At the last World Travel Market in London, we attended the conference "Content Counts" led by speakers Giles Longhurst, Frommer's director; Maud Larpent, senior manager of partnerships, TripAdvisor; and Terence Mark, CEO of 3rd Planet. The conference, we hoped, would give us a few hints as to what kind of content to focus on for the year to come -- editorial content, that is. However, our hearts sank when we realized that the speakers were taking editorial content for the online travel industry in a whole new direction.
Following Giles Longhurst's shock statement: "Up to 90 percent of editorial content for travel websites will soon be replaced by video," he expressed with a self-satisfied look. Even if no one in the room -- the attendees consisted mainly of the travel press -- reacted aloud, the horror was evident in the atmosphere and was later confirmed by comments and questions that followed the conference. As one freelance travel journalist rightly exclaimed: "I am absolutely horrified at most editorial content being replaced by video!" The fact that most travel press will be replaced by video editors is a shock in itself for writers like us; however, what is even more disappointing is that two of the industry's top websites, especially Frommer's, which prides itself on its editorial content, are supporting this move.
In an Internet-dominated world with video-uploading sites like Dailymotion, Vimeo and YouTube that lead online trends, it isn't surprising that the travel industry should adapt to the demands of the public. However, a key point that seems to have been completely brushed under the carpet is that we sell dreams. We don't sell juicers or blenders, so I ask, is there a real need for travel websites to migrate towards the 'video manual' of the holiday? By this I mean with software like 3rd Planet's technology that allows users to visit most tourist spots in destinations around the world as though they are traveling through a video game.
Furthermore, when asked the question, the speakers did not have figures confirming a demand for this kind of holiday-marketing, so where is the need? Do travelers really want to be able to see their dream destination before visiting it? Will this really boost the flailing travel industry?
Video's great, and it has its place on the Internet, but without editorial content to explain history, geography, seasons, tips and the like, how will video do the job? Also, an unquestionable flaw of this video master-plan is that it will sell a dream that will probably never be a reality, raising traveler expectations beyond the norm: Cambodia's Angkor Wat temple complex looks incredible on 3rd Planet, but it will always show the temples under clear blue skies and beautiful golden sunshine, misleading travelers on a global scale, for will 3rd Planet adapt its technology for the monsoon months? This leads us down an unsteady path; what if the temples are undergoing a complete renovation and travelers are expecting to be able to take lots of picture-postcard shots -- will 3rd Planet adapt its videos to show the temples held up by scaffolding?
Maud Larpent, speaking on behalf of TripAdvisor, presented her company's technology -- a video element uploaded by users with speech bubbles appearing at main sites of interest; the editorial content will also be written by the travel community. Apparently walking around a city, eyes glued to an iPad doesn't seem to cause a stir for Ms Larpent. At a time when TripAdvisor is being heavily criticized for its lack of verification concerning its hotel reviews, is it really the right time to be throwing itself into new depths? Won't this new technology provide new battle ground for tourist sites all over the world? And what about Frommer's? First and foremost a guidebook publisher, we are seeing Frommer's slowly migrating towards the net -- but video? Isn't Frommer's getting a little out of its depth and letting down the entire travel press instead of supporting it? Lastly, ever-so-proud of his brand new technology, Terence Clark comes onto the stage, boasting about how advanced his technology is, but the travel press didn't hesitate on expressing its skepticism on spoon-feeding travellers. As a traveler myself, the aspect of discovery and mystery of a destination is what I am looking for -- aren't you?
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