Travel Planning: The Information Broadcasting Paradox and the Triumph of Mediocrity
Information Broadcasting Paradox
Lets start with the stock market - if you’re a legitimate investor (i.e. not relying on insider information to gain an advantage) then where do you get your information? CNBC, right? But here’s the catch - everyone else is doing so too - thus wiping out any advantage you can get the minute some information is broadcasted on CNBC.
Travel planning has long suffered from a similar paradox. Travellers love sharing their discoveries for others who may follow in their path. That’s wonderful as long as the medium of sharing isn’t one monopolistic source.
In the days before the Internet, it used to be guidebooks like Lonely Planet that held some sort of monopoly on travel information. Things weren’t so bad, as each of the guidebook brands targeted a certain niche audience - some for backpackers, some for family travellers, etc. But still, the most discerning travellers knew that a hidden gem ceased to be one the minute it got mentioned in a guidebook.
Now with the Internet, there’s an even greater consolidation in the sources of travel information especially with TripAdvisor. The chief among TripAdvisor's problems is that it has become the CNBC of travel planning. There simply is no way to discover hidden gems - once something gets great reviews, it starts drawing crowds, and then eventually loses the very quality that made it a hidden gem.
Triumph of Mediocrity
The second problem is the “triumph of mediocrity”. Let me explain with an example - I’ve been a Bangalore local for the last 10 years. I’ve explored the city quite a bit and know it really well now. But when I look at the top 10 Places to visit in Bangalore on TripAdvisor, I can hardly spot a place that I would suggest to any traveller. So what’s happening here? My guess is that as more and more people contribute their views, the ultimate winners are those places that everyone "kinda likes", but no one really loves or hates. Just those “meh” kind of places.
Is that really how trip planning should be? One of my favorite bloggers Seth Godin wrote a great little piece on how we can counter such trends - do read it here: All the same. I’m copying a couple of lines below (hope he doesn’t mind):
“But humans aren’t a homogeneous mass, we are individuals, as individual as we dare to be.” “Treat different people differently. Anything else is a compromise.”