Guidebooks. Love them or hate them?
Some travelers wouldn’t be caught dead with one, but there are others who enjoy the comfort and security those little paperbacks provide.
The internet’s equivalent of these guides has been around for a while, but there’s a new player in the field: wiki travel guides.
These guides can be written by anyone, whether they’re an expert on all things Europe, or just know a thing or two about hiking in Russia. It’s a free-for-all affair that has the potential to overthrow the dominion of the guidebook.
“But,” I hear you say, “how many people are going to trust the opinion of a pack of amateurs?” Quite a few, judging by the popularity of TripAdvisor, a site that allows people to review hotels they’ve stayed at.
A recent survey of UK travelers found that more travelers trusted the reviews on sites like TripAdvisor than any other online resource, including professionally written guides.
So should you ditch your guidebook? Here are 5 reasons why you should make the switch to user-written destination guides.
1. More writers means a balanced opinion
We humans are subjective creatures. Some of us like pizzas topped with anchovies; others retch at the thought. Our views of the places we travel also vary wildly, depending on the kinds of things we look for in a holiday.
By offering multiple people the chance to collaborate on a single article, user-written guides can be more balanced than a guidebook written by a lone professional. Wiki travel guides represent the combined views of anyone who feels like contributing their 2 cents’ worth of travel knowledge.
2. Editable information is current information
One of the drawbacks of religiously following a guidebook’s advice is that there’s a good chance thousands of others are doing the same thing – meaning the quiet but beautiful beach written about in your guidebook is anything but quiet these days.
That’s great for local business, but it sucks for travelers trying to get away from the crowd.
The benefit of user-written guides is that people can update the information at any time, so information stays current – a luxury that guidebooks don’t have.
3. An outlet for travelers to share their advice
Have you ever returned from your overseas trip and discovered that no one really cares about how great the beaches in Thailand are? They might feign interest; but until they start planning a trip to Thailand themselves, they probably won’t care that much.
Online guides provide you with an outlet to share your pearls of wisdom with an appreciative audience.
4. A complete information package
Wiki travel guides aren’t without their critics. An article in Slate Magazine recently complained that Wikitravel, the web’s best-known user-edited travel guide, lacks accommodation listings.
That’s true. On Wikitravel, you’d be hard-pressed to find decent recommendations about where you should stay the night. But there are other travel sites who are taking the concept of a wiki-generated guide and incorporating it as part of their service.
For example, Travellerspoint has added a member-editable travel guide to its existing range of features for travelers. (Full disclosure: I work for Travellerspoint).
Anyone using Travellerspoint’s destination guide to research their trip can easily head over to the accommodation booking area and find everything from top-end resorts and hotels to cheap budget options.
While they’re at it, they can also browse photo galleries and members’ blogs about the place they’re planning to visit, or get advice in the forums – all of which delivers the traveler a package that comes pretty close to being complete.
5. Unlimited Growth
The final step for most wiki travel guides is the build-up of content: it goes without saying that a guide written by users needs users to write. But the beauty of the internet is the limitless amount of space.
It takes time to build up, but with enough users contributing, wiki travel guides can become vast repositories of knowledge.
Consider how Wikipedia and TripAdvisor, two excellent examples of user-generated websites, have risen on the backs of millions of contributions made by people around the world.
It’s just a matter of time till wiki travel guides follow in their footsteps.
Eric Daams has lived in the Solomon Islands, Netherlands and Micronesia, but these days he calls Australia home. He is the editor of Travellerspoint and enjoys hunting down spammers, reading about people’s travel adventures, and writing for the Travellerspoint blog.