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PaidContent Founder Takes on Travel Biz

Rafat Ali unveils latest content venture, Skift
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Is the travel category in need of a digital media disruption? Rafat Ali believes so.

Ali, who in the early 2000s founded PaidContent, has unveiled Skift, a Web property targeted at the travel industry and business travelers. Initially focused on news for folks in the hotel, cruise and tourism businesses, Skift.com aims to revolutionize the travel world with data.

"That is where the real opportunity lies,” said Ali.

According to Ali, there is loads of publicly available data from different sectors of the travel world, such as delay and lost luggage information from the over 600 U.S. airports, or tourism growth stats for each state. But nobody’s taken the initiative to compile it all in a useful way.

"It's comically archaic," he said. "This data is sent around in Excel sheets. There's no value that you can get out of it, especially historically. So we're looking at building the largest repository of travel industry data and then building services on top of it."

Ali has shaken up media sectors before. He started PaidContent at a time when blogs were just gaining traction and credibility and aggregation was still viewed as illegitimate by some. But soon the site became a must-read, both for its comprehensive nature and breaking news.

Ali, who left PaidContent after it was sold to The Guardian in 2008, has spend several years prepping Skift (PaidContent is now owned by GigaOm). He sees a sleepy category when it comes to travel trades, one that is ripe for an outsider approach and a blend of consumer and industry content. “Politico is the closest analogy,” he said.

Skift.com will be ad supported; the plan is to go after industry sponsors as well as brands looking to reach frequent business travelers. The site will eventually offer a slew of subscription-based data products.