vita Travel on Feb. 5 because it seems like the perfect app for eco-conscious Millennial travelers.
Greg Bellowe created VitaExplorer as a way to force people to think about their impact on the environment when they travel. Bellowe owns the Vita Travel Store at 12 W. Anapamu St in downtown Santa Barbara. After five years of development, a beta version of the app launched during a party at the store Feb. 11.
Bellowe created the app after moving to Santa Barbara six years ago. His background is in online travel technology. At one point Bellowe even held a minority stake in OneScreen, one of the first hotel booking and reservation systems where customers could book hotels and pay on the same screen.
“When I moved here I had the idea and the technology background, but I didn’t have a retail travel background,” Bellowe said. “I thought (the store) was the perfect way to have a consumer-facing place that we could promote travel and at the same time learn how people travel.”
Bellowe developed the app to create a portal that reduces the labor of booking hotels, finding places to eat and things to do in cities where travelers have never been before. He said the process can be very labor and time intensive.
“People typically will use at least 20 websites to plan their trip,” Bellowe said. “If you’re going somewhere you’ve never been, you’re looking for websites to see where things are. Typically, you are looking at reviews but it’s hard to know what’s credible.”
Bellowe made the app Web-based, he said, because he wanted to avoid paying to have the app listed by iTunes in the App store and because it’s easier to update Web apps. VitaExplorer’s design makes it easy to use on tablets, phones or desktop computers. I personally prefer Web apps anyway because I’m constantly running out of storage space on my phone for apps, pictures and games.
The most notable thing about the VitaExplorer is that users are prompted to offset carbon emissions for their trips by entering the starting and ending points of their journey.
When prompted, users enter their destinations and the type of transportation they are taking to get there. The app then gives users a rough idea of how much it costs to pay to clean up carbon emissions from any one of the seven modes of transportation. Finally, a sponsor, like suitcase manufacturer Briggs & Riley, pays into a fund for tree planting organizations to offset those emissions.
Bellowe built the app to make eco-friendly travel easy for all people that use the app. It’s clear it’s not a hippie version of Orbitzbut could be a mainstream website like Orbitz one day.
Offsetting emissions is fairly easy. For instance, when I make one of my many summer excursions to Dodger Stadium, I drive 122 miles, emit about 93 pounds of carbon emissions, and it costs 20 cents to clean up those emissions.
Fliers can also calculate emissions generated by their seats on flights. So, when I fly home from Los Angeles to Sioux City, Iowa, I now know my seat on a 1,300 mile flight emits 1,000 pounds of carbon emissions and costs $2.21 to clean up.
Commuters can also use the app to offset their daily driving distances, though the app is not designed for daily use.
Users can also book hotels, find restaurants and things to do while building trips on the app. As I said earlier, the app is still in the beta stage. While the idea for the app is great, and it’s certainly useful, it still needs some work.
While planning a March trip to spring training in the Phoenix suburbs, I used the app to look for hotels, places to eat and things to do around Phoenix. No results came up for Phoenix, or any of the suburbs like Goodyear and Surprise where teams play.
I also tried to plan baseball trips to other destinations like Omaha, Neb., and Kansas City, Mo., without any luck. Hotel results did come up for places like Seattle, New York, Hawaii and a few other cities though.
Beta versions of apps have kinks to iron out and Bellowe knows that. With time, VitaExplorer should become a really useful app.
In the meantime, as I travel this summer, I’ll continue to offset my carbon footprint thanks to Briggs & Riley.
• Contact Philip Joens at [email protected]