Wandering through Rio and Buenos Aires on a recent vacation in the past and I would have been at the mercy of the locals. The restaurants, tourist traps and hotels could swindle me easily knowing my word of mouth stories of bad service were likely to reach a small circle of friends and an even smaller (closer to 0) number of people who would actually come to Buenos Aires or Rio de Janeiro.
In other words, if the restaurant or hotel or tour operator ripped me off and didnt give good service, it didnt matter. The repercussions from me “telling two friends” didn’t directly affect their business.
The internet has changed things by allowing tourists to work together. We now can spread the wisdom of the crowds and if a bad experience is had by one – that experience can be told to all through the web.
Trip Advisor is the first place I go when I’m looking for accomodations. Once I’ve found the best deal for my trip, I hit up the site to see recent reviews of the property. I’ve found it particularly useful for all inclusive trips when I have many options and all are very similar. This site helps weed out the subtleties of beach access, buffet variety and room quality.
Virtual Tourist is a site with forums and reviews where travelers and locals share information. The review section is broken down into hotels and destinations to offer you specific info. With more than 1 million registered members from more than 220 countries and territories, chances are what you’re looking for will be here.
Fodors and Lonely Planet, the writers of those ever present guidebooks you see in backpacks, have expanded to release iPhone apps for some cities. Their respective forum sections are also a wealth of knowledge as people are eager to answer and ask questions.
Yelp started out as a restaurant review site but has quickly expanded in to crowd sourced reviews of all types. Nightlife, spas, shopping and more are covered for mostly North American locations. The iPhone app from Yelp is very handy when you spontaneously change plans and need to know where to go. It employs augmented reality to give you instant reviews of all the places in your immediate surroundings.
At the end of the day, though, Google is really your best friend if the place you’re looking for isn’t mentioned in any of the traditional places. If it’s not up to snuff, a blogger some where has seen fit to take to the keyboard to give a thoughtful review.
The most important part of the process that makes these sites useful is participation. It’s one thing to take the information to make a decision, but once you get back from your trip, take the time to highlight those that are great and shame those that aren’t. The health of these forums and reviews relies on constantly updated and fresh content.
What are your favorite places to research your vacation?
catch the buzz … pass it on.