TripAdvisor to close VirtualTourist travel guide site

VirtualTourist, one of the first brands focused on providing online guides to travellers, is being axed by its parent company.

TripAdvisor subsidiary Smarter Travel Media, home to a number of high-profile content sites, will turn off the lights to VirtualTourist during the latter stages of the first quarter of 2017.

Members will be officially notified of the closure shortly.

An official at Smarter Travel says the site has seen “declining engagement” in recent years, not least with the growth of Facebook, leading it to make the “tough decision”.

The company will, instead, focus its “efforts and resources on the areas of our business that have stronger growth potential”, the official adds.

Before the recent fall in activity, the numbers behind VirtualTourist had been reasonably impressive.

The site had some 1.3 million members, many of which had contributed to sharing 3.7 million photos and posted 1.8 million travel tips for over 70,000 locations around the globe.

It currently boasts around nine million unique users a month and facilitates “dozens” of live meet-ups each week around the globe.

But losing ground to the likes of Facebook (the, err, original “Facebook for travel”) is a familiar story for those that initially had a reasonably decent community platform of travellers who were willing to send in their own recommendations and content, but soon found themselves usurped by the ubiquitous social network that catered not only travel but every aspect of everyday life.

The brand stopped tweeting in the summer of 2016 but was active on its Facebook page until the end of the year.

Like Facebook, VirtualTourist had its roots in the dorm rooms of a university (Germany’s Karlsruhe) and then made the move to Silicon Valley to broaden its appeal (and backing).

TripAdvisor came along in July 2008 and snapped up both VirtualTourist and travel comparison site OneTime for an undisclosed fee (though a widely rumoured $85 million was often bandied around in tech circles).

Members of the site will be encouraged to save any of their personal content currently held on the site and exchange contact details with fellow members before the door finally shuts.

The official says:

“Much of the rich, destination-based content found on VirtualTourist will be moved to SmarterTravel and we are hopeful that VT members will continue to stay connected via other travel communities, such as the TripAdvisor forums.”

Other brands included in the Smarter Travel Media portfolio include content sites CruiseCritic, AirfareWatchdog and HolidayWatchdog, as well as booking sites Tingo and Jetsetter.

Smarter Travel Media says no other sites are scheduled to close.

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Kevin May

About the Writer :: Kevin May

Kevin May was a co-founder and member of the editorial team from September 2009 to June 2017.



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  1. cp

    I don’t understand how Face Book could be a reason why VT will be shut down. I bet most of the VT folks don’t want to use FB anyway. VT was a very good site, and much more useable than this Smarter (how could this be) Travel.. When something is going good, why change it… oh, the decline because of FB,, i forgot..????? Maybe some folks can resurrect VT to it’s original and much better site than what’s coming now…

  2. Guillaume

    I am gutted! Just found out today about the closure of VT! I have lost over 15 years of pictures! I never thought of saving my pictures as I thought they were in a safe place. How come I have not been informed by email? Please, if there is a way a retrieve our account contents, please please tell me! Thank you.

    • Sheherezad

      I was, similarly, caught unaware.. I wasn’t active on VT during/after my life-threatening emergency asthma hospitalisation mid-August 2015 and haven’t travelled since but tried to keep up with birthdays etc. It was a complete shock not to be able to access my VT profile or travel pages. TripAdvisor has been completely unresponsive to my enquiries, via its twitter account, as to whether it has cached my travel pages, built over a decade! How irresponsible?! 😒 We weren’t even asked for our premier to move our hard-built contents to “Smarter” travel!

  3. Anita sulley

    I thought we were supposed to be notified . I only found out by chance after the fact. No opportunity to save any of my travel logs from over one hundred countries around the world. This is unbelievable . I have written for years on this site. And now with no notice
    , all my stories and photos are no more!

  4. Heidi

    Sad to see virtual tourist close down…
    This sight has been so informative from true locals not just tourists that have been there…
    I’ve also enjoyed helping those coming to my home town.

  5. Save virtualtourist

    A TA staff member posted in the forums that they are now not transferring content to SmarterTravel and instead deleting it all. So we members have started a petition to save VT or at least our content.

    • Kevin May

      Kevin May

      Why do you need to “save” your content? VT members will be reminded to save any images or copy that they have contributed to the site, so it will not be lost.

      • Save virtualtourist

        Some of us have more than 10,000 tips and 20,000 photos that we have stored and shared on vt. We do not have these saved elsewhere. We now have a little over a month to “copy and paste” all this information. We used this site as our travel blog to share information with our children, family and friends. All this hard work will be erased according to the forum post on vt.

        • Kevin May

          Kevin May

          It’s a bit of a long shot, but given the concerns people have about having to do this manually, perhaps TripAdvisor (Smarter Travel Media) may consider creating a bulk download tool for a user’s content ahead of the shut-down.

  6. Jeremy

    I have a VT profile, but have not been active in years.
    I went to TravBuddy, and like it a lot better.
    Head over to that site when VT shuts down if you’d like.

  7. Jeroen Ensink

    I am really in shock! Shutting down VirtualTourist means that 14 years of hard work will de doen the drain. Shame on TripAdvisor

    • Kevin May

      Kevin May

      @jeroen – it certainly doesn’t appear to be a popular decision, especially internally… someone with access to the VirtualTourist Facebook profile left a crying face emoticon against the story when it was posted on the Tnooz FB page.

      • Angela

        Kevin you seem to have missed the point that VT has been a travel sharing community platform that TA took over and in hindsight were trying to turn it into a booking site such as using and viator etc whereas we as members have for years been using it as our travel journalling come travel sharing via a system with travel pages, travel reviews and lots of photos – along with forums for all locations around the world and miscellaneous and technical help forums. Theyve announced to us theyre shutting us down as if we are an easy tossed insignificance piece of failed business proposition when many of us are shocked just as you would shocked if the main library or your town or locality it was being shut down and thousands of books being burnt.
        Many have been members for around 15 years and been avid travellers to many countries. so its terrible news to have to now copy everything – its not just a ‘doesnt appear to be a popular decision’
        and no TA are not offering any help whatsoever – just assuming i guess like or lump it and that will we simply move to their to put it mildly crap, rigid, user unfriendly, millions making for free out of its members main site.
        I defiinitely wont be saying one iota positive in their direction to ever be part of their profit making in the future. i will do all i can to fact find for my ongoing travels in ways that avoid Trip Advisor or anything to do with Stephen Kaupher such as Smarter Travel Media which looks for newbie travellers and rather condescending.
        Ill take the opportunity to pass on what a crap thing hes done to us and its all just for profits.
        They certainly have the money to have been kinder and offered us a better alterative to this.

        • Kevin May

          Kevin May

          @angela – i completely see the point, believe me… TA will never share figures, nor will they be released in its earnings reports, but such a closure does perhaps illustrate the tight margins in which content sites operate… If VT wasn’t making any money (what was the commercial model that made it decent money?), then why keep it open? At least that is what TA execs would be asking themselves.

  8. Andrew

    Lol. When 9 million unique a month’s isn’t enough …. TA are losing it

    • Kevin May

      Kevin May

      @andrew – …or an illustration how hard it is to monetise or get some kind of ROI on content sites.


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