Yahoo's Trip Planner which launched in beta phase nine months ago and now highlights more than member trip plans on an interactive world map is among more than a dozen new offerings from websites trying to attract travelers and advertisers by harnessing a collective consciousness. Some come from established players Google's CoOp TripAdvisor's Inside and VirtualTourist's Trip Planner among them while others are startups like Gusto RealTravel TrekkerTime and Squidoo.
The new products target "people who are averse to standard travel guides" says John Bray of PhoCusWright an online travel consulting firm. Those travelers many of whom are already members of social networking sites like MySpace.com "want to identify buddies who will help shape their own plans" Bray says. "They're looking for authenticity not perfect descriptions or marketing copy."
Of course what is one man's authenticity can be another's drivel. Among the more popular of more than public trip plans for New York City on Yahoo's Trip Planner is a journal created by "katz." His blowbyblow account of a fiveday jaunt from South Florida to the Big Apple recommended by more than Yahoo users includes snapshots taken from the window of his plane and this firstday entry: ": We are at Broad and Wall Street and we run into a French tour group. The guide is using a green lightsaber as his wand it amuses us."
Such unedited streamofconsciousness feedback has its place even on the websites of mainstream guidebooks says Fodor's publisher Tim Jarrell. Fodors.com includes a forum and lets users post their own hotel reviews next to those by Fodor's own writers.
But "we think travel writers on the ground give depth and breadth to a destination that you can't get from community alone" adds Jarrell who says sales of the company's paper guidebooks have increased by at least % this year.
"Right now content is thin (and) the reality is it's a difficult problem to solve" concedes Jeff Wasson of Gusto a "personalitybased" travel recommendation site that launched June and has about members. "But as we build a base of users that will change. Is it an insurmountable problem? I hope not."