US website TripAdvisor, the world's busiest travel site, on Monday launched a new Facebook service offering users travel tips direct from their friends.
"We revolutionised travel planning 10 years ago when we created the site, the next major leap forward is to get advice from your friends," Steve Kaufer, the founder and head of TripAdvisor, told AFP.
Set up in 2000, the website broke free of the old-style world of the travel guide and travel agent with user-generated tips on airlines, hotels and restaurants, a move which Kaufer said "pioneered travel advice.
Its new service, TripAdvisor Trip Friends, takes the website a step further.
"After offering the wisdom of the crowds, TripAdvisor Trip Friends will offer the wisdom of friends," Kaufer said.
"It's like asking a friend for a plumber," he said.
The new service will enable Facebook users who are planning a vacation to identify - via the Cities I've Visited application - which friends have visited the location.
Would-be travellers can then tap into their network of friends for more details.
TripAdvisor has 34 million monthly visitors and 35 million reviews and opinions from travellers, making it the world leader, according to comScore, the Internet marketing research company.
Kaufer, who first set up the company in a flat above a Massachusetts pizza parlour a decade ago, came up with the idea after failing to get good advice on a holiday he planned in Mexico.
"They just had names and brochures and prices. So I went online to see what real people had to say," he said. "But 10 years ago it was hard to find personal opinions on the Internet."
"People," he added, "are more interested in what other people have to say than in guide-books. There is a wealth of information out there, and it's free."
TripAdvisor, which now has 730 staff and last year ran up profits of 196 million dollars with turnover at 350 million, was purchased by Expedia in 2004 for 200 million dollars.
With sites in 14 languages, all its revenue comes from hotel and restaurant banner ads, links, and business listings.
"A small place will pay 400 dollars a year while the Bellagio in Las Vegas will pay 10,000 dollars".
Kaufer said he believed travel would become increasingly accessible to an increasing number of people in the coming years, with green travel notably continuing to grow.
"Smaller more frequent getaways and weekend vacations are also a new trend," he said.
In the meantime the company is investing heavily in China, hiring 100 staff to cope with what he believes will be an explosion in domestic Chinese travel.