World-renowned wine expert Jancis Robinson, in this morning’s particularly fine FT Weekend, is refreshingly honest about the changing role and status of “experts” like herself in today’s society and economy. A couple quick quotes by Ms. Robinson succinctly state today’s new reality:
- “In the 21st century, the internet and now, particularly, the smartphone have changed everything.”
- “I have gone from being a unique provider of information to having to fight for attention.”
While she is speaking particularly about the worldwide wine industry, her statements ring true across most areas of life. For my part, it makes me think yet again about how we get our information – and inspiration – about where and how to travel.
This summer my family (me, my wife, and four daughters ranging from young adult to not-yet-ten) embarked on an epic 10,500-mile, 24-state, 6-week road trip across the United States. While I had a pretty darn good idea of where I wanted to go and what I wanted to see, I was always open for new ideas and suggestions. We occasionally modified our plans due to the recommendations, insights, and experience of others. But when you know you have about three hours to kill when you get to St. Louis, and Google searches turn up articles that state that in St. Louis you can watch a movie, go shopping, or see a baseball game (all things that you can do anywhere), then the current state of travel-on-the-web has failed.
Those special, local insights are hard to find. Short narratives about historical sites aren’t enough. And self-focused “this is what I did in NYC” articles are not terribly helpful. What I wanted was that granular “expertise” that has now been democratized, for better or worse, across our society due to, as Ms. Robinson puts it, the new “era of instant communication and (often anti-) social media.”
There are loads of fantastic, insightful bloggers, photographers, and writers out there who are entirely too difficult to find, including on those travel sites that confidently label themselves as the “top” travel site around. And it seems that the more a travel media corporation boasts of its roster of “travel experts,” the farther we get from finding those “organic,” smartphone-era travel “experts” to guide us.
We used to call such people our neighbors (“Before we plan that trip to Egypt, we need to talk to Sameer …”). The Sameers of the world offered raw information, insight, and experience. My question is: how can we harness technology to help us find the Sameers of the world, when we want them and when we need them?