Yahoo! Bows Trip Planner

Combining its locally oriented applications with consumer opinion, Yahoo! on Thursday launched a set of travel planning tools, which shift Yahoo! Travel's attention from expert reviews to the opinions of users and the Web communities they trust. The service, coined Travel Planner, brings together existing offerings such as maps, bulletin boards, and local listings, with Flickr photo-sharing features and user reviews.

"Travelers are in a much better position to travel once they know what their friend or neighbor thinks," said Diana Vincent, a Yahoo! Travel spokeswoman, adding: "This is part of a bigger Yahoo! philosophy to leverage local services to give Yahoo! users the information they're looking for."

Keenly aware that travel is the largest e-commerce sales category, Yahoo! and its rivals are exploring various methods, including user-created content, to increase their presence in the space. This year, Travelocity parent company Sabre Holdings bought IgoUgo.com, a travel "community" that allows users to post photos and travelogues. And last year, Barry Diller's InterActiveCorp bought TripAdvisor, which lets consumers post and search hotel reviews online.

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Even Google has gotten into the travel field with a search feature for specific flight inquiries. The feature displays shortcut links between two locations at the top of the search results to travel providers. Once a user enters their preferred travel dates, they can click on a travel site link to generate a specific flight search.

"This is a search quality feature, and we have no formal agreements in place with the travel providers we offer shortcut links to," a Google spokeswoman told OnlineMediaDaily in an e-mail exchange.

Adding consumer opinion to the travel planning mix is presently the easiest way for companies to improve their existing offerings, according to JupiterResearch analyst Diane Clarkson. "The way forward [in online travel] is making the growing amount of consumer opinion available and searchable for consumers," said Clarkson.

Consumers will purchase $91 billion in online travel sales by 2009, according to JupiterResearch.

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