The phenomenon we call Web 2.0 is only a few years old, yet we experience it almost every day. In a nutshell, Web 2.0 sites are those that connect people to one another and, in many cases, harness these collected voices and opinions into an aggregated point of view.
Whether social networking on Facebook, weighing in on a favorite new restaurant on Yelp!, or getting new music ideas on last.fm, we are all part of what makes Web 2.0 happen.
The application to travel is obvious: Before you book a hotel, wouldn't it be great to see what other people think . . . other people who have actually stayed there, that is?
TripAdvisor has been the leader, bringing the concept to fruition. It now boasts more than 10 million traveler reviews and opinions on hotels around the globe.
We decided to explore user-generated travel review sites to see how well they stack up for lesbian and gay travelers. The most important considerations in assessing their value were a rich presence of gay and gay-friendly establishments in their listings and a means to discern the sexual orientation of the reviewer.THE WINNER
): Amazingly, TripAdvisor is still the only user-based travel review site with significant scale. This translates to multiple reviews for most hotels, and a vastly wider list of properties than all the other sites combined. Most happily, TripAdvisor really delivers the goods for gay and gay-friendly establishments. We chose four gay establishments for our evaluation of the site, and Tripadvisor's database offered many user reviews for each: Colonial House in New York City (48 reviews), InnDulge in Palm Springs , Calif. (39 reviews), The Royal Palms in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (17 reviews) and the Art Hotel Connection in Berlin (nine reviews). Pretty impressive.
There are some limitations to TripAdvisor's gay utility. There is no option to indicate sexual orientation on member profile and no way for establishments to identify themselves as gay-focused. This makes it difficult to filter for gay or gay-friendly places within long hotel lists. It also makes it impossible to filter for reviews of only queer reviewers. But if you know the name of the place you want to stay, Tripadvisor is a very helpful tool.THE RUNNER-UP
): Recently launched, GayCities has potential to become a valuable source of user reviews for the LGBT community. Because its focus is exclusively on gay users and gay-appealing destinations
, you are safe in assuming that most of the opinions have gay-friendliness as a core orientation. The site is well designed, and it's easy to find your way to a comprehensive list of LGBT-oriented hotels and inns in a given destination. The site currently lacks a smart search tool, so it is difficult to jump directly to a hotel if you know its name. But that should change soon. The biggest limitation of GayCities is its small number of reviews. Most hotels and inns have few to none. We suspect this will change quickly, as its founder is a Yahoo! veteran and knows a thing or two about getting visibility on the web.WORTH WATCHING
A few other sites hold promise, but none offers true gay-specific value to travelers. IgoUgo (www.igougo.com
) is a travel journaling site, meaning that members tell their travel stories in journal form, providing hotel opinions and other observations as part of their tales. Reviews are not the primary focus of IgoUgo.
Still, when we ran a free-form search for the word "gay," more than 900 journal entries resulted. You won't find well-organized queer ratings and opinions here, but you may find a well-organized and opinionated queer traveler!
) promotes itself as a gay and lesbian accommodations review site, and the site could have potential. But its functionality is buggy, and there are few properties with more than a handful of reviews. Perhaps with time, it will develop a larger following.
So what's a gay traveler to do? If you're seriously planning a vacation, start with TripAdvisor for your best chance at a rich trove of reviews. Then supplement your knowledge with the growing and mostly gay perspective of GayCities. When you return from your trip, show your pride and add a review to several of the sites above. Your fellow gay and lesbian travelers will thank you.
) is a new online travel information and social networking portal officially launching February 2008 with the aim of becoming the largest database of destinations, venues and events specifically designed for the gay and lesbian community. This site is too new to evaluate since there's very little content and almost no user-generated content yet, but we'll be watching.