Thursday, October 19, 2006
Doing some winter trip research, I couldn't help but marvel at all the sources of information TripAdvisor now offers to travelers making their trip decisions, after several years building their brand and a huge database of reviews. Not only the voluminous reviews and ratings and candid uploaded photos, but also forum posts, links to relevant off-site articles, and now, wikis. Yep that's right, they have something called "Inside Pages" that allow visitors to construct a travel guide for a given destination. It's editable over time, etc.
As I recently posted on my personal blog (for the benefit of family, friends, and oh, principals and investors in a little startup I'm working with), I am still coming to terms with the value of the information provided by a range of reviewers whom I don't know personally.
In the travel vertical, I don't appear to have the same checklist as many of the more prolific writers. Is there a silent majority out there? For the most part, a trip to a nice resort on a beach is something that pleases me - the bad stuff (if any) rolls off pretty easily. I don't get easily distracted by bugs, loud music, etc. And I don't book in the 50% off times generally, so posts about strange service in a resort in their off period in June are far less relevant than reviews that are from people who went in the "full gear-up" times of December-February. Anyway, some reviewers tend to be on the picky side and others, downright cranks.
Another thing the typical traveler may do - that I probably wouldn't - is take greater risks with weather. Reviews don't help you plan around that, typically. For example, my travel agent - the unstoppable Gino - reminded me that Cuba in December is pretty nice but can still be iffy on the temperature side if you're looking for long walks on the beach. There are a few inexpensive "nearly guaranteed warm weather" destinations (eg. the Dominican) that compare well with the pricier ones (such as Negril, Jamaica), often because a new resort area is opening up and they're trying to generate buzz. When you have an hour or less to sort through all the options (being busy), a travel agent who knows you well can actually educate you faster than you can educate yourself.
That does make me wonder about the wiki experiment. With so many destinations around the world, some travel destination wikis will remain sparsely edited, so how useful or expert they may be is in question. That said, the era of the "pro-am" (regular people bolstering the info flow, as cited in Chris Anderson's The Long Tail) is firmly in place and filling in many of the blanks left by traditional journalism and travel guides. Let the experiment begin... or should I say, continue.
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