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The travel booking sites that see a future in neighborhood content

@SamShankman

Nov 20, 2012 2:53 pm

Skift Take

“Neighborhood” is the buzzword for online travel sites this week, but it’s too soon to tell whether it’s a stroke of genius for catering to mobile travelers looking for localized content or very expensive dead end.

— Samantha Shankman

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Everyone has a favorite neighborhood tucked away in the corner a major metropolitan area. It might be the art district or alleys of quiet cafes, but usually what makes them special is a sense of exclusivity. Now a few of online travel sites are about to blow their cover.

In the past week, Hipmunk and Airbnb both launched features that attempt to give travelers from around the world an inside look at a city’s secret and not-so-secret nooks and crannies, before ever boarding a plane.

Airbnb launched Neighborhoods last Tuesday, which allows potential bookers to filter through neighborhoods based on shopping, dining, nightlife, and transportation options. Airbnb started working on the new feature after finding that location was the top priority for guests when looking in a new city.

The very next day Hipmunk announced it had updated its hotel search by breaking neighborhoods up into categories based on whether their ambience was best for family trips, LGBT couples, romantic getaways, business outings, or adventure. The categories were chosen based on travelers’ inquiries when determining where to book a hotel.

Hipmunk revealed that the site is considering other ways to create more information for travellers after their arrival in a new neighborhood. “We are seeing a trend in the travel industry in providing more localized data, or SoLoMo (social, local, mobile media),” says Jacqueline Tanzella at Hipmunk.

Crowdsourced content

Couchsurfing, which has been around longer than Airbnb or Hipmunk, is also looking to get into the business of travel content. Tony Espinoza, Couchsurfing’s CEO, revealed that the company will be announcing a series of new pages in the coming weeks that will crowdsource local travel recommendations from its user base of nearly five million travelers and couch owners around the world.

Espinoza was shy about additional details, but Couchsurfing’s engaged customer base could create the original material in far more destinations at a much lower cost for the company. These travelers give it a huge advantage over other players in the very challenged social travel recommendation sphere.

The transition from booking sites to content providers

Both Airbnb and Hipmunk hired writers and photographers to create the original content. The attractive photographs and enthusiasti writing has the opportunity to become a content destination for travelers and locals alike, drive additional traffic from search engines, and build brand loyalty among the sites’ users. All three companies are approaching the content game with users that already love their product. There’s a natural engagement likely to take place that makes their editorial recommendations much more interesting than previous forays by travel brands to integrate content alongside their product, such as American Airlines putting reviews licensed from Frommer’s on its website. Whether this engagement with users will pay off remains to be seen. The cost of updating information for major cities like New York and Paris may pay dividends in user loyalty and bookings, but will be very expensive to maintain.

Airbnb’s promotional video for its Neighborhoods product:

Introducing Airbnb Neighborhoods from Airbnb on Vimeo.

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