Just as many people wouldn't think of buying a new toy like a plasma TV or a laptop without first checking online customer reviews and comments, it seems that many people wouldn't dream of booking a vacation to a new location without first reading online reviews from travelers who have been there, viewing rich media such as virtual video tours, and reaching out to other travelers online to ask questions.

This is not news to the travel industry. A recent survey on the adoption of social media found that the travel industry is well ahead of other sectors. According to the survey, 73 percent of travel companies plan to invest in social media over the coming year. The pre-event survey for Online Marketing 2007, which was held London's Business Design Centre on June 26-27, also found that 66 percent of travel companies name social media as the biggest growth area for marketing in the coming year.

And most experts are in agreement as to where this is taking the travel and hospitality industry:

- Chris Holdren, vice president of global web services for Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide said, "Price is still very important to all guests -- it's still a critical element -- but the evolution has been to be able to show what kind of experience you get for the price."

- Jasper Malcolmson, director of Yahoo! Travel, said, "People want experiences, recommendations and connectivity."

- "Ad speak and market speak are dead," said Dale Brill, CMO at Visit Florida, the Sunshine State's official tourism unit. "Consumers don't want to hear ad copy. They want to hear first-person from people who are out there."

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