Who is the Most Trusted Authority in Online Travel?

Travel conferences around the world are buzzing about the dramatic changes impacting the online travel market. Three principal themes appear to emerge at each conference:

  1. Online travel has become more complex, particularly when managing customer relationships.
  2. Self-professed social media “experts” should be avoided at all costs.
  3. Earning trust is the most important element to ensure community engagement.

Given the critical importance of trust in an environment with increased complexity and growing confusion, the obvious question is, who does the travel industry trust as the authority in online travel?

Below is a list of analysts, leaders of online travel sites and global distribution systems, influential bloggers, twitter personalities, association executives and journalists that are all outspoken in their opinions on the online travel space. If you had to select only one person to for insight and advice, who would it be?

Try this link if you do not see the poll embedded above.

If the name of your favorite online travel authority was excluded from the initial list, please drop me a note using this link and I will do my best to quickly add them to the list.

Voting will remain open until Friday morning, April 2, 2010 at 7:00am US Central time. Sorry, only one vote per person, so rally your social network to support your favorite.

Many challenges face the global travel industry. New business models, competitive marketing strategies, emerging mobile technologies, interactive customer engagement and the constant need to drive profitability create complexities that were never previously imagined by hotels, destinations, airlines or online travel companies.

Each week, RockCheetah and the Views from a Corner Suite blog will present a new poll to gauge the sentiment of the travel industry, and of course, allow respondents to comment on the issues at hand.

About Robert Cole

Robert Cole is the founder of RockCheetah, a hotel marketing strategy and travel technology consulting practice. He also authors the Views from a Corner Suite Blog and publishes the Travel Quote of the Day. Robert speaks regularly at major travel industry conferences, authors articles for leading travel industry publications, advises travel-related startups and the equity investment community. He is an evangelist for the global travel industry.

  • Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

    If Trust is the issue then you have to find the most objective person on the list. Frankly only Journalists and independent Analysts qualify. I would ask why is Online more worthy of trust than Offline. Also from what perspective? So let me answer your question with different answers:
    Most respected objective person – Tie – Henry and Kevin.
    Most respected supplier – None because you didn't include any suppliers in your list
    Most respected intermediary (who sells stuff) – None – I am always suspicious
    Most respected info peddler – Rich Seaney

    'Nuf said?

    Cheers

    Timothy

  • http://rockcheetah.com/blog RobertKCole

    Thanks Tmothy, I agree with you, which is why I excluded the travel suppliers and destinations from the listing – unfortunately, too much of an assumed agenda. I decided to include the intermediary Online Travel Companies, GDS and Search Providers because they facilitate the travel process and many people are inclined (and aggressively targeted by marketing efforts) to trust those firms.

    Actually I thought about including offline, but the list would have gotten extremely long including corporate travel, retail travel agencies, tour operators, etc. I did not intend to imply that offline authorities were less worthy of trust – in many cases, they are more trustworthy.

    I liked your answers, but the question was designed to eliminate ties, categories & conditions. Hopefully you voted for the one who would ultimately win out.

  • tomtravel2

    I voted for Stacy Small @elitetravelgal as she is the only travel agent who made the list. She is also the only one I have tweeted up with…yet. Many other great people are deserving.

  • http://rockcheetah.com/blog RobertKCole

    I added Stacy to the list because she has leveraged social media – especially Twitter very successfully. As I mentioned in my comment to Timothy, I limited the framework to online as including offline simply made the list too long. Also included John Peters from Tripology for the same reason – helping the online & offline worlds converge.

  • girlsgetaway

    you could only find six women 'travel authorities? How sad.

  • girlsgetaway

    Here's a few suggestions for your list to help close the 31/6 gender imbalance you've got going here:
    @laurably – Laura Bly Travel Writer USA Today
    @Marilyn_Res – Marilyn Terrell Chief Researcher National Geographic Magazine
    @PaulineFrommer – Frommers Travel
    @Janelle_IT_Blog – Editor of Intelligent Travel Blog
    @ michellehiggins – writes the Practical Traveler column for the New York Times
    @CruiseEditor – Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief Cruise Critic
    @jenleo – Jennifer Leo, Lead blogger L.A. Times Travel

  • J Mc.

    Henry Harteveldt hands dowm. His insight and objective advice is second to none. Forrester would be lost without Henry leading their travel practice.

