Hopper gets another $12M to organize the web’s travel data

Consumer travel startup Hopper is still in the process of trying to catalog all the best travel data on the internet, and it’s getting another big chunk of change to do it. On Wednesday, the company announced it has closed a $12 million Series B round of funding from OMERS Ventures, with participation from Brightspark Ventures and Atlas Venture. Derek Smyth of OMERS will join Hopper’s board.

Canada’s OMERS Ventures is the investing arm of Canada’s OMERS Private Equity, which recently took a large stake in social-media management tool Hootsuite. The new round brings Hopper’s total funding to $22 million. Hopper’s goal is to bring structure to the immense amount of travel data scattered all across the web, so that when people plan trips they won’t have to know exactly what they’re looking for or consult a dozen different travel websites to accomplish their task.

The company was founded by several former Expedia(s EXPE) executives, who say the online travel search process hasn’t changed very much in almost two decades. So they’re leveraging big data tools to do it, which means building a huge catalog of travel information. That doesn’t just mean hotel and flight listings, but user-generated reviews, photos and travel tips posted on blogs all over the web. It’s using collection of big data tools, including “Machine Learning, NoSQL databases and Big Data processing,” as my colleague Derrick Harris wrote when Hopper announced a funding round last August,

In interview on Tuesday, CEO Frederic Lalonde explained more about what he has in mind:

If there was no catalog in music, there would be no value-add service like Pandora(s P) or iTunes(s AAPL). Why isn’t there that in travel? A structured catalog you can navigate and start building services on. There’s flights and hotels, but most of the information is spread out. … We have half a billion web pages specifically about travel. At the speed we’re going that will double by the end of the year.

Despite the cash infusion, Hopper is still in private beta. The reason, Lalonde says, is that what they’re trying to do takes a lot of money to scale. His company has been working this problem for more than four years, since after he left Expedia.

Cataloging the web for travel info pretty clearly puts Hopper on a collision course with Google(s GOOG), whose stated goal is to catalog information and which has been on a bit of a travel-data shopping spree: it bought ITA in 2010, Zagat in 2011, and Frommer’s on Monday.

But Lalonde says all that has been really good for the travel industry. “We think one of the interesting things that’s happening is Google is vertical-izing the industry,” he said. And the industry is finally reacting, he added, which has brought Hopper new allies in the form of other data provider partners that are also competing with Google.

But beyond Hopper, what Google is doing the last year and half has brought a fresh, badly needed flurry of activity to travel, according to Lalonde. 

“This industry has been stuck in a holding pattern for a decade,” he said. “Google’s moves have sparked innovation, which is a great thing. People are willing to reconsider how they use their data, people are trying to figure out how to benefit from the big data wave.”

It’s hard to gauge Hopper’s chances without seeing the product, and the company is admittedly being vague about what its user interface will look like. But, Lalonde says, the service’s private beta will open up to the public before the end of the year.