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Last Updated: Monday, 12 April, 2004, 11:26 GMT 12:26 UK
The DIY travel guide
DOT.LIFE - where technology meets life, every Monday
By Giles Turnbull

The internet has changed the way we go on holiday. And now it offers holidaymakers the chance to become contributors to electronic travel guides.

Stansted Airport
Going away? Go online
Booking a holiday online is now commonplace. Some airlines take the majority of their bookings over the web, thanks to online ticket systems pioneered by no-frills operators such as EasyJet and Ryanair.

But today it's just as likely that holidaymakers will order foreign currency, book a hotel room, reserve taxis or train seats, and - simplest of all - use a search engine to research a destination. This may even throw up a homepage with holiday snaps taken by someone who's been there before.

But increasingly, there's a wealth of information written just like a travel guide - not by paid authors, but by others who've trodden the same path.

One website, Wiki Travel, is designed to let anyone edit any of its pages. Users are encouraged to add their knowledge and experience about countries they've visited in the hope that, over time, the site will become a comprehensive global guide.

By you, for you

Wiki Travel's stated aim - "to create a free, complete, up-to-date and reliable worldwide travel guide" - sounds ambitious enough. But when you consider that everything on the site is written by volunteer travellers, it starts to sound like a grand project indeed.

Holidaymakers on the beach
Tourists have long shared tips
It is one of a number using a system which itself is called wiki that enables any reader to add content, quickly and easily. Each person who adds something can bring their own unique experiences. And over time, the site grows into a detailed travel guide entirely written by those who have been there.

Wiki Travel has so far generated more than 1,200 destination guides. A dedicated group of volunteers keeps an eye on the site to make sure that contributions are relevant and helpful to others.

Similar sites include World66 and World is Round [see Internet links on right of this page], which concentrates on personal stories and online photo albums. Like Wiki Travel, these are free to use and contribute to, and rely on the goodwill of readers to grow.

Off the beaten track

What does the travel industry make of it all?

Tony Wheeler, founder of Lonely Planet, says he has explored emerging collaborative sites and found them interesting - but not always very useful.

"I went to have a look at it, because I think it's important that I keep on top of what's happening on the net," he says. "To be honest, I wasn't knocked out by it. There's a lot of information there but very little about some of the quieter travel destinations."

US soldier on convoy passing through Falluja
Not your usual holiday snap
Mr Wheeler looked up Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan - destinations people are travelling to, even in the current climate - and the only information was taken from the CIA's fact books, which have been widely used on the net.

"We still get hundreds of letters at Lonely Planet, but we don't use any information before we can double-check it first. Sites like WikiTravel are certainly helpful for travellers but I don't think they can compete with properly researched travel guides," he says.

A spokesman for ABTA, the Association of British Travel Agents, is somewhat more bemused by the rise of do-it-yourself guides.

"Although this sounds like a great way of sourcing information directly from the horse's mouth, we can see a number of problems that could arise.

"Nobody can check the accuracy of the information on sites like this, so it could all end in tears for some travellers."




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