TripAdvisor Tells You Where to Go

Searching the web for travel information can be like working with a good travel agent -- or coping with a surly airline employee. Sometimes you hit pay dirt; other times information overload leaves you frustrated and more confused than before you started your search.

Fortunately, there's a solution. While some travel sites help you find deals and book reservations, TripAdvisor works like an online concierge, recommending places to stay and things to do once you reach your travel destination.

TripAdvisor does this using a combination of technology and human editors finding the best travel content on the web, and organizing it by destination. It's a vertical search engine focusing on the highest quality travel content on the web.

The site uses crawler technology to index travel-related web sites, including guidebooks, hotel web sites, tourist information sites, and so on. An editorial team takes care of magazine and newspaper articles, reviews, travelogues, and other travel stories written by professional and amateur travelers.

The goal is to provide the most comprehensive, highest quality source of information for any place in North America (and later the world) that you'd want to visit, according to Stephen Kaufer, TripAdvisor's CEO. And the emphasis is squarely on search.

"From a search engine perspective, it's not pages of text indexed by words. This is a much more structured database of individual travel items, and we find all the information to populate the database through our technologies," said Kaufer.

This structured approach allows the site to present information in interesting ways. For example, hotel listings are ordered by popularity. This makes it easy to see which hotels or tourist destinations are favored by other travelers -- information not readily available at other travel search sites.

If you'd rather avoid crowded tourist spots, TripAdvisor also offers personalized vacation planning information on hotels, destinations and things to do. You need to register and create a profile for this, but TripAdvisor requires only a few pieces of information to register, and has a reasonable privacy policy.

Your profile is used to structure your search results based on your preferences. Creating a profile is similar to working with a good travel agent, who asks a lot of questions about your preferences to help you plan your travel.

These questions include: Do you prefer to "rough it" or stay in a luxurious hotel? What size hotel do you prefer? Do you prefer off-the-beaten-path destinations or popular tourist spots? Is your ideal vacation focused on rest and relaxation or non-stop activity? Do you prefer to travel with a group/tour, or do you like to explore on your own?

You can also indicate what types of attractions and activities you enjoy, ranging from amusement parks to zoos.

TripAdvisor has no plans to offer reservation services on its site. Instead, the firm will partner with companies already in the online travel booking business.

Yesterday TripAdvisor announced an alliance with Lycos Travel, and the company expects other deals to follow, according TripAdvisor CEO Kaufer. Travel is the No. 1 online retail category, with sales expected to reach $20 billion this year, according to Kaufer. That's well ahead of the No. 2 category, personal computer sales, at $7 billion, and only a fraction of the total $484 billion overall travel market.

Given the size of the market and TripAdvisor's unique approach to organizing travel information, it's likely you'll be seeing them soon at many other online travel sites. Next time you're making travel plans, give TripAdvisor a spin. You'll find all kinds of great information about your destination that will be difficult to impossible to find in any other way.

Lycos Travel
Lycos Travel is a full-service travel planning site that now incorporates TripAdvisor's categorized travel content and search capabilities.

Unlike Lycos Travel, with TripAdvisor's own site you won't be able to book online reservations.

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"Google went from 30 million pages to 1.3 billion in two and a half years, which is a 110-mile-high stack of paper. In 12 years that 110-mile-high stack of paper will fit on a single hard drive in your shirt pocket." -- Google Chairman Eric Schmidt

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About the author

Chris Sherman is a frequent contributor to several information industry journals. He's written several books, including The McGraw-Hill CD ROM Handbook and The Invisible Web: Uncovering Information Sources Search Engines Can't See, co-authored with Gary Price. Chris has written about search and search engines since 1994, when he developed online searching tutorials for several clients. From 1998 to 2001, he was's Web Search Guide.