USA Today Enters the Travel-Guide Game

With its signature bold visuals and mainstream sensibility, USA Today has entered the travel-planning arena. A new online-only series called Experience Travel launched last week, aggregating the media giant’s deep bank of travel content into easy-to-use overviews of popular destinations and travel themes.

Experience Las Vegas rolled out the series. Upcoming editions will cover cruising, food and wine, beaches, skiing, New York City, the Caribbean and Florida.

If the Sin City guide is any indication, the Experience Travel format offers a simple (and free) get-in-and-get-out way to browse for travel inspiration, insider tips and trends. It’s uncluttered, abbreviated and driven by excellent, enticing photography. The best content is organized into photo galleries for different types of travelers. Tips take the form of the photos caption, often just one sentence.

There’s a booking engine, too, but it simply sends you to an official tourism board’s website to search for hotels, flights, tours and shows from square one. Experience Travel has no functionality built into its content.

That’s fine with me – there are plenty of ways to book travel online. Experience Travel shines as a place for inspiration and ideas. For instance, the Vegas edition presents seven themed photo galleries, for penny pinchers, high rollers, shoppers and the like (gamblers and elopers, you’re out of luck). The Wallet Watcher will learn of an off-the-menu steak dinner for $9 and a 48-hour, all-you-can-watch show pass at Caesars Palace for $119. There are 42 tips for cheapskates alone; unfortunately, too many are watered down and generic. Several amount to something like this: “Hard Rock’s rates can drop below $60.” Great – but when, usually? Some tips are just plugs and simply don’t belong, like the Stratophere’s observation deck for Wallet Watchers. Experience Las Vegas leaves out the admission price – it’s $18 per person, and the thrill rides at the top cost extra. It’s a great place to watch your wallet become a lot lighter.

The sections Best of Vegas and Vegas Buzz are rich with trend features and news pulled from USA Today’s travel page. On the other hand, the sections for Hotels, Restaurants and Shows aren’t curated; they’re broad, rambling lists with scant details. It appears that every accommodation in the phone book is listed, down to the Hitchin’ Post RV Park and Motel. To weed though these unfiltered sections, click “Show Only Editor’s Picks” at the top of the page.

Though the company’s release described the series as a set of “travel planning tools and information,” its strength, at least at this early stage, is on the information.

[Photo credits: Moyan_Brenn and Taberandrew via Flickr]