For many people, booking a vacation is strictly an online affair: browse, click, buy. Now established players such as Expedia (EXPE), along with a bunch of startups, are hoping to enlist friends and family via social networks to cheaply replicate individually tailored services travel agents once provided. The conceit is that travelers are more comfortable choosing a Caribbean resort or rain forest excursion if someone they know has tried it first. “Travel agencies used to be such a personalized experience,” says Joe Megibow, vice president of the U.S. unit of Expedia, the largest travel website. The process of planning a trip “has become so commoditized and price-driven that we have sort of lost the soul of travel.”
Nearly 118 million people in the U.S. will research travel online in 2012, up from 114.5 million last year, with more than 98 million making bookings, forecasts researcher EMarketer. Online travel sales in the U.S. are expected to grow 11 percent this year, to $119.2 billion, from $107.4 billion, the firm says.
A slew of startups with names such as Trippy, Gtrot, Gogobot, and FlyMuch promise to take the guesswork out of vacation planning by mining information from Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter, and other social networks. The newcomers operate on the assumption that tasks such as unearthing the best coffee bar in San Francisco can’t be entrusted to mere guidebooks. First-time visitors to five-month-old Trippy are invited to sign in using their Facebook credentials and then are prompted to select a destination. The site combs data streams of relatives and friends to compile a list of recommended hotels and restaurants. “If I don’t ask my friends, then I’m really left to go out there and seek out information that’s really anonymous and maybe irrelevant,” says founder J.R. Johnson.
Read full story at: http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-02-17/can-social-media-lift-travel