  • http://twitter.com/fullersloane June Sloane

    Who get to vote or is it just a popularity contest? I am on the advisory board of Spa Magazine & a member of Protravel International.

    • http://rockcheetah.com RobertKCole

      June,

      I was hoping that this is a trustularity contest.

      There are certainly a good number of people who are great to hang out with on the list – interesting people, engaging personalities & great story tellers. However, if I could only pick one as the individual I trust most as an authority on online travel, I might decide to pick a logical technician who provides thorough analysis and evaluates all the alternatives; or, I might even pick a self-absorbed jerk who consistently demonstrates a knack of always being right.

      This is one of the key questions facing travel organizations engaged in media, both social and traditional – Who do people trust, and why do they trust them? Is a well produced ad, someone with the most followers, an expert travel agent, a literate journalist, or a dedicated friend most worthy of a person’s trust?

      Travel is an intensely personal decision. So is the question, “who do you trust?” That is exactly why I asked the question. There is no simple answer.

      My personal opinion? [Caution: Soapbox being mounted] Popularity should not dictate who should be trusted. Trust should always be earned. Everyone knows popularity can be manipulated through promotion, however, in the age of newstainment and social media, these lines can get blurred. It seems trust can suddenly be spontaneously won.

      An example: Like many sessions, the Social Media panel at the ITB Berlin Convention (not to be confused with the PhoCusWright@ITB conference) opened with the popular Erik Qualman Socialnomics: Social Media Revolution video. I stood up and asked the panel and audience if they trusted the video. Of course they trusted it. It had over 1.7 million YouTube views and was produced by an author with a top selling business book on the Amazon charts. It had opened a standing-room only session at the world’s largest travel conference…

      I wrote a blog piece Socialnomics Should Not be Voodoo Economics on this video last year. Inadvertently, it represents social media at its worst. The piece highlights the three major challenges with social media: disrespect for intellectual property, inaccurate information and propagandizing a message through compelling packaging. You tell me, after reading the blog post and comparing the Socialnomics video to its original and unattributed creative influence, the Karl Fitch/Scott McLeod/Jeff Brenman produced Did You Know 3.0 video, has trust in Socialnomics been legitimately earned?

      Eric Qualman produced a creatively derivative, poorly fact-checked, hyperbolic video that successfully promoted his book into best seller status. He is now “trusted” by large numbers of people because he is video and books are so popular.

      For me, celebrity, likability and trustworthiness could not be more different measures.

      [Descends soapbox...]

      From a logistical perspective, anyone gets to vote, but the software I am using should limit the voting to one vote per person, per IP address, so hopefully, ballot box stuffing will not be allowed.

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  • http://www.uptake.com patjenkins

    Yen Lee, President of UpTake for his willingness to take risks, share insights and his ability to recognize new trends in the industry. Full disclosure-I work for him at UpTake.

  • http://twitter.com/BrooklynNomad The Brooklyn Nomad

    Tough call as I like many on the list.

  • http://rockcheetah.com/blog RobertKCole

    I hope you like the improved balance – excellent suggestions. I could not disagree with any of them, thank you.

  • Sam

    I recommend Kelly Gaw (or Erin, Evan, & Alex) from Kiddin' Around USA ( @kiddinaroundusa ). Within a year they have over 3500 followers on Twitter & started showing families fun places they can go, bond, & learn.

    This will add kids/families to the mix.

  • http://rockcheetah.com/blog RobertKCole

    I think you have gotten this exactly right. Travel is an intensely personal decision. Endless options compete with limited time and budget. It is a tough decision and every individual makes their decisions based on different inputs and processes.

    This is exactly why I asked the question in its current form. It is ambiguous, there may not be a perfect answer. That's a lot like travel and life.

    So let me pose the question another way using this scenario:

    You are trapped in a mind-numbing job; it's a lot like being jailed. You yearn for vacation time and the return of your freedom. You only get one telephone call. Who do you call? Sorry, those are the rules.

    I see a major difference between popularity and trust. Celebrity does not mandate trustworthiness. I might not even like some people I trust with certain decisions, but I respect their competence and expertise. Your bail bondsman or lawyer does not have to be famous or your friend.

