Here’s something to know. The independent travel Web sites we all use to plan our travels might not be quite as independent as we think they are.
For example, TripAdvisor recently bought the Independent Traveler, which owns the Cruise Critic Web site. So the premiere forum for travelers to share reviews of hotels now owns the premiere forum for cruise passengers to share their opinions of cruise lines and ships.
Also among TripAdvisor’s holdings: smartertravel.com, an online travel magazine; bookingbuddy.com, a consolidated travel reservations search engine; SeatGuru.com, a guide to choosing airline seats; TravelPod.com, a community of travel bloggers; and Travel-Library.com, a guide to hotels and travel services.
Several of these sites are among my favorite travel resources. Each one offers some combination of travel reviews, journalism, advertising and reservation services. In combination, they form a powerful network of travel commerce and information.
Two of these sites in particular – TripAdvisor and Cruise Critic – are built largely on the reviews and online conversations of a large and active community of travelers. To pay for the staff and technology to keep the sites running, they take ads from travel agencies, cruise lines, hotel chains and the like.
The potential conflict, which existed even before TripAdvisor’s acquisitions, is obvious. The temptation would be to present the reviews of travelers in such a way as to benefit the advertisers.
Expedia has thus far shown no inclination to do that, and promises to let its various Web sites operate independently. That’s wise. The moment commercial interests interfere with the integrity of members’ contributions, these sites will be worthless.