MySpace + travel = boo?

The social-networking website MySpace is the most popular site in the planet (Facebook isn't far behind), so it's no surprise that online travel websites are trying to get into the game. It makes sense: Most people prefer to base their vacation decisions on personal recommendations, so why not have a virtual community of friends who can tell you where they've been?

Yesterday, Web Reservations International, a Dublin-based company that runs a number of worldwide accommodations-booking websites, launched boo.com, a site that sets out to combine an accommodations user-review site, hotel booking engine, and a social-networking site where travelers can link up and share reviews of where they've traveled. It appears to be the first site of its kind.

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The idea is to help people find the right hotel for their trip with the aid of user reviews and friend recommendations, and then get them to book it. Users can browse for accommodations, read reviews written by past guests, and access a reviewer's profile to see what else they've reviewed. Users can create profiles for themselves and invite friends to join and share reviews and other travel tips. Profiles include a lot of the usual social networking functions, such as the ability to add pictures and blogs, plus some neat tools like a map that allows you to mark where you've been.

Right now the site has about 50,000 accommodations listings in 165 countries and its membership consists of past users of other Web Reservations International sites. In a phone interview, CEO Ray Nolan told me the site plans to add 100,000 more properties and grow its membership base significantly by the end of the year.

I found that major cities in Europe and the U.S. had a decent number of listings, but less popular destinations had few or none. Nolan believes these holes will fill up as the site and users add new listings.

Once you've found a hotel you like, the site gives you the option of booking the property through boo.com for a $2 fee; it also links to the hotel's website where you can book it directly. This option is great for people like me who assume that booking directly with the provider yields the lowest rates.

Boo.com is still a work-in-progress. It needs many more listings and reviews to be useful. Right now, I'll still go toTripAdvisor (which, yes, is a partner site of SmarterTravel.com) if I want to find comprehensive hotel listings and lots of reviews. Also, using boo.com for the first time, I didn't find the navigation to be that intuitive. It relies on icons and pop-up bubbles rather than having titles for certain buttons. All the prices were in euros and I couldn't figure out how to make them appear in dollars. Hopefully these problems will be tweaked as users test the site and more listing and reviews are added.

I don't belong to any social networking sites, but I'm intrigued by the idea of joining one that focuses on travel. Even though I'm an editor who's used countless online resources to research articles and plan my own trips, when it comes down to it, I still trust a live human being I know above any other resource. Having all my friends and acquaintances in one place online and being able to see exactly where they've been and what they thought would be very useful to me. The catch is that any users' friends would have to willingly join the site in order for it to work. I think ultimately I'd also want to join a social networking travel site that covered all aspects of travel, not just accommodations.

I'm not ready to join yet, but I'll keep an eye on boo.com and see how it grows over the next few months.

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