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Best Trip Choices came along just a few weeks too late for my recent overview of online destination planning tools, and that's too bad: It's clearly at the top of the list. Instead of looking like a system designed mainly to steer you to buying an airline ticket or hotel room, this one is strictly focused on matching you with appropriate destination options. A professional travel researcher (rather than a marketer) designed it, and the professionalism shows.
You start by taking a personality test. Yes, I know, many online tests are promotional come-ons, but this one can really help. After completing a one-page questionnaire, you see the personality scale the site uses, ranging from "authentics" to "venturers." Once the system tells you where you fit on that spectrum, it offers a series of suggestions for the top 30 destinations for your type—evenly split between U.S. and foreign options. After taking the test myself, I found that the U.S. recommendations for my personality type were right on the money—the places I do, in fact, like to visit. The foreign choices didn't hit my targets as well, although they did hit some of them.
Best Trip Choices rates destinations on two scales: attractiveness of the destination, and the value for the money you'd expect at each destination. Again, I found the results in keeping with my own observations: Hawaii, the Monterey Peninsula, Alaska, Oregon, Maine, San Francisco, and New York City were top-rated as destinations, while value varied from very good in Oregon and Maine to not so good in Hawaii, New York, and San Francisco.
"Value for money" is not a price index, but instead is a measure of how visitors perceive the value of what they spend, based on lots of traveler interviews. And the value index measures solely on what you spend once you've arrived, excluding the cost of getting there.
You can also access the ratings and scores for all of the 600 or so destination areas in the database. Additionally, you can have the display rank the destinations by either individual measure or by a single composite score. Finally, you can also sort the complete database in six categories: U.S. states, U.S. cities, and U.S. "touring areas," as well as foreign cities, countries, and touring areas.
Best Trip Choices is the brainchild of Stan Plog, a longtime travel researcher and consultant to the travel industry. He has specialized in what we once simplistically called psychographics, an analytic approach that differentiates consumers in terms of personality traits rather than conventional demographics such as age and income. Best Trip Choices is independent and unaffiliated with any online travel agency; its income is derived through linkages and advertisements, a familiar business plan for online information sources. As far as I can tell, those linkages show no bias in the results.
With all that praise, I have to say that I found a few results surprising. For example, when I checked for "international touring areas," Manitoba topped the list. That was a surprise, given that it outranked such personal favorites as Tuscany, Scotland's highlands, and the nearby Banff area. I remember a report I saw many years ago, describing Winnipeg as "the most boring city in the most boring country in the world," but that bit of British snobbery shouldn't influence me; I haven't toured Manitoba, and I shouldn't knock it if I haven't tried it. And, in general, I find Canada far from boring.
Best Trip Choices doesn't have anything to say about individual accommodations. For that, you have to go to SmarterTravel sister site TripAdvisor or a similar source. But the combination of Best Trip Choices, TripAdvisor, and a good airfare search system should answer many of your questions.
As I noted in my earlier report, I don't feel much need for guidance on destination choice—I know the places I like. But even if you have a list of favorite places, a destination choice system could help you identify places you'd like to try. Give it a shot—it couldn't hurt.