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When traveling for either a short break or globetrotting indefinitely Life on the Road: The History of Digital Nomadism Life on the Road: The History of Digital Nomadism Read More , there will always be websites and apps that you rely on heavily. Sometimes more heavily than you would care to admit.  But, alas, as with everything in life, nothing is perfect.Your favorite travel resources will, of course, have glaring issues, frustrating drawbacks and infuriating quirks.

The three travel websites in this article are among the most popular, yet despite their huge visitor numbers and mighty budgets, each has some flagrant issues we’d love to see rectified.  This list has been compiled from conversations with a number of full-time travelers who’re all keen to see most of these changes made.

You might agree or disagree with the shortcomings we spotted, or the “suggestions” offered. Let us know your take in the comments.

AirBnB

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AirBnB continues to grow from strength to strength, revolutionising (and terrifying) the hotel industry by enabling anyone with a spare room The Risks And Rewards Of Renting Out Your Apartment On AirBnb The Risks And Rewards Of Renting Out Your Apartment On AirBnb Are you thinking about renting your spare rooms out on AirBnB? Here's why you should, and also a cautionary note on why you should think twice. Read More , bed or sofa to rent out to needy travelers A Traveler's Tales: How To Save Money On Your Next Trip With AirBnB A Traveler's Tales: How To Save Money On Your Next Trip With AirBnB We are always eager to cut costs while traveling. Hotels are expensive. Ludicrously so. But are there any alternatives? Until recently, the answer to that question was a loud ‘no' till AirBnB came along. Read More . Virtually any city (and an increasingly huge number of smaller towns) around the globe have a vast choice of accommodation on the site, but there are a few things holding AirBnB back.

#1 Lack of Reviews

A huge deciding factor for AirBnB users are the reviews on each property. Currently, the vast majority of listings on AirBnB have no reviews whatsoever. This makes it easy for rooms with reviews to be rented, but almost impossible for unreviewed rooms to receive bookings.

There are plenty of solutions available here, and why AirBnB isn’t doing any of these is beyond us, given the fact that the more reviews that are left on the site, the more valuable the site becomes. A couple of suggestions:

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  • Hire pro-users, or home-city users who’re in a city for an extended period of time, to travel to various listings on AirBnB within that city to verify the accuracy of the listing. In return, a listing could display an ‘AirBnB Verified’ badge so users have confidence in booking these rooms. In return for helping AirBnB by volunteering, these pro-users could earn credit to use on the site, or receive other benefits.
  • Subsidise the first rent of a room by not charging booking fees on rooms that haven’t received any reviews. The booking fees on AirBnB (by comparison to the rest of the travel industry) are extortionate. Many people don’t know this, but it’s actually both parties (the renter and the guest) who’re charged fees by AirBnB, which inflates prices a lot. Reduce the price on unreviewed properties and booking these properties becomes more enticing.

#2  Uncompetitive Prices in Poorer Countries

We’re not sure if AirBnB quite understands how high some of its prices are in areas such as South East Asia. When scouring the site for places to stay in Chiang Mai, I was dismayed at the prices on offer compared to what I knew I could get while ‘on the ground’.

As more and more people realise this, the site will become less popular for traveling to these locations. Let me give you an example.

We recently looked on AirBnB to rent a ‘cheap’ room in Sri Lanka for a few weeks. Excluding fees, the price was around $500 (pretty pricey for this neck of the woods). Including fees, the room cost $600 (extortionate). In the end, we found a place offline, paying $450. If AirBnBs fees were less, we would have used the site. Yet for the last six locations we’ve been, the booking fees on AirBnB made it pretty unworkable for anyone on a budget, so we simply booked offline.

The issue isn’t generally caused by people who’re are listing their prices too high, though. It’s because AirBnB’s fees are just so high (6-12% for the guest, and 3% for the host).  This may not be much of an issue for a short stay of a day or two, but as more and more users are looking for long term stays, these kind of fees really add up.

If the site simply altered its booking fees depending on where in the world a room is located, and for how long a booking is made, this could help keep AirBnB competitive around the globe.

#3 Inconsistent Descriptions

When traveling to countries where English isn’t widely spoken, such as areas of Japan and South Korea, trying to make sense whatsoever of some room descriptions on AirBnB is almost impossible.

