New Generation of Traveling Websites through Social Networks

Wondering where to go on your vacation this year, and what to do? A growing number of “social travel” start-ups offer alternatives to the trusty, dusty guidebook.

Sites like Twigmore and Triptrotting help you troll your social networks for friends who have friends in new places, then hit those people up for advice from a local’s perspective — or arrange meet-ups when you get there.

Another new site, Trippy, helps you keep track of all those interesting places you’ve come across while researching travel destinations.

And when you’ve decided where to go, it finds connections in your networks that can help you get there.

“I travel all the time, but I rarely have time to research and explore the cities I visit,” said Randi Zuckerberg, the big sister of Facebook CEO Mark.

She’s an investor in Trippy and said she likes the site because “I can get insights from my Facebook friends on where to eat and what to see before I hit the ground.”

Millions of people in thousands of cities have signed up for such services. The space seems likely to keep heating up given Groupon’s recent acquisition of Menlo Park, Calif., social travel start-up Uptake for a reported $20 million.

And with Airbnb, RelayRides and other “social-sharing” start-ups disrupting the hotel and rental cars industries, it’s fair to say the Facebook generation is traveling on its own terms.

“I suspect that all travel-planning sites and applications will become more focused on harnessing the social signal in the near future,” said Brad Gerstner, who sits on the board of Orbitz and is an investor in travel start-ups HotelTonight and Room 77, as San Jose Mercury News stated.

 Another travel recommendation engine is Gogobot, which launched in 2010 and now boasts 460,000 monthly active users, according to tracking service AppData — significantly more than Twigmore, Trippy and similar site Wanderfly.

Gogobot CEO Travis Katz, a former MySpace vice president, said the site sorts recommended hotels, restaurants and “things to do” based on places people in your network have recommended — so every user gets a different experience.

Social-travel evangelists say that because recommendations come from people in your extended networks, you’re less likely to see reviews that have been dressed up glowingly by hotel owners and restaurateurs.

Francis Tapon, a travel writer based in San Francisco, said social travel apps and websites “are going to do to the guidebook industry what Wikipedia did to the Encyclopedia Britannica.”

Tapon recently returned to the U.S. after spending three years traveling around Eastern Europe.

And, he said, “I never used a guidebook.”