One of the hottest search trends online is anything that has to do with travel and trip planning. The Internet has made trip planning not only convenient, but also, interesting. What used to involve several trips to the travel agent, oodles of brochures and a wild guess has been replaced with detailed city information, price-comparison sites for airlines, hotels and rental cars and even legions of consumer review sites that will tell you absolutely everything about that hotel you're considering staying at.

Basically, the Internet has made everyone their own best travel agent. Sites like Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz even let you book your flight, hotel, car rental and even attraction tickets all at once.

But Yahoo!'s latest project aims to take things a step further.

Trip Planner works something like this...

You start off by entering a destination and a date range. Let's say you want to go to Niagara Falls next April. Once you've entered that information, you can save the trip to your Yahoo! account so that you'll be able to access it over time to make updates or changes. Next, you can move on to things like hunting for hotels, or rental cars. As you select options (based on Yahoo!'s existing database of user reviews and price information) you can save these options to your "trip."

So, you might browse through the hotel listings for Niagara Falls and decide that you'd like to stay at the Embassy Suites Hotel on the Canadian side. I did this and my trip planner made note of it when I selected "add to trip." From there, I decided to move on to planning the fun part of any trip: the activities!

At this point, I'll make note that Yahoo! needs to work a bit on the usability factor for this feature. I was on the select a hotel page and I spent a good five minutes looking around trying to figure out how to get back to the starting point where I could decide if I wanted to look for hotels, restaurants, shopping, or whatever. I finally realized that selecting "add from travel guide" is what takes me there. Then, went I went back into my trip the next day to check a few other things, I spent another five minutes clicking the "edit this trip" button before I realized that the only way to change anything but the date was to click on the name of the trip. The system has a less than obvious navigational structure, so I'm hoping we'll see this changed down the road. (I'd like to think I'm a bit more savvy than the average Yahoo! user when it comes to using a web site, but I could be wrong.)

Once you've found yourself back at the "add items" stage, you can either add items from a list or use a map view to look for activities or points of interest in an area around where you are staying. Yahoo! marks these options on the map with icons that symbolize things like restaurants, entertainment, shopping, things to do and even transportation. The problem is that despite zooming in and out and clicking all over the place, I couldn't figure out where my hotel was on the map. That made it a bit difficult to make judgement calls on which restaurant I wanted to eat at.

Once users have added some items to their "to do" list, Yahoo! then takes them to the trip scheduling page. Here users can select dates and times for each item on their list, even setting how long each option should take. (San Diego Zoo? All day. Toledo Zoo? 4-5 hours...) There's even a spot to make notes for each item. (Going to zoo? Remember to pack sunscreen...)

There's even an option to share your trip with "friends" that might be going with you so that they can add their own ideas to the plan. Another option is to make your itinerary public so that future travelers can benefit from the work you've done. (Or so that you can benefit from the work they've done.)

Perhaps the most useful feature of the new service is the itinerary that it will set up in printable format. Before you head off on your vacation, you can set your trip to print mode and Yahoo! will arrange all of your information by location, schedule or category and will include a map and details with every listing. I can see this being incredibly handy for trips that involve a lot of driving.

The new tool has a lot of potential, but Yahoo! has some serious usability issues that they need to address before they see massive adoption rates. Otherwise I'm afraid they're going to frustrate a lot of people and send them off to the next site that copies this service with a better plan for making it easy to use.

Take the new Trip Planner for a test drive yourself at: http://travel.yahoo.com/trip.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.
October 28, 2005





Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.







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