(This article was published on our corporate website, in 2008, and got a lot of comments. Since we’re removing the Corporate website, I thought it might be interesting to re-publish)
User generated content, letting your users dictate the content of your website, is currently one of the main buzzwords in the online travel industry. It’s not only a phype; it’s a really successful phenomenon: the amount of travelers sharing their travel tips is booming online. Tripadvisor now has 15 million reviews, up from 5 million in 2007. Also, many other competitors to Tripadvisor, like www.Gusto.com, www.igougo.com, www.tripmates.com, and www.tripconnect.com have appeared. According to Jupiter research, 40% of American travelers use content from other consumers in their travel decisions.
But now that the hype is getting beyond the hallelujah-phase, more and more criticism on user generated travel information is starting to appear.
Of course there’s criticism from authors of guidebooks that use professional authors. They see user generated travel information as a threat. Nevertheless, Arthur Frommer, from Frommer’s guidebooks, makes a lot of good points in this column from 2007.
But also Web 2.0 enthusiasts are increasingly criticizing user generated travel information. Darren Cronian names “incorrectness of information” as one main issues on a posting in his influential travel industry blog, Travel-Rants.com.
Most of the criticism comes down to one thing: you don’t know if you can rely on the information. This is also what Spotted by Locals believes is the main drawback of user generated travel reviews. It is often difficult or plain impossible to see who is behind the “local” travel tips. You usually don’t see somebody’s profile or picture. Is it really a bona fide local or actually a traveler who has only visited the spot once? How do you know the owner of the restaurant didn’t write that positive comment?
Robin Noelle‘s comment in the above mentioned discussion on Darren Cronian’s posting hits the nail on the head: “I don’t think you can get good user-based reviews if the users aren’t familiar with what the regional standards are. I don’t know that I’ve ever stayed in a hotel in Mexico where the mattress wasn’t as hard as a rock. Now that I live here, I know that it’s not just the mattresses but the sofas and chairs too.”
Now that’s of course exactly the message we’re trying to preach: real local content, by real locals, is so much more trustworthy!