    I loved your question “What are we talking about here?” That underlines the dynamic of social media. Each respondent may interpret the question somewhat differently. I could give you the rationale for my choice, but you will probably base your decision on entirely different criteria.

    That said, there will be someone that gets the most votes – for whatever reason. To be honest, in asking the question, I was more interested in the conversation than in finding a winner.

    Thanks for contributing to the conversation.

  • DennisSchaal

    I voted for one — not me, don't worry. But, I think asking who is the most trusted authority in online travel is a lot like asking which is the best travel website to get the best deal.

    The secret sauce is there is not best travel site for the best deal.

    Similarly, there is not one most-trusted authority. Trusted for what, on what subject, which day of the week?

    But, look at those faces pictured above and look at our collective wisdom. Great stuff.

    Let it rip, everyone.

  • girlsgetaway

    Thanks Robert, I do indeed approve of the additions:) Hope I didn't sound too crabby, sometimes I get a little heated under the collar about the lack of equal representation.

  • http://rockcheetah.com/blog RobertKCole

    Dead on.

    It's the final seconds of the NCAA Basketball National Championship Game. You have the ball. You don't have a shot. No time for further analysis, where do you pass the ball? Who is the clutch player?

    It's less about strategy, analysis and process and all about trust. Seems to me, that is the end game for social media as well.

  • http://www.eyeonannapolis.net/ John Frenaye

    You should be able to select more than one. Certain people are outstanding in their own realm. For instance, Carolyn Spencer Brown is great for cruising–not so much for air.

  • http://twitter.com/camiloolea Camilo Olea

    Go Katy!

    I've had the pleasure to know Katy, even if only by online exchange, I can see she is a honest, hard working person whose advice you can trust! She does a great job of managing Where I've been's Twitter account, you can see she truly enjoys what she does, and that is, I think, one of the keys to being great at any job.

    Cheers from Cancun!

  • http://rockcheetah.com/blog RobertKCole

    John, that is definitely a good point and was a consideration, but I elected to go with a single vote.

    Thought if everyone must only pick one, it might require a bit more consideration and stimulate more discussion. Plus, I am not sure the results with the multi-choice approach would provide greater insight.

    The poll you suggest is a good poll. It's just not this poll.

  • http://rockcheetah.com/blog RobertKCole

    June,

    I was hoping that this is a trustularity contest.

    There are certainly a good number of people who are great to hang out with on the list – interesting people, engaging personalities & great story tellers. However, if I could only pick one as the individual I trust most as an authority on online travel, I might decide to pick a logical technician who provides thorough analysis and evaluates all the alternatives; or, I might even pick a self-absorbed jerk who consistently demonstrates a knack of always being right.

    This is one of the key questions facing travel organizations engaged in media, both social and traditional – Who do people trust, and why do they trust them? Is a well produced ad, someone with the most followers, an expert travel agent, a literate journalist, or a dedicated friend most worthy of a person's trust?

    Travel is an intensely personal decision. So is the question, “who do you trust?” That is exactly why I asked the question. There is no simple answer.

    My personal opinion? [Caution: Soapbox being mounted] Popularity should not dictate who should be trusted. Trust should always be earned. Everyone knows popularity can be manipulated through promotion, however, in the age of newstainment and social media, these lines can get blurred. It seems trust can suddenly be spontaneously won.

    An example: Like many sessions, the Social Media panel at the ITB Berlin Convention (not to be confused with the PhoCusWright@ITB conference) opened with the popular Erik Qualman Socialnomics: Social Media Revolution video. I stood up and asked the panel and audience if they trusted the video. Of course they trusted it. It had over 1.7 million YouTube views and was produced by an author with a top selling business book on the Amazon charts. It had opened a standing-room only session at the world's largest travel conference…

    I wrote a blog piece Socialnomics Should Not be Voodoo Economics on this video last year. Inadvertently, it represents social media at its worst. The piece highlights the three major challenges with social media: disrespect for intellectual property, inaccurate information and propagandizing a message through compelling packaging. You tell me, after reading the blog post and comparing the Socialnomics video to its original and unattributed creative influence, the Karl Fitch/Scott McLeod/Jeff Brenman produced Did You Know 3.0 video, has trust in Socialnomics been legitimately earned?

    Eric Qualman produced a creatively derivative, poorly fact-checked, hyperbolic video that successfully promoted his book into best seller status. He is now “trusted” by large numbers of people because he is video and books are so popular.