This is largely because AirBnB uses Google Translate to display descriptions in your native language. But as we all know, this barely works. I have tortured myself trying to understand descriptions that promise me a tiny 1-bed room which allegedly sleeps 25 people.

The solution here isn’t to rely on a better translator (although that would help immeasurably), but rather to make the listing process far more structured, with more “yes/no” answers, better maps, and closed questions. This means, at a glance, I can easily understand what kind of room I’m looking at, without needing to rely on a description that’s hardly accurate. A few simple examples could be:

  • How far is the nearest public transport station?
  • How long does it take, by public transport, to get into the town centre? (if this is not walking distance)
  • How long does it take, by public transport, to arrive from the airport?
  • How much will a taxi from the airport to your accommodation cost?
  • What Internet speed is available? (with instructions on how to test this)
  • On a scale of 1-10, how reliable is your Internet connection?
  • Do you offer laundry facilities?
  • Is bedding provided?
  • Are towels provided?

The good thing about this approach? The questions and answers can be translated into any language.

SkyScanner

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A couple of years ago, SkyScanner was a God-send. The ability to search all flights from London or New York, to anywhere in the world over the next month was incredible. This is still a feature every airline in the world should have adopted by now, yet extremely few have. If anyone could let us know why, that’d be wonderful. But since then, negative reviews and complaints about some of SkyScanner’s decisions and how the site operates have burgeoned, pushing its usefulness down several notches in our books.

#1 Recommending Disreputable Sites

There have been several occasions where the people I talked to for this article found (on SkyScanner) what they thought was a deal too good to be true. And they were too good to be true.

SkyScanner now seems to routinely send people to websites (agents) which, when you do a bit of research, are extremely disreputable. Take, for example, BudgetAir.com (see their trust rating here) and TravelTrolley.co.uk.

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Many untrustworthy sites reportedly sell tickets at rates that simply don’t exist. When they receive your bookings, they call the airline on your behalf to try and book those tickets at that price. Often, this price is no longer available (or never was), and you’ll receive a call back telling you the flight is now 20-80% more expensive than you were promised. Problem is, this whole process can take several days, making it likely your flight prices will have increased anyway. Trying to get a refund can be a lengthy process.

The solution is simple. Only recommend reputable sites. This may mean that SkyScanner’s cheapest prices aren’t quite as cheap as some of their closest competitors, but in return they’ll re-earn the trust of users who’re now desperately looking elsewhere to find reliable, trustworthy flight information 5 Rules To Finding Cheap Airline Flight Tickets 5 Rules To Finding Cheap Airline Flight Tickets Who says you can’t fly for cheap? Sometimes it comes down to whether or not you click the right links, search the right terms, or pick the right times to search the web. Read More .

#2 Lack of Search Features

SkyScanner became popular after offering search features which actually made sense to travelers, yet any kind of development in this area seems to have stalled, even when there are a few additional search features that’d be incredibly handy if they were available, such as:

  • Anywhere to A Specific Place  SkyScanner allows you to search for flights from a specific place to “Anywhere”, but not vice versa.  If I knew I needed to be in Berlin in September, this search result could help me decide which country I could visit beforehand, enabling me to plan my route based on affordable flights.
  • Introduce Continent-Based Searches — Being able to search by continent could also be a great help. If someone from the US were doing a “Tour of Europe”, and they simply wanted to see the prices of flights between Europe and the US (and vice versa), or flights between any cities in Europe, this could make finding relevant flights much simpler.
  • More Time-Frame Options — currently, the only time-frame options you can select on SkyScanner are a specific day, today, tomorrow, in a week, whole month and whole year. What about “Between [Date x] and [Date Y]”, “Any Weekend”, or “Any Friday”?

#3 Displaying Incorrect Prices

I understand that SkyScanner has it’s hands tied (to a degree) about the prices it displays. For example, the prices you see in the search results are often the results of a previous search (by another user), which can be up to a couple of weeks old. This means that the price you actually pay is rarely the price displayed on the site. This is largely because the GDS (Global Distribution Service) SkyScanner uses to collect data from various airlines doesn’t display flight prices in realtime. There’s no live-feed from the airlines themselves.

The problem is that SkyScanner, from what we can see, is choosing to display prices it knows are incorrect.

