Big online travel sites like Travelocity and Expedia, as well as user-review juggernaut TripAdvisor, are relying on social networking to deliver travelers to their sites.
According to travel market research firm PhocusWright, social networking is one of the most powerful forces driving travel planning today. The firm found that social media use among travelers is growing far faster than the travel industry itself. Unique monthly visitors to social travel sites jumped 34 percent between the first half of 2008 and the last half of 2009.
Interestingly, the company found that Facebook users who are referred to travel booking sites are far more likely to book travel than those who are referred via search engines like Google.
That’s the power of “wisdom of friends,” which was a key factor behind TripAdvisor’s new Trip Friend initiative. TripAdvisor, which attracts 34 million unique users a month and houses more than 35 million traveler reviews, worked very closely with Facebook to create the Trip Friends application.
Trip Friends harnesses the concept of Facebook’s social graph to enable trip planners to get travel reviews and ask questions of trusted friends. The company reasoned that you’ll pay a lot more attention to the advice of like-minded acquaintances than complete strangers.
When researching a trip to a particular city on TripAdvisor, you’ll see a new option on the right side of the page titled “Get advice from your friends.” This will display your Facebook friends who have visited or lived in that city, and let you to ask them for travel recommendations direct from TripAdvisor or Facebook.
It works by using the Facebook social graph to aggregate all available information—cities your friends have visited and places they have lived, for instance—and generate a list of friends with knowledge of a particular destination, said Adam Medros, vice president of product at TripAdvisor.
Your friends must have logged in using the Facebook Connect feature, however, for Trip Friends to work. Medros said that more than 500,000 people are now using Facebook Connect on TripAdvisor.
You can post travel questions to your Facebook wall and Trip Friend will organize the responses in your Trip Advisor account, making it easier to find and manage responses. You also can ask select friends about travel to a particular city, should you not want a specific person—your ex, for instance—to know you’re visiting a particular city.
The Trip Friends feature is not yet available on TripAdvisor’s newly revised iPhone app, although Medros said TripAdvisor is working to add it.
“We certainly see this combination of mobility and getting advice from friends growing,” he said. “It will make an in-market travel experience really great. Users will be able to get information and immediately evolve their trip as it’s ongoing. That’s the direction we think the functionality will go.”