    For me, celebrity, likability and trustworthiness could not be more different measures.

    [Descends soapbox...]

    From a logistical perspective, anyone gets to vote, but the software I am using should limit the voting to one vote per person, per IP address, so hopefully, ballot box stuffing will not be allowed.

  • http://twitter.com/smartwomentrav Carol Margolis

    Great list of trusted travel sources … and I concur! I'll past these along to our subscribers at http://www.smartwomentravelers.com!

  • http://rockcheetah.com/blog RobertKCole

    Thanks Carol. You might want to refer them to this Twitter list: http://twitter.com/RobertKCole/travel-most-trus… (I will be updating it with any additions submitted by request.) Note that not all the individuals have Twitter accounts – specifically, Jeff Boyd, Jeff Clarke, Bob Gilbert, Sam Gilliland, Hugh Jones, Dara Khosrowshahi, Philippe Kjlellgren, and Rob Torres.

  • kristinzern

    Almost everyone on this list has an ax to grind. I think the best ones are the folks who are researchers and journalists. Anyone affiliated with a company mission shouldn't be that plausible even though they are very knowledgeable. So I would count people like Henry Harteveldt, Laura Bly, Dennis Shaal, Kevin May. But from a consumers perspective it would be Laura Bly, Stacy Small, Pauline Frommer. B to B Harteveldt, Shaal, May, Susan Black hands down. This list includes both and I think there is a difference. In other words there should be two lists. One for B to B and one for Consumer influencers.

  • http://tourismtechnology.rezgo.com Stephen Joyce

    I'd have to agree with some of the other commenters. I would have to vote for @hharteveldt, @kevinlukemay, @denschaal for their objectivity and overall coverage of online travel. Many, including myself, are focused on one specific area or niche in online travel so I can't imagine I would be a trusted source when it came to airlines or cruise since I know very little about (and don't claim to know) those segments.

  • http://rockcheetah.com/blog RobertKCole

    Kristin,

    I think you make some good points. It's a lot cleaner if we categorize the decisions B2B v. B2C, Business v. Leisure, Home v. Office, Marketing v. Technology, etc. but I intentionally wanted it to be mixed up.

    As I see it, the convergence of media, technology, community, marketing and service delivery are dramatically converging and travel is becoming an integrated extension of an individual's life experience. While it is beyond the scope of this survey, the same holds for Ad Based v. Transactional business models, and Mobile v. Desktop applications.

    With the coming disintegration of travel compartmentalization, the sole focal point becomes the consumer (where it should have been all along.) I predict rapid development cycles, semantic search and standards based integration will create parity between end-to-end, 360-view customer relationships.

    The result will be a reliance on who the traveler, or travel industry executive, trusts to help guide them through the growing forest of options. I thought the question got a lot more interesting if only one could be chosen.

  • http://rockcheetah.com/blog RobertKCole

    You have illustrated a great point – should people trust those who proclaim themselves as expert in all travel related matters, or others, like you with depth of experience and the perspective to recognize that you don't know what you don't know.

    Also, trust may include the understanding that the authority will direct you to the appropriate information, or suggest a strategy that may be applied to address a challenge.

    Personally, I trust a lot of people who are not necessarily expert in a particular area. Sometimes a fresh perspective can prove incredibly valuable.

  • http://rockcheetah.com/blog RobertKCole

    So by extension, does that mean you trust Yen's opinion, or only the collective wisdom of the community he has created?

  • Jen

    Stacy Small rocks. Period.

  • Jim Haupt

    Philippe's Kiwi Collection is the travelers trusted friend providing a comprehensive list of the world's best hotels. They personally inspect all properties and charge the hotels no fees for a basic recommendation.

    Jim

  • johntpeters

    Robert, this is a great example of how to get people talking. Thanks for including me on the list of such luminaries. My vote would go to Henry Harteveldt, Susan Black Or Christopher Elliot. How do I pick? Hmmmm….

  • munciepots

    Actually, none of the above. I would trust feedback from actual travelers first.

  • http://rockcheetah.com/blog RobertKCole

    Thanks for raising the issue. Two questions:

    First, do you rely on the general recommendations from a large group of people , or are you willing to accept the opinion of a single individual who has prepared a well written review?

