Destination popularity: the rise of travel forums

With the announcement of Trip Advisor's annual destination awards, Vision explores the impact that user generated content is having on the travel industry

Independent travel, once the premise of students bent on travelling the world on a shoestring with just a sleeping bag to their name, exploded into a multibillion dollar industry with the arrival of the internet.

Sites such as Skyscanner, Expedia and Booking.com have revolutionised the way people book, but it is review website Trip Advisor that holds the coveted position of most-visited travel website. And with more than 150 million opinion posts and counting, there is no ignoring the clout that online forums such as this hold. Indeed, as Barbara Messing, Chief Marketing Officer for TripAdvisor highlights, “Our global travellers are the tastemakers for uncovering the best places to visit around the world."

Travel businesses might have initially been slow to recognise the opportunities represented by social media, with companies nervous about engaging with forums that had the potential for negative reviews, but nowadays airlines, tourist boards, hotels and destinations alike are realising that user reviews offer key insights into the industry landscape. Websites like Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree and Virtual Tourist have proved useful for improving customer service or engaging potential customers in conversation, while hotels often find Facebook and Twitter perfect for leveraging interaction and creating their own communities. Hyatt Hotels, for example, has a ‘virtual concierge’ on Twitter who responds to queries within the hour.

Our global travellers are the tastemakers for uncovering the best places to visit around the world

Barbara Messing, Chief Marketing Officer for TripAdvisor

Meanwhile Trip Advisor’s annual Travelers’ Choice destination awards, most recently announced in April, saw Istanbul catapulted to the top spot and Dubai, rated 17th, enter the top 25 for the first time. The Jumeirah Mosque, whose tours are run by the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU) in Dubai was also recently awarded a Certificate of Excellence by the site and for Managing Director Nasif Kayed, feedback left online by like-minded individuals has proved invaluable to the success of its programme. “Winning the [award] is a true honour. It is based on visitor reviews, so the accolade is a remarkable vote of confidence,” he adds.

Jumeirah Mosque
Jumeirah Mosque has been recognised as a top attraction by reviewers on Trip Advisor

Not only a source of inspiration for users searching for the perfect next trip, the site’s awards also provide a barometer for global travel and a way of assessing emerging trends, while cultural attractions that are frequently praised on review websites experience an increase in visitor numbers. Companies admit that negative feedback is never ideal, but with social media here to stay the ways in which businesses strive to provide customers with better and more unique travel experiences is only going to get more innovative. And that can only be a good thing.