Social media has dramatically changed the way we book travel and plan vacations.
According to a Destinations Analyst survey – “The State of the American Traveler” – nearly 35.8% of travelers listen to the opinions of friends, colleagues or relatives when making travel plans. And with the average person having 130 Facebook friends, social media is a natural place for gathering recommendations from our peers.
This change has been accompanied by the growth in use of social and web tools for planning vacations; social media has become a necessary partner in experiencing the best vacation possible. So what are the most useful tools for planning in advance and while on vacation?
Planning in Advance: TripAdvisor
An informal survey of my team illustrated that trip planning website behemoths like TripAdvisor are still the go-to resource, followed by recommendations from our social network (online and offline). In fact, almost 90% of those surveyed said that they relied on travel websites like TripAdvisor when choosing a hotel.
Founded just over 10 years ago, TripAdvisor was an early adopter of consumer-generated reviews and has amassed quite the archive of feedback from travelers. While the site has added functionalities and features over the years (e.g. connecting to Facebook to read reviews from your network, a mobile application), it is its massive amount of data that has marked TripAdvisor as a credible resource. While it’s nice to be able to get recommendations from those we know and trust versus strangers, having a lot of reviews from strangers is a close second.
The interface may not be as slick or social as emerging travel sites like Gogobot or gtrot, but TripAdvisor gets the job done. And that’s usually what we’re looking for when we book a hotel or flight the more confident we can feel about our choice and the quicker we can make it, the better.
Last Minute Planning: Mobile
Geo-location and mobile tools become increasingly important once a trip is underway. After we arrive at our destination, we can use tools like Foursquare or the Time Out mobile app to help us navigate unfamiliar territory. Whether reading tips left by other travelers or city guides created by brands or the local travel board, geo-location tools provide us with simple filter we can apply to our foreign surroundings.
Sites to Watch
Hipmunk is a simple service that enables travelers to book hotels and flights. The most compelling functionality of Hipmunk can be found within the flight search results for flights are plotted out on a Gantt chart that can be sorted by price, duration, arrival and departure times, non-stop, and agony. Yes, agony really is one of the options it is defined as a combination of price, duration and number of stops. This sorting option not only appeals to the emotions that go hand-in-hand with traveling, but also helps us rationalize a more expensive flight by quantifying the unpleasantness that we’re eager to avoid. Although Hipmunk is lacking in the consumer reviews department for hotels, its flight booking functionality is definitely worth checking out.
Wanderfly is geared toward adventurous travelers those who have interests like eco or watersports, but aren’t quite sure where they want to go. After entering a price range, general date range (e.g. mid-January) and selecting your interests, Wanderfly will serve up suggested destinations, accompanied by recommendations on where to stay, what to do, how much it will cost and what your Facebook friends have to say about the destination. Wanderfly is monetizing the site by giving brands the opportunity to curate recommendations for relevant destinations (e.g. Havaianas, the flip flop brand, recommends beach destination that will “soothe your sole”). While Wanderfly”s unique, exploratory interface and brand sponsorship opportunities are well-executed, the site may not provide enough structure for the average (adult) traveler.
What’s your go-to website, application or resource when planning a vacation?