Vacation and trip planning: has it changed in age of Facebook? First look at TripAdvisor "TripFriends" feature

I’m taking the first real family vacation in years in two weeks (we’ll be offline from June 28th through July 10th). The process is instructive and gave me a chance to try out a new feature from TripAdvisor that shipped this morning:

1. We picked Los Angeles because we have two young children and a flight somewhere just didn’t sound fun.
2. We ask our friends for help. Not enough experience from our personal friends to be much use.
3. We visited tons of sites like Nextstop or Trip Advisor.
4. I posted on Google Buzz and Twitter for advice from a much larger group of people. Bingo! We received dozens of great ideas. I then took all that feedback and laid it out on my own custom Google Map, which, by the way, I’ve opened to the public so that other people can add even more places on top of.


View Southern California Coastal Roadtrip in a larger map

Then I added all the major spots into my own page on NextStop, (please add other places that we should visit!) We’ll add places we want to eat next now that we’ve picked some of the major spots we want to visit.

Southern California Coastal Roadtrip | nextstop.com

More Los Angeles recommendations ยป

It’s interesting that I like the ideas we received from our social network the best. Even better than the professional pages on Trip Advisor, NextStop, or other places. Why? Because many of them were from people we talk with every day or, gasp, have even met at conferences. There’s something about getting advice from people you know something about.

I’m not the only one noticing this. Trip Advisor, this morning, turned on a new feature that lets you see which of your personal friends can give you advice on the cities you want to visit. Boston.com has more info on the new feature, which was done using Facebook’s new social plugin. For instance, using that feature I learned that Brett Schulte is living in Los Angeles or that Ben Metcalfe can give me advice about Los Angeles. That is useful to know, because Brett lives there and Ben worked for MySpace and was frequently in Los Angeles. Now I know the friends to hit up that actually know something about Los Angeles, thanks to Facebook and TripAdvisor.

If I look at the page for visiting Laguna Beach, CA, on Trip Advisor, for instance, I learn that 101 of my 1,700 Facebook friends has been to Laguna Beach. I bet if I ask them what we should do that we’ll get some good answers. That’s cool. I’ve already asked my friends on Facebook what we should do in Los Angeles.

But, compare that to Gowalla’s page for Laguna Beach. This shows me where people are ACTUALLY checking in, so I can get a sense of how popular each place is.

So, looking at it, planning vacations has changed in the age of Facebook. How?

1. We can now get feedback from a lot more people than we could 10 years ago.
2. We have far better mapping and visualization tools.
3. Integration into our existing social networks is dramatically improving (and, heck, five years ago most of us weren’t using Facebook or Twitter to aggregate friends and business contacts).
4. Location-based services are keeping track of what’s really popular.
5. We have far more contacts outside of our personal friends and we now know a LOT about those friends.

Where do we still have to go?

1. We need malleable social graphs. Maybe I want a great sushi restaurant recommendation. Why are all these systems treating everyone the same? They are not. People who have visited five sushi restaurants, or more, are more credible on sushi restaurants. I don’t care about seeing restaurant reviews from people I don’t find very credible on what I’m searching for, so why are these systems showing them to me?
2. We need way better planning tools. Right now I’m planning our vacation on a whiteboard. Why? Because we don’t have really great mapping tools that join in calendar tools and let us move things around easily. Maryam and I are still arguing about dates we’ll be in Los Angeles, vs. Santa Barbara, etc while we’re doing all the other research. No tool I’ve found so far is flexible enough to let us radically change our plans. Also, figuring out what hotels are in our budget and which ones have appropriate rooms for us is still pretty difficult and time consuming.
3. Finding extraordinary experiences is still tough. Yeah, everyone wants to go to the San Diego Zoo. But how do you make that experience extraordinary? That’s where having friends who know the zoo and surrounding area very well comes in handy, but the Facebook feature that TripAdvisor shipped this morning isn’t granular enough to let me know which of my friends are very knowledgeable about the zoo. Maybe one of them is friends with a zoo keeper who could give us a private tour. But I have no way of knowing that (I got a private tour of the White House thanks to a personal friend I met at Microsoft, for instance, and THAT was extraordinary).
4. Location-based services are still too hard to use. Now that we know where we’re staying I wanted an easy way to look at Foursquare’s tips for everything in that neighborhood, but I couldn’t find a way beyond lying and checking in and then poking around. Still way too hard.
5. Making — and sharing — a really holistic view of a trip is very difficult. The tools are too siloed. TripIt knows my flights. TripAdvisor knows my hotels. Gowalla and Foursquare know where I checked in. But none talk with each other.
6. Lots of sites, like TripAdvisor, still aren’t mobile friendly enough. I tried poking around from my iPhone and found formatting troubles and other things that didn’t work. Yes, they have a mobile version and an iPhone version, but those versions are very limited compared to the full-blown site. Kayak, on the other hand, has a great iPhone and an iPad app, and works very well. Plus, many of them are, well, pretty ugly and a bit hard to use. Now I know why apps like Foodspotting are taking off so quickly. Photos are important, so are videos which show you around, but these sites often downplay the visual stuff.

How has your vacation planning changed? What tools and services are you using?

By the way, here’s my first pass of all the cities around the world I’ve visited, thanks to TripAdvisor’s mapping feature:

Comments

  1. As a passionate traveler, I could not agree with you more!
    I'm sure so many travelers out there are nodding their heads in agreement
    while reading this blog post.
    Actually, there is a site which is the best I've found integrating social networks and
    vacation planning called Tripping (https://www.tripping.com). It is a new network of
    travelers which was just at TechCrunch Disrupt (founders were some of
    the first employees at StubHub). The most exciting thing about this network is
    that it's still in Beta and they're still very open to input on features. The founding
    team is very passionate about technology, so I imagine they are still rolling out
    a bunch of features; and I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of them were along the lines
    of “where do we still have to go?” I have tweeted at them (@Trippers) re this blog post,
    so I'm excited to see what happens.

