Corliss Group Luxury Travel Agency
Planning a trip? Ask the crowd
It's a familiar ritual among backpackers: ripping a chapter out of a thick Lonely Planet travel book as they move to a new destination, leaving the tattered pages at a hostel to lighten their load.
But as more travelers turn to friends, Facebook and other online communities to plan their trips, the Lonely Planet paper trail has begun to shrink. In its place is a new crop of high-tech startup sites that use online crowdsourcing to offer real-time travel information and personalized recommendations.
"There's no way I'm going to carry around a big thick book (about) China or Europe," said Shanti Christensen, a world traveler who calls San Francisco home. She wants to know what her friends are doing in those places, "because we all have similar traveling habits."
Startups from Silicon Valley to India are building online portals where travelers can find ideas for their next destination, tips on the best places to eat and sleep, build itineraries and share their adventures. Crowdsourcing -- soliciting contributions from a large group of people -- has turned the average traveler into a travel adviser.
"We look at what our friends say and we change our plans accordingly," said Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst at Hudson Crossing, a financial advisory firm in New York. "It boils down to two words: trust and credibility. If you know the person, if their perspective on how to travel is similar to yours, you'll give their insights more weight."
Until recently, there were few options to quickly find timely recommendations from trustworthy and like-minded travelers, say travel experts. Many tourism bureaus don't have the technology resources, and a Google (GOOG) search of "best restaurants in Bangkok" will dredge up about 16 million results. Recommendations in Lonely Planet and Rough Guides are often at least a year old by the time they land in the bookstores.
Travelers also have complained about the number of anonymous, outdated and fake reviews on leading travel site TripAdvisor. The company says it screens all reviews and removes any that are fake or offensive, and recently started a crackdown on fraudulent reviews after discovering thousands of bogus hotel reviews.