If you want to get away, Yahoo!
The Trip Recommendations feature claims that it's not eating your cookies. Rather than base vacation tips on your interests, it is aggregating the surfing habits of others. That's certainly a win for privacy advocates, though it may result in less than ideal getaway pitches.
The interface was a bit buggy when I was kicking the tires last night. It claimed that I was in New Jersey, prodding me to check out great deals in Miami Beach. Not good. I live in Miami. I went ahead and fixed the city starting point. I checked back later, and it threw me back into New Jersey. I love you, Garden State, but this was getting ridiculous. I fired it up on AOL's browser and -- presto -- I was now living in Vienna, Va.
I'm sure it'll get better in time. The neat thing about Trip Recommendations is that it then turns to its Yahoo! FareChase travel comparison shopping site to come up with discounted deals. Yahoo! then provides local guides, powered by user rankings and reviews.
The fear of flying
If you are an online travel site like Expedia
Portals have always been lead generators, as long as you were willing to pay the tab. A few years ago, you didn't hit travel content on AOL or Yahoo! if it wasn't with Travelocity fueling the eventual booking engine.
Things have changed. Head out to Google
Yes, Google has had that feature since 2005, and it hasn't slowed down the travel sites much. However, there are recent signs of slowing. Priceline may have posted stellar growth in Europe this past quarter, but domestic bookings clocked in essentially flat. The same thing happened to Expedia. Can the recent decision by Orbitz to go public again have anything to do with trying to cash in one last time before the search-engine giants take over?
It won't come to that, but the travel stars aren't taking any chances. Expedia has been on a content-site buying spree. Priceline is making a play into the weekly travel deals that put Travelzoo
Building a better travel site
The real quandary for the conventional travel booking sites is whether they'll be left fighting for scraps after feasting for so long. Airlines and hotels are reaching out directly to vacationers. There are also the stickier ways of places like Yahoo! Travel.
After you book your trip, there's still more. Yahoo! features Web 2.0 candy, like the ability to plan your trip with virtual pushpins tacked on top of a Yahoo! Maps graphic of the places you want to go. You can share that itinerary with others, and come back to review your trek when you return.
I have always thought that the gem in the Expedia arsenal is TripAdvisor.com. It's the one place that I find myself turning to when I am traveling to somewhere new. It seamlessly plugs into the Expedia booking engine without alienating the active community.
What if this is what Yahoo! is heading toward? Sure, it will take some time. If Yahoo! still thinks I'm from New Jersey or Virginia, who knows when it will know me well enough to know where to send me? Still, it's taking the right steps, and those steps appear to be in a disruptive direction if you're a sleepy travel booking specialist.
Yahoo! and Priceline are Stock Advisor recommendations. A 30-day trial subscription to the market-thumping stock research service may be the next trip worth taking.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz loves to research travel plans online, but he doesn't always book his travel online. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.