Internet social networking and self-help travel websites are drastically changing the holiday planning landscape, says
, the founder of the world's largest online travel advisory service said on Thursday. By surfing the Web, travellers can get the opinions of friends and thousands of other tourists rather than having to rely on glossy brochures, guide books or travel agents, Kaufer told Reuters.
"We are extremely bullish of the view that social networks -- getting advice from your friends -- will fundamentally change the way people are looking at travel today," the Harvard graduate said. Kaufer is head of the TripAdvisor site which publishes the opinions of travellers about countries, cities, hotels and restaurants worldwide.
It claims to have the world's largest "online travel community". <b1>
Other sites in its network include airfarewatchdog.com, bookingbuddy.com, cruisecritic.com, holidaywatchdog.com, independenttraveler.com, seatguru.com, smartertravel.com, travel-library.com and travelpod.com.
Speaking ahead of a speech he was giving on Thursday to the Online Publisher's Association conference in London, Kaufer, 45, said people could now access opinions from millions of people for free instead of the traditional guidebooks.
He said social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace were also changing the way people viewed travel. Previously people would ask their friends, get some ideas then visit a travel agent.
Now, he said, people instead valued honest opinions online.
"Certainly worldwide we have already seen that huge shift to the `I don't need the travel agents any more,'" he said.
"If your sole function as a travel agent is to help to get someone through the booking procedure for a tour or a flight then forget it -- the websites are pretty easy now." Kaufer founded the site in the American town of Needham, on the outskirts of Boston, in 2000.
The company, which recently published its top 100 best locations, is to launch an aggressive expansion into Asian markets with area-specific sites in countries such as China and Japan. It follows the successful rollout of other sites in European countries.
His company was bought by the IAC/InterActiveCorp in 2004 for an estimated $430 million and was wrapped into the Expedia online travel agency group.