Wikipedia is one of the world’s most popular websites and, in the eyes of some, was largely responsible for the demise of Encyclopaedia Britannica.

The good news for publishers: the market for encyclopedias is relatively small, so Wikipedia’s popularity has had a relatively limited commercial impact.

The bad news for players in the travel space: the Wikimedia Foundation’s entry into online travel may have broader commercial implications.

As reported by Skift’s Rafat Ali, the organization is preparing to launch a new travel site as early as next week. According to a goals document, the new site, dubbed Wikivoyage, will, amongst other things:

  • Serve as a resource for travelers looking for “lodging, transportation, food, nightlife, and other necessities.”
  • Provide destination reviