AdventureTravelNews

Can Facebook Morph into the New Travel Guidebook?

The following excerpts are from a story in the Wall Street Journal’s Business section, about the rising trend of both companies and individuals alike trying to create online travel forums within Facebook.

If Facebook users have anything to say about it, the days of your travel agent, guidebook and (uh-oh…) travel writer could be numbered. Indeed, while many of us are still using the site to waste time at work or keep tabs on our exes, a small but savvy group of travelers are increasingly turning their online networks into a travel think tank. Some are just using the basic “wall post,” where they can broadcast news of their upcoming trip—and call for recommendations—to their entire network with just a few keystrokes. Then there’s Facebook Questions, one of the site’s newest additions, which lets people post any type of query and get answers from their own friends, as well as from the Facebook universe at large. (Recent post: “What are the best places to go in Hawaii?”) And other companies are beginning to get in on the act; review sites like TripAdvisor.com and Yelp.com, for instance, allow users to share content on the social-networking behemoth and find out what their Facebook friends think of various trip operators, hotels and restaurants across the globe…

With Facebook’s mind-bending 500 million users (that’s nearly twice the population of the U.S.), it’s no shock that the travel industry has spent the past several years trying to tap into the site’s social-networking power. Some agencies and planners have simply put up company profiles for people to “fan,” while the more ambitious have tried creating travel-specific applications that can be used on the site. Gowalla.com, for instance, lets people build their own travel itineraries to share with friends, while Facebookers who are willing to tell their network each time they check into certain hotels can earn lodging loyalty points from Topguest.com.

Traveler review site TripAdvisor has been toying with ways to connect members with their Facebook friends ever since its own stab at creating a social-networking site flamed out in 2008. (“It was ahead of its time,” says Adam Medros, the site’s VP of products.) The company started by allowing people to post reviews on Facebook and, in some cases, search for their friends’ reviews on TripAdvisor. This past summer it added a new feature that helps people hunt down the biggest globetrotters in their Facebook network. The app allows people searching for, say, Jamaica, to see a list of Facebook contacts who have been to the island and automatically send a message to them. It also gives people the option to post a notice on their wall announcing their upcoming trip and asking for advice. So far, says Medros, more than 60 percent of people who have tried it have gotten a response, since unlike online reviewers with no connection to the traveler, Facebook friends “aren’t likely to blow off the question.”

The best part of connecting with friends for advice, say vacationers, is getting tips from people who know exactly what you like. For Sheldon Scott, a restaurant manager from Washington, D.C., that means leaving the fanny pack–wearing tourists behind and tracking down the spots where the fashionistas and cool kids play. Scott’s recent Facebook wall post about an upcoming vacation in Buenos Aires unleashed an avalanche of advice and ended up shaping his entire trip, from where he stayed (an apartment in the chic Recoleta neighborhood) to where he ate (a little Italian place tucked away in the Museo Evita) and drank (local bar scenes like Million and Carnal). And on the rare occasions when he did go off-list, Scott first ran his selections by his Facebook advisers for a green light; he says, “I can trust any one of my friends’ recommendations.”

The full article, Facebook as Travel Guidebook?, also covers the downsides of individuals turning to friends instead of websites and travel professionals for advice, as well as other organizational attempts to blend travel applications into the highly personalized social network, with varying degrees of success.

Also of interest is this write-up at the end of the article briefly reviewing the major social media channels and their current stake in the online travel world:

The Old Guard Goes New Media

Vacationers aren’t the only ones using Web 2.0 to give and get advice. Below, a look at how travel pros are tapping into social media.

Facebook
While some agents, travel guides and even travel writers have Facebook pages, most are still struggling to do more than post deals and company news. Some also put personal profiles on the site, where they post photos or answer questions, but users usually have to be a “friend” to see them.

LinkedIn
Thanks to its professional orientation, LinkedIn tends to be drier than the more social sites. Still, some travel pros have started taking advantage of the site’s Answers feature, where they can respond to questions about what to do when stranded at the airport or how to get hotel upgrades. Site members earn stars and “expert” designation for answering often (and well).

Twitter
Twitter is a travel-industry favorite, especially for agents. Many of the most active advisers gather to dole out tips during Travelers Night In, or #TNI, a weekly tweet-a-thon where participants field questions related to specific travel topics (recent themes: festivals and animal adventures).

YouTube
Guidebook publisher Lonely Planet has its own channel, with how-to videos ranging from basic packing tips to an entertaining, if seemingly less-than-sober, guide to navigating Oktoberfest in Germany. Some tourism boards have also gotten on the YouTube bandwagon, though their videos tend to be little more than moving brochures.

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