    Second, what methods do you use to ensure that the actual travelers you are trusting share your taste and priorities?

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  • kristinzern

    Hi Robert, I agree with most of what you've said but as a consumer I will never trust a CEO of any travel company with the rare exception when I was a jetBlue evangelist and thought David Neeleman was as close to godliness as a marketer could be.

    I do listen to journalists and travelers. Although I follow hundreds of travel sites, ceo's, guru's, etc. I still think the trust is won mainly, in my case, by people who have no ax to grind.

    Henry also thinks the list is too broad. I still voted for him although his trust is really only viable for business news reports. His info doesn't really translate well for consumers.

    But it all is an interesting exercise. And yes, convergence is in the air.

    Warmest regards, Kristin

  • http://www.hrabaconsulting.com/blog hhotelconsult

    This was my first thought…. most of this ends up being recognition of brand “me” and those who have done the most to promote themselves, at the same time ignoring clients. You want me to make a list of travel professionals that ignore clients the most in pursuit of brand “me”, because… ooh.. that would be a long one.

  • http://twitter.com/ratestotravel RatesToTravel.Info

    i Agree and gonna feature it also on: http://www.ratestotravel.info

  • spainnola

    Stacy Small is a true Travel Advisor – what consumers really want. Stacy was one of the first to utilize Twitter and Facebook as a marketing tool for her business and has beautifully mastered both.

  • http://www.yourresourcegenie.com/ Delane Mazaheri

    Stacy is Awesome and over-delivers consistently. She is so good I trust her with my high end demanding clients!

  • http://twitter.com/fullersloane June Sloane

    I follow all of Michelle's New York Times stories every week.

  • http://rockcheetah.com/blog RobertKCole

    Approved

  • http://rockcheetah.com/blog RobertKCole

    Approved

  • Michelle DePiero

    Stacy Small ~~~~~ #1

  • frankied1

    any friend of Morrisey is a friend of mine .. BUT why is JOHNNYJET not THERE???

  • http://rockcheetah.com/blog RobertKCole

    frankied1, he is there – look for “John DiScala. You know him as Johnny Jet”

  • frankied1

    ho!!! there he is! its Johnnyjet that always gets my vote!!!! : )

  • http://www.itourist.com/ Steve

    Vote for Steven Frischling – great authority on travel and excellent writer.

  • Dan Clark

    We travel a LOT. Stacey is not only popular, but can be TRUSTED. She's gotten us to unbelievable last minute exotic locations at a PRICE and she can handle the every day stuff as well. She's ROCKS!

  • Mark S.

    As a 20 year Travel Industry professional, I've pretty much experienced it all. Henry Harteveldt's commentary on this ever-changing industry is not only well worth reading, it's objective, unbiased and trustworthy. Thank you Henry!

  • FriendlySkies

    I travel a lot! Thanks for Randy and FlyerTalk, I have picked up many tips and tricks to simplify my travels and earn higher elite status! Thanks Randy!!

  • johndekker

    There is no better person in this market then Henry Harteveldt… After all the years in the business, he understands like no other… HELLO?!?!? He works for Forrester, as his clients are the online/ and standard travel companies!!! I AM THE BEST TRAVEL AGENT IN THE USA!

  • httptwittercomsmartsuite

    I agree with research. So why is Henry Harteveldt Forrester Research Travel Analyst at a 17% rating and Philip Wolf. PhoCusWright CEO is only at 1%?

    What a great poll and insightful question Robert.

  • http://www.competitours.com/ beaubo

    Randy Petersen transformed my travel lifestyle.

  • Debbie Earley

    Stacy Small is the best!!!! She was the only agent able to get my family last minute Christmas flights out of Hong Kong to a great resort !!!!! Woulldn't use anyone else.

  • Ellen G

    Stacy Small has the finger on the Pulse…Literally!

  • Pegasus23

    Randy Peterson thinks future…where else are you looking!

  • bakd42

    Randy Petersen is the most trusted travel authority. His wisdom, experience and expertise are superior.

  • http://www.happyhotelier.com/ Happy Hotelier

    A deep deferent bow to the guy who opens up this discussion:-)

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  • Michael Bercutt

    randy petersen has them all beat.

  • http://www.hotelssydney.com.au/ Hotels Sydney

    I happen to also believe in Randy Petersen.