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by Michael Shapiro | August 23, 2013

Nara, a web search engine that has been offering a North American restaurant search tool for about a year, this week added hotel search capabilities to the site. Now travelers can search among 50 U.S. cities for hotel possibilities; thanks to a partnership with the Expedia Affiliate Network, hotels may be booked directly online. Nara also has partnered with Trip Advisor to offer ratings and reviews of the 13,000 hotels in Nara’s database.

What makes Nara unique is its focus on the recommendation aspect of the search. Developed by neuroscientists and programmers, Nara tracks your preferences and past purchases, Amazon-style, in order to suggest new restaurants and hotels you might like. Unlike sites like Urban Spoon and Yelp, Nara doesn’t currently allow its users to post reviews. Instead, Nara assesses user reviews from a large number of Internet sites to help power its recommendation engine.

The power of Nara theoretically lies in the strength of its recommendation-engine algorithms; I can’t speak to that, as the hotel search is brand new and I haven’t used the restaurant search enough to know. But I look forward to experimenting with it. If the recommendations turn out to be spot-on, then I would think that would open up a wealth of possibilities for our industry.

I’m thinking of partnerships, through which Nara’s technology could help to power other sites. Once Nara users establish reliable profiles, those could potentially be ported to other sites — say, a convention portal whereby attendees, once signed in, could see which housing-block hotel options are their best bets, based on past bookings and personal preferences. Or, potentially, corporate booking platforms, which could weigh a user’s Nara preferences against corporate travel policy to recommend best choices.

These ideas are all theoretical, though, and also assume that Nara’s magic would work better than whatever is being cooked up by Google, Apple, Facebook or any travel technology company out there to apply to travel searches. At present, according to Nara CEO Tom Copeman, the only such technology partnership his company has in place is with an Asia-based telecom giant, so I’m getting ahead of myself. If Nara’s algorithms are that magical, though, some travel-tech giant just might buy them. 

Meanwhile, you can experiment with the restaurant or hotel recommendations at nara.me, on either desktop or mobile devices. A native iOS app is available now for the restaurant search; an iOS app with hotel-search capabilities should debut sometime in the next quarter.

Have you used Nara? Comment here, and let us know what you think of it.