  2. Robert – I agree with many of the points you make. We do social media training for a national hotel property, and as an exercise we try to use only social tools (preferably MOBILE social tools) to find a place for dinner each evening. And as a consumer, I tried the same thing for an upcoming trip to Hilton Head Island. While my own Google Map was helpful, it didn't provide nearly the variety of recommendations I would have liked to have gotten from my own social networks. Look forward to seeing what new tools the industry comes up with and have high hopes for the new TripAdvisor app.

  3. Tagwhat. http://www.Tagwhat.com. Add content (urls, phone numbers, email addresses) to an on-line map so that when you arrive you have a mobile AR personalized experience waiting for you. Public stream in AR so you can benefit from the wisdom of the community when you arrive. Follow friends in the system (imported from Facebook) so that you gain their wisdom also. We did a Trip Planning and Travel VIDEO at http://www.youtube.com/tagwhatmatters

  4. Nice summary Robert. I'm surprised you didn't try the Trippy Extension in Google Wave. It is an interesting tool in the Wave context.

    Social connections are only as good as the network you maintain. I have found that when it comes to dining Yelp and UrbanSpoon are generally decent indicators of quality. If you to get some helpful hints about the city your are visiting I would recommend the local CVB. For Long Beach @VisitLongBeach and the Hilton Long Beach (I'm employed by Hilton Worldwide) is quite active on Twitter and knows the area well @HiltonLongBeach even if you aren't staying there. For LA the CVB account is @discover_LA

    If you do end up in San Diego you might swing by the Hilton Bayfront (@HiltonBayfront) and see how the iPad/iPhone app ordering works in their Odysea Lounge. Story: http://www.hotelchatter.com/story/2010/5/5/4914

  5. Really neat stuff! I've been talking with some ad agencies who “manage” resorts and their Facebook/Twitter/Blog strategy. I kept telling them to allow guests to post pictures and videos on Facebook pages. The agencies said no because the images weren't “branded” enough! I disagreed and moved on…real images of real people enjoying a resort or vacation spot speaks more to me than branded images!

  6. I hear you. I think there is so much fear and uncertainty it is difficult to bring them around. Besides, isn't it in the best interest of the agency to “protect the brand” by limiting customer discourse?

  7. Very cool stuff – I agree, travel has become much different in the social media age. I also agree with @asalvesen about Tripping. I've been using the site for a couple of weeks and it does probably the best job I've seen of integrating travel + social networks, especially trip planning. I'm really excited to see what they come up with next. @asalvesen, I'm following @trippers now too – I'll tweet at them. this article would be quite helpful for that.

  8. “Protecting the brand” might kill the business in today's world. It's open a balance of branding and customer interaction. The fear is the major hurdle but it can be overcome with a proper content management tool. My company is doing it for other business with hundreds of locations all being managed in one interface. Resort chains have the same opportunity.

  9. Nice!
    I am from Switzerland and last March I traveled to Baja and stopped in San Diego with the 3 friends of mine but we had never been to San Diego and we did not know anybody. So my friend told me about Tripping.com and there we found a local, Catherine, who not only hosted us for 2 nights but who also showed us around her favorite spots of the city. Long story short, we found ourselves in the backyard of Catherine and her dozens of friends that she invited for a mini bonfire to welcome us. I am still in contact with many of the people who were there that night, and since then I hosted 6 travelers with their stories and lives. It's just great to be able to travel and have a roof for free, get to know splendid people, and let them show you THEIR city, with their favorite spots and people. I've been following and supported Tripping since then, and my friends as well, it kind of changed our perspective on traveling and even more on people.
    Plus, on the website it says that soon Tripping will have a safe program where in case of emergency you can directly contact emergency numbers and Tripping's staff, which makes it even safer.
    I hope you'll have the chance to experience it.

  10. The overwhelming availability of data (+location) is creating a fantastic foundation for new services that instead of trying to show off how much data they have or can visualize will simply solve the complex problem of crafting a great travel experience. I'm a believer. Our team has worked on various aspects of this problem for years and it is still ahead of us. I'm also a big advocate of integrating the wealth of knowledge that exists spread across millions of unstructured blog posts about great journeys. So next time you're looking for a great trip to San Diego with your family, their Zoo is top of the list and the personal notes of a reputable blogger who has invested time into researching the matter will deliver exactly the kind of experience you're looking for, along with the most convenient accommodation.

  11. I know a hotelier that has a love/hate relationship with TripAdvisor. Apparently anyone can write up reviews for places even though they never even set their foot there. The hotelier can respond but only very moderately and the initial review can never be removed…

  12. regarding the malleable social graphs… i think four square needs a way to vote up good tips. that would allow you to figure out the most credible tips.

  13. I think the human opinion is an important factor in choosing a travel destination, but it is also easy to manipulate. In the highly competitive areas, I would not be surprised if some facilities pay people to post negative comments about competitors facilities.

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  19. The overwhelming availability of data (+location) is creating a fantastic foundation for new services that instead of trying to show off how much data they have or can visualize will simply solve the complex problem of crafting a great travel experience. I'm a believer. Our team has worked on various aspects of this problem for years and it is still ahead of us. I'm also a big advocate of integrating the wealth of knowledge that exists spread across millions of unstructured blog posts about great journeys. So next time you're looking for a great trip to San Diego with your family, their Zoo is top of the list and the personal notes of a reputable blogger who has invested time into researching the matter will deliver exactly the kind of experience you're looking for, along with the most convenient accommodation