Farewell, Fodor's and Frommer's? Arrivederci, Rick Steves?

Not quite. But this week's official debut of Yahoo's Trip Planner, an online tool that lets vacationers save and share travel journals, itineraries and photos, helps fuel the notion that any globe-trotter with an Internet connection can become a guidebook publisher -- and it provides more evidence that user-generated content is transforming the Internet travel landscape.

Yahoo's Trip Planner, which launched in beta phase nine months ago and now highlights more than 20,000 member trip plans on an interactive world map, is among more than a dozen new offerings from Web sites trying to attract travelers and advertisers by harnessing a collective consciousness. Some come from established players -- Google's Co-Op, TripAdvisor's Inside and VirtualTourist's Trip Planner, among them -- while others are start-ups, like Gusto, RealTravel, TrekkerTime and Squidoo.

The new products target "people who are averse to standard travel guides," says John Bray of PhoCusWright, an online travel consulting firm. Those travelers, many of whom are already members of social networking sites like MySpace.com, "want to identify buddies who will help shape their own plans," Bray says. "They're looking for authenticity, not perfect descriptions or marketing copy."

Of course, what is one man's authenticity can be another's drivel. Among the more popular of more than 1,400 public trip plans for New York City on Yahoo's Trip Planner is a journal created by "katz--329." His blow-by-blow account of a five-day jaunt from South Florida to the Big Apple, recommended by more than 80 Yahoo users, includes snapshots taken from the window of his plane and this first-day entry: "2:35 -- We are at Broad and Wall Street and we run into a French tour group. The guide is using a green lightsaber as his wand, it amuses us."

Such unedited, stream-of-consciousness feedback has its place, even on the Web sites of mainstream guidebooks, says Fodor's publisher Tim Jarrell. Fodors.com includes a forum and lets users post their own hotel reviews next to those by Fodor's own writers.

But "we think travel writers on the ground give depth and breadth to a destination that you can't get from community alone," adds Jarrell, who says sales of the company's paper guidebooks have increased by at least 10 percent this year.

"Right now, content is thin, (and) the reality is, it's a difficult problem to solve," concedes Jeff Wasson of Gusto, a "personality-based" travel recommendation site that launched June 1 and has about 1,500 members. "But as we build a base of users, that will change. Is it an insurmountable problem? I hope not."

Source: Gannett News Service