To paraphrase Charlie Dickens, for travel professionals, it is the best of times and the worst of times. The economy has been a mega-party-pooper, but, on the other hand, the tools to help us do our jobs have never been better. In this issue we are looking at itinerary planning so here is my techno-take on the subject.
When thinking about a new tour, inspiration can come from many sources but if you want instant access to a world of ideas; oh please, do I really need to say it? Web sites Yahoo, CNN, USAtoday, and MSN all have great consumer-oriented travel news. www.topix.com/travel is another site you might check out, it collects news feeds related to travel from around the world. Sites like these help you keep up with what’s hot and happening.
Industry conventions have always been an integral part of tour product development, PowWow, ITB, WTM, NTA, ABA, SYTA, ATTA the list goes on. What if you could be in a productive travel marketplace everyday? If you are an active member of social or professional networking sites like Facebook or LinkedIn you can be sharing ideas and gathering information 24/7. I mention Facebook because it has a growing community of SYTA, NTA and ABA members plus I can keep tabs on my college-bound kids.
Planning routes and logistics has never been easier. As you review the highlights of a locale, keep a browser page pointed to http://maps.google.com/. Type in a place name or address and you can view a map with terrain, satellite view and other useful resources. Quickly resolve concerns about that beach property that is 120 yards from the shore - 50 of those yards are a 4-lane highway! Timed driving directions are also available, point to point. Google Street View is coming online for many cities and it is something you must check out. Pull up a Google map of a major city and if the feature is active, there will be an orange icon of a little person atop the vertical zoom slider. Click and drag it to a location on the map and it will be like you are standing on the street. You can spin the view 360º, move up and down the streets, too cool.
Finding options for meals, lodging, or activities, we can agree, is not really much of a problem. Making an informed choice about what services to include can be a bit of a challenge. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could ask the opinion or several hundred travelers who have visited a site, hotel or restaurant? In fact you can point your browser to www.tripadvisor.com, www.virtualtourist.com or http://www.lonelyplanet.com and do just that. The ranked lists in Tripadvisor can be very helpful as can be the reviews. Granted, the owner’s family probably wrote the more glowing reports, and the pernicious missives penned by competitors. In between you will find useful information, worth the time to get a better sense of the place.
Perhaps less obvious sources for “sense of place” information is the content found on http://www.youtube.com/ and www.flickr.com/. The former is the global clearing house for digital videos, mostly submitted by videographers of arguable ability and questionable mental state. But – the brands are here as well, National Geographic and TravelChannel so it is well worth a search. Flickr is a site that specializes in sharing digital images. Many of the pictures are provided royalty-free so not only can you learn something about a place but you can download a shot or two for your itinerary’s web page.
Internet technology provides travel information resources that are rich and immersive, almost like being there, you could say. Fortunately, “almost” is not good enough for our travelers. These resources serve not only to make our planning more efficient but they also whet the travel appetites of our clients.