The Digitization of Travel: Part 5 – Planning the Journey

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We all have different styles and preferences for planning vacations. Some people clip articles from the travel sections of newspapers, tuck them away and refer to them years later when it’s time to book. Others poll friends for their top recommendations; some people devour guidebooks and trust in all they say, while many are turning to online peer-to-peer sites where information, recommendations and tips are abundant. Whatever your style, there’s little doubt technology is playing a larger role in how travelers plan their vacations.

“The really interesting component of technology is the online social networking,” says Phnom Penh hotelier Alexis Suremain. “The trend started about three years ago and is gaining more and more momentum. They [travelers] don’t trust what they read in the press. The guidebook writers can be biased and there’s a global fear that you can be cheated by the big machine. So you trust your peers, read what your friends and people like you say, and through their real experience, they’re the only one who can explain an area in an unbiased way.” “I think it’s wrong but people tend to believe this. It’s the whole global tendency to doubt authority, the press, and the internet through social networking is something that’s contrary to all these things. Social networking is the single biggest decision maker with holiday planning.”

Travel writer Greg Jorgensen is cautious about peer information and says various sources is the key to planning a winning trip, “I think using a single site to plan a trip is a mistake.” “You need to research and read multiple sites to parse the data and get a good overall view of things. That’s helped me in the trips I’ve arranged with the help of social media and websites.”

He also feels it’s also important to keep in mind who may have written the information you’re reading and potentially putting trust in. “You can never really trust what you read online, so you have to read a lot and take the average. But this is where I thing social media excels and what is frightening traditional travel companies. I’m much more likely to believe what a friend says than some website written by a group of people I’ve never met who are being paid by God knows who.”

“I think it’s great to have the world at your fingertips and this has certainly made travel planning and travel itself much easier,” enthuses guidebook writer Trevor Ranges. “I think with the information available on the internet you’re less likely to end up in a destination or a hotel that doesn’t meet your travel needs. That said, it’s easier for everyone to get that information and now it’s more of a challenge to find those [remote] places; unless of course you turn off the phone, leave the guidebook at home, and do some random exploring the old-fashioned way. But then you have to be willing to experience some challenges and perhaps disappointment along the way to finding the hidden gems.”

It’s these gems that get Ranges excited, “I’m old enough to have done lots of backpacking before the age of the internet, and I really enjoyed the feeling of being away from it all and having to rely on word of mouth or random wanderings to discover cool, new, uncharted attractions.”

Westcoast Connection owner Mitchell Lerner totally agrees, “There’s something to be said about flying by the seat of your pants, going where the wind takes you, and discovering for yourself the pulse of an unknown corner of the world. When traveling, Iive by the idea that one should become completely immersed in the country you are visiting and the culture that you are immersed in. While technology has the ability to make travel more accessible and doable to the average traveler, I’m not entirely sure that it has made travel as a whole better, as in my opinion, the best part of traveling is the parts that you don’t expect.”

Even some of those who thrive on traveling with little pre-trip planning are in on helping to push technology further into the process and believe it’s the future. “When I was working on the official website for the Tourism Authority of Thailand we integrated a Trip Planner that allowed you to easily save interesting events, attractions then coordinate a trip based on an adjustable travel calendar,” explains Ranges. “You can then save or print the calendar prior to your trip and adjust it as you travel.”

Like or hate technology and its role in planning a journey, things are just beginning and even greater tools are coming soon says Ranges, “This is just the infancy of such applications, but they’re likely to become indispensable means for planning a trip and uploading/cataloging your travel diary and photos as you travel.” “The digital guidebooks of the future will become far more useful than today’s pencil and paper books. The travel applications I’m currently working on for www.traveldojo.com, for example, will allow you to find hotels in the area you’re traveling to and have links to call or email them to make bookings directly.”

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