Silicon Beach: Tripatini Connects Travelers

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Tripatini, founded last year in March by Miamians Jose Balido and Dave Appell, is a unique social networking site for travelers. The website launched in late August and was dubbed "Facebook for travelers" by the New York Post.

Silicon Beach spent some time on the phone with Balido discussing the fledgling but already buzzing online community. "We sensed a need in people who communicate about travel," he said. "There are many social media sites for specific types of travel, but there was not one site for everybody -- whether they be a backpacker, a travel journalist, or a flight attendant."

To date, Tripatini has 1,743 members. The number is low because the site is still young, but many of the members are highly influential. "We have representatives from national tourism boards, hundreds of leading travel journalists, travel agents, trade associations, and so on -- many from different countries," Balido explained.

Tripatini, which is free to join, serves as a gigantic travel forum. The average traveler can take advantage of different groups to gather answers from other travelers and travel professionals. But also, those same professionals can network with one another.

Currently, there are 300 interest groups that are relevant to all 50 states and 150 foreign country groups. The site also focuses on special interest topics for activity-specific travel such as skiing, diving, and golf vacations.

"Let's say you want to go France," said Balido. "You join the site, go to the France group, and post a query like 'I want to spend two weeks in Paris and need a reasonably priced hotel.' Tripatini then becomes a one-stop shop for answers, as you get intelligence from different sources. Obviously, hotels who have a stake in the business will answer, but so will other travelers and journalists."

It has other social networking functions such as private chat and email. "Some of our members have written privately to guidebook writers for answers," Balido claimed.  "New Zealand comes to mind."

The social networking site isn't just about information. They'd like to see the online community grow to real-life connecting, with a promise of a Miami party soon.

Balido, a native Miamian returning from a stint in New York, and Appell, a New York transplant, have been living in the 305 since 2002. Currently, there's a Florida group with a Miami subgroup of 70 members. "We'll throw a Miami party at some point," Balido said. "We had a very successful party in London during the World Travel Market convention. About 50 Tripatini members got together."

Tripatini is also on Twitter (@tripatini) and has a Facebook fan page.

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