Two days ago, I searched for one flight. The price displayed was $180. When I got through to the actual booking page, the price was actually $245.  When I checked SkyScanner for the same flight 48 hours later, the lower price of $180 was still displayed.

If SkyScanner is using its own cache of GDS (which logically it should be doing), then the correct, more expensive price should have been advertised.

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As said, this may be for several reasons, but this is an issue SkyScanner should be working on to maintain its usefulness to users. How hard can it be for such a company to display results based on its own cache? Even if this isn’t possible, at least make it far more obvious, so people aren’t so disgruntled when they get to see the real price.

Foursquare

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Foursquare is incredible at discovering the best local spots Foursquare Relaunches As Discovery Tool Based On Your Tastes Foursquare Relaunches As Discovery Tool Based On Your Tastes Foursquare pioneered the mobile check-in; a location-based status update that told the world exactly where you were and why – so is the switch to a pure discovery tool a step forward? Read More all over the world. But sometimes, it feels as though the app developers of FourSquare have made a few pretty bad decisions.

#1 Offline Maps Keep Disappearing

When using Foursquare to locate a place you’re looking forward to visiting, a map is generally a pretty handy tool to have. When it comes to Foursquare, however, the last map you loaded appears to save, but randomly and abruptly (if you accidentally go to the wrong screen, for example) that map can disappear and you’re left stranded.

If there was an option to download and save a specific map, this would solve this problem instantly. You could save a map of a specific location, or you could download the map of a useful Foursquare list, showing things to do in a city.

Many think this is a feature already possible on Foursquare, but apparently not, though you can export your Foursquare maps to Galileo.

#2 No Rating Feature on The Web App

Ratings are one of the most important reasons why businesses use Foursquare, yet on the web app there seems to be no option to rate a venue. This only seems to be possible on the mobile app, and I’ve no idea why. It’s easy enough for me to leave a comment/tip about a venue on my laptop, but if I want to actually leave a rating, I’ve got to get my phone out. Foursquare, if you could shed some light on this, please do!

#3 Unreliable Ratings

If I’ve visited a restaurant for a beer, and later want to rate my experience on FourSquare, the rating questions on the app often have no relevance to my visit, and there’s no way of skipping those questions. On that occasion, I didn’t look at the food menu, yet I had to answer questions on Foursquare such as “How healthy are the options here” (Great, Average or Poor). I had no idea, so I just had to make up an answer, and went with “Average”.

This is just one occasion though. Every day this must happen thousands of times, causing inaccurate ratings and listings for huge numbers of businesses. The solution? Add a “Skip this question” option. Simple.

Conclusion

These are just three travel sites from the sea of options online. They were chosen for this article due to their massive popularity. Seeing just a few of the changes above could go a long way in improving travel experiences for millions of people each year and we hope to see them realized soon.

What other changes would you like to see made on your favourite travel sites and apps? And are there any workarounds you’ve seen for any of the issues above?

Image Credits: Ready to travel Via Shutterstock

  1. Jon Green
    February 10, 2015 at 5:07 pm

    TripAdvisor:

    #1 with a bullet: stop opening spammy pop-under windows! The rest of the webby world stopped doing this kind of crap more than a decade ago. Do the world, and your still-somehow-just-about-loyal visitors a favour, and join the 21st Century - before someone else does the same thing better, and you become Altavista (remember them?) to their Google!

    #2: sort out the reviews. Weed out the ones that are more than about three years old, particularly for places that have lots of reviews, and include only the same period's ratings in the overall score. The travel industry moves so fast that anything older probably isn't representative.

    #3: sort out the email marketing. Just because I looked at one location, once, that doesn't mean I want to receive new reviews, subject articles and all sorts of other blah about it until the heat death of the Universe. I was probably just seeing where a friend had gone for a holiday. On the other hand, if I've looked at the same place ten times in the past month, let rip. I'll probably actually care. It's called target-responsive marketing, and it'll improve your revenues without honking off your visitors.

    • Rob
      February 12, 2015 at 7:09 am

      Jon, I completely agree with #2 and #3. Reviews and forum answers/questions that're more than 24 months old, in my opinion, are generally useless, and simply clog up Google. Either TripAdvisor needs to delete these, or Google needs to get rid of posts this old, as it's detrimental to the quality of search results...

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