Rohit Bhargava made an astute observation over at Influential Interactive Marketing about an apparent gap in online travel planning — most places that claim to help you plan actually sell you advertiser-supported travel packages, and those that help you book seldom help you plan. If the intrepid traveler doesn’t yet know where to go, where should they start?
Good question. My thoughts on the subject:
To me, the problem seems to be, not combining community and e-commerce (which can be done with separate sections of a site that aren’t interrelated), but doing so in a fashion that flows naturally from destination consideration –> reading reviews –> planning a hypothetical trip (or trips) –> comparing cost options –> booking. I’ve been through more than 25 countries, and keeping all of this information in one coherent place is the trick.
The closest I’ve found to date is www.virtualtourist.com, and what I think will be even closer when it debuts: http://www.nileproject.com/ The latter will allow you to funnel options based on your expected budgets and style of travel. I have no vested interest in either company but know one of the founders of the latter.
As an aside, I recall my best trips as being borne of a willingness to improvise once landing instead of excellent planning. This forces you to actually interact with your environment instead of just capturing it on Flickr. PDAs and sophisticated hour-by-hour planning often destroys — for me — the most enjoyable facet of travel: unexpected discovery. My advice: learn all you can to ensure you’ll be safe when you arrive, then take off the training wheels and get lost.