Guidebooks. Love them or hate them? Some travellers wouldn’t be caught dead with one, but there are many more who enjoy the comfort and security that the little paperbacks provide.
The internet's equivalent of these guides has been around for a while, but there’s a new player in the field: wiki travel guides. These guides can be written by anyone, whether they’re an expert on all things Europe, or just know a thing or two about hiking in Russia. It’s a free-for-all kind of affair that has the potential to overthrow the dominion of the guidebook.
Photo by sianita
“But”, I hear you say, “how many people are going to trust the opinion of a pack of amateurs?” Quite a few, judging by the popularity of TripAdvisor, a site that allows people to review hotels they’ve stayed at. A recent survey of UK travellers found that more travellers trusted the reviews on sites like TripAdvisor than any other online resource, including professionally written guides.
So why should you ditch your guidebook? Here are 4 reasons why you should make the switch to user-written destination guides.
1. More writers means a balanced opinion
We humans are subjective creatures. Some of us like pizzas topped with anchovies; others dry-reach at the thought. Our views of the places we travel to also vary wildly, depending on the kinds of things we look for in a holiday.
By offering multiple people the chance to collaborate on a single article, user-written guides can end up being more balanced than a guidebook written by one lone professional. Wiki travel guides represent the combined views of anyone who feels like pitching in with their 2 cents’ worth of travel knowledge.
2. Editable information is current information
One of the drawbacks of following a guidebook’s advice religiously is that there’s a good chance thousands of others are doing the same thing - meaning that the quiet but beautiful beach written about in your guidebook is anything but quiet these days. That’s great for local business, but it sucks for travellers trying to get away from the crowd.
The benefit of user-written guides is that people can update the information on the guide any time, so information stays current - a luxury that guidebooks don’t have.
3. An outlet for travellers to share their advice
Have you ever returned from your overseas trip and discovered that no one really cares about how great the beaches in Thailand are? They might feign interest; but until they start planning a trip to Thailand themselves, they probably won’t care that much.
Online guides provide you with an outlet to share your pearls of wisdom with an appreciative audience.
4. A complete package?
Wiki travel guides aren’t without their critics. An article in Slate Magazine recently complained that Wikitravel, the web’s best-known user-edited travel guide, lacks accommodation listings. That’s true. On Wikitravel, you’d be hard-pressed to find decent recommendations about where you should stay the night. But there are other travel sites who are taking the concept of a wiki-generated guide and incorporating it as part of their service.
Like Travellerspoint. Our member-editable travel guide is just one part of a range of features for travellers. While Wikitravel might not offer much in the way of accommodation listings, anyone using Travellerspoint’s destination guide to research their trip can easily head over to the accommodation booking area and find everything from top-end resorts and hotels to cheap budget options. While you’re at it, you can also browse photo galleries and members’ blogs about the place you’re planning to visit, or get advice in the forums - all of which delivers the traveller a package that comes pretty close to being complete.
The final step for most wiki travel guides is the build-up of content: it goes without saying that a guide written by users needs users to write. But consider how Wikipedia and TripAdvisor, two excellent examples of user-generated websites, have risen on the backs of millions of contributions made by people around the world. It’s just a matter of time till wiki travel guides follow in their footsteps.