Richard TurenThis week, I'd like to share some more favorite consumer websites in the hope that one or two might be useful in your work. If we can be the filter for those clients who have limited time to research their own trips, if we can don the mantle of human portals to the travel side of the Web, we have a chance to live with new technologies rather than wringing our hands at their growing influence: A really worthwhile site for the travel professional as well as consumers, it refines hotel searches to include guest feedback, official hotel data and virtual room views using Google Earth technologies. Floor plans are also shown, and there are built-in concierge services for those who book upper-end properties. Search criteria can be manipulated to include valued insight such as distance from elevators and window views. This takes "no surprises" up a notch, along with some compelling pricing offers. This clearinghouse for people who rent out their own villas, condos, apartments and homes worldwide is rather hot at the moment. The business model is unique. User reviews build trust, and there are no charges until a property is booked. AirBnB is another trend-setting outgrowth of the social media trend in travel. The real-time journal of Gary Arndt, a former Midwestern business executive who sold his home in 2007, put his possessions in storage and began traveling. He hasn't stopped moving and has now visited 116 countries on seven continents. He's bungee-jumped in New Zealand, swum with great white sharks in South Africa and taken in 150 World Heritage sites. His addictive blogs and photos have won enough awards to earn sponsorships by tourism authorities in many of the places he visits. He has no plans to stop seeing the planet. Joining him can open your eyes to places well off the traditional tourist map. Best of all is his apparent lack of an ideological agenda. This is a hotel review site that is generating mountains of buzz and more than 250,000 visitors per month. Unlike user review sites such as TripAdvisor, where half the users might love a hotel while the other 50% hate it, Oyster uses its own reviewers, who visit properties in more than 200 destinations worldwide. But the real reason for its increasing influence is its policy of taking comprehensive in-room and total facilities photos, which it contrasts with cropped and altered official hotel website and brochure photos., which names names and documents its reviews with photographic evidence, is a Travel Channel affiliate. This is a pricing site that caters to the more than 70 budget airlines currently serving Europe. A fun collection of really intriguing off-center hotel properties worldwide. The heart of this site, in addition to its wonderful photographs of ice hotels, undiscovered castles and prison conversions, is its rating system. Each property is graded on its "wow factor." This extremely useful site offers flight tracking and much more. Its best feature is the ability to see where a flight originates. When you know where a flight is coming from, you can predict delays with greater accuracy. Definitely not for everyone, this site displays maps charting the "great circle path" between points, i.e., the shortest path on a sphere's surface between two points. Just type in your airport codes and you can see the number of segments involved and the likely miles you will earn. A unique perspective of one's time in the air. One of the most beautiful sites on our list, it features amazing photos of boutique hotels worldwide. The reviews appear to be honest with up- and downside information. Rates are listed, and it includes substantial content about each property, including what surrounds it. This is where savvy Euros go for summer bargains at high-midrange to luxury properties generally off the tourist radar. Not a heavily populated site yet, but we love the concept. The "maestros" are top-end concierges who offer hidden looks into high society in their home cities. Fun and hip, and the photos are stunning. Frequent travelers might love this gossipy collection of insider hotel industry news. Be prepared to view attacks on some of the larger chains and overkill on the subject of new openings. Still, you'll feel like a hotel management insider. This members-only site is perfect for do-it-yourselfers on a budget. The users are extremely helpful, and they are happy to review itineraries planned on the site. This is a one-stop travel shop that begins with itinerary planning and includes reasonably priced accommodations and transportation involving products many travel consultants won't or can't represent. An indispensable site for true foodies or travel agents who want to deliver some unique dining experiences. This is not a travel site. You will find boards on such arcane subjects as "Trader Joe's discontinued items July-December." But the domestic and international restaurant boards are filled with noteworthy, generally well-written, reviews of restaurants, specific dishes and travel insights.

Contributing editor Richard Turen owns Churchill and Turen, a vacation-planning firm that has been named to Conde Nast Traveler's list of the World's Top Travel Specialists since the list began. Contact him at [email protected].


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