ReviewerCard: Scam Or Social Clout Indicator?

The Los Angeles Times published a rather scathing column yesterday about a new product called ReviewerCard that lets “select” bloggers and frequent reviewers on sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp flash what appears to be a business or credit card to demonstrate their clout to hotels, restaurants and travel purveyors.

The problem? This company, run by Brad Newman, an individual with no real connection to the travel industry, gives out this “ReviewerCard” to anyone they deem fit, and encourages these so-called reviewers to use the card to obtain travel discounts, freebies and other incentives. Of course, if they don’t … the implicit threat is that they will write a bad review.

Newman defended himself to the Times, stating. “I’m going to review them anyway… so why not let them know in advance? It’s not hurting anyone.”

As a journalist legitimately trained in the art of inspecting and reviewing restaurants and hotels (complete with detailed, 100+ page checklists and inspection metrics), this appalling card is an indicator to us of everything that is wrong with “bloggers” and “reviewers” today.

But before we impose our own judgement on you, readers, we’d like to open this up for comments and questions. Do you think ReviewerCard is a good idea? Does it make businesses more aware of influential people who are apt to write a review about their service, or does it encourage an entitlement mentality and more biased reviews than already exist in the marketplace.

We’d love to hear your thoughts – leave a comment, below.

TripAdvisor Now Displays Reviews From Your Facebook Friends First

Travel review site TripAdvisor knows that when it comes to travel planning, we often get by with a little help from our friends. Today, the company announced the “Friend of a Friend” feature, which ensures that hotel, restaurant and attraction reviews submitted from a user’s Facebook friends will appear first on the page, followed by reviews from friends of friends. From there, it is possible to ask anyone in the network for further advice through private messages.

Of course, travelers will still be able to see all the reviews from TripAdvisor users on the rest of the page, and the possibility to adjust your privacy settings to limit what Facebook friends can see on TripAdvisor is also available (just in case you wrote a scathing review of a hotel your friend picked out). Travelers who don’t want to see their friends’ reviews can also opt out.

The feature is live now with the exception of China and Egypt. Just visit the TripAdvisor website and then click the “Sign in with Facebook” option at the top of the page.

Ajungo, the new social network platform just for travelers

Sick of searching through advice sites and hearing reviews from who only knows? Wish you could connect with other travelers about past or upcoming trips and events? Love social networking but wish you could interact with others in your travel niche? Then there is a brand new social media website just for travelers that brings together all of these platforms into one site.

Ajungo, created by Ben Barton and Steve Shea, is a brand new networking site that allows travelers to connect before, during, and after a trip. Here is how it works:

1) Create a profile and link all of your social networking sites. What this does is allows the site to funnel through your social networking platforms to pull information and funnel it around specific

2) Find others who have been to your destination of choice and look through their posted trip or ask them for advice. Or, you can find others who will be in your destination of choice and plan to meet up or travel together.

3) Create your trip canvas, which consists of enabling the sites real-time travel guide feature so that the site can pull your photos and updates while you’re on your trip. This allows other travelers to learn from your experience as well as acts like a blog or trip journal by keeping your trip memories organized and sharing them with friends.

The goal of the site is to make travel more social as well as more comfortable for people going to new destinations. And, if there is any information that you do not want shared, the site will not post it without your permission.

Make connections with travelers, view their trips, find travel buddies, or just interact with others in the travel community. It is all possible on Ajungo.

Travelers turn to seller sites for info

Where do you go to get information on destinations and travel? Well, you obviously come here – at least you did this time. And, we appreciate it. Despite the value of independent sources of travel news and deals, it’s the seller sites that are attracting all the action. Social media is moving the travel market, according to the latest research from industry research firm PhoCusWright, with user-generated content on online travel agencies (OTAs) leading the charge.

In 2008, hotel reviews on OTA sites accounted for only 52 percent of traveler-written reviews, with traveler review sites (not associated with an OTA), such as TripAdvisor, accounting for 46 percent of reviews written. Last year, the OTA sites were good for 74 percent of the hotel reviews that showed up on the web.

“Traveler review sites – led by TripAdvisor – created and drove the growth of the traveler hotel review category, demonstrating the potential role of user-generated reviews in the trip-planning process,” said Douglas Quinby, senior director, research at PhoCusWright. “The travel industry obviously took notice, and the major OTAs have remarkably stepped up their game in capturing reviews from their customers and incorporating the content into their hotel shopping path. Travel companies must keep a close eye not only on review sites such as TripAdvisor, but the growing volume of review content on OTAs as well.”

Social media thrives in tough travel market

Travel used to be recreational (well, recreational travel, at least), but now even vacationers are finding ways to turn it into work. The latest report from travel research firm PhoCusWright, Social Media in Travel: Traffic & Activity, finds that the average vacationer is becoming more like the average blogger on a press trip. Travel reviews are written, photos popped onto the likes of Flickr and Facebook and personal blogs are peppered with opinions and observations. And, immediate reactions wind up on Twitter with incredible speed. All this content, straight from the horse’s mouth, is having a profound effect on the online travel market.

According to Douglas Quinby, senior director of research at PhoCusWright, “There continues to be a big gap between the enormous promise of social media and the current reality of realizing and measuring those returns.” He continues, “With our partners, we analyzed nearly 1.9 million traveler reviews and visitor referral and conversion traffic from more than 50 social travel Web sites, as well as general social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. The result is the most expansive research into where and how online travelers are creating, consuming and acting upon social content.”PhoCusWright is staying a bit tight-lipped with the reports details, holding them back for people with skin in the game (and thus willing to foot the $995 tab), but one observation was released that shows just how powerful an impact the social media environment can have on the travel industry: despite the hit the travel business took last year, monthly visitors to social travel sites surged from the first half of 2008 to the first half of 2009.

The fact that social media is having an impact on the travel community may be obvious, but the extent is staggering.