Yahoo expands its travelers' aid

Yahoo is set to launch a service that helps consumers plan trips online the way they do in real life: By finding out where other people went and what they did there.

Yahoo Trip Planner, scheduled for general availability starting today, has been in beta testing for about nine months but will gain some new features as it debuts live on the site, said Jasper Malcolmson, director of Yahoo Travel.

The service is designed to combine online travel shopping with social networking, photo sharing, search and interactive maps. Users will be able to plan trips using a Yahoo database of recommendations for lodging, restaurants, sights and other choices, and share those plans with others who can give feedback. During and after the trip, the users can post blog items, reviews and photos. Others can then look at those completed trip descriptions for ideas and even copy them whole, Malcolmson said.

Web portal companies such as Yahoo hope families of linked sites and services will encourage users to spend more time within their properties, viewing ads and possibly making purchases. Yahoo Trip Planner ties in to several other of the company's services, including social networking site Yahoo 360, photo sharing service Flickr and online travel shopping site FareChase.

By picking a place and asking for local recommendations, travelers can call up the Yahoo travel database of recommendations, including tips that end-users have contributed through their trip plans. The user can check off interesting attractions and businesses in the area and add them to a list, or even schedule each for a particular day of the trip.

One of the new capabilities set to debut Monday is a world map with icons that each link to a user-contributed trip plan for that location. Zooming in reveals more travel plan icons in a particular region, and moving the cursor over an icon brings a pop-up window with some information on the plan. Clicking on that window brings up the full plan itself.

Through the beta test, users have contributed hundreds of thousands of travel plans for places all over the world, including Iraq, Malcolmson said. For the interactive world map, Yahoo picked about 20,000 of those based on user votes and whether the plans included journals and photos.

"It is effectively a system to peruse the world for travel inspiration," Malcolmson said.

A user can make a trip plan public or keep it private, and those settings can be changed back and forth. The tool can also be used for planning a group trip, with each member of the group adding items to the itinerary, Malcolmson said.

Another feature going live on Monday is integration with Yahoo's search page, which will bring up a link to the user-contributed trip plans when anyone puts in a search for a location and the word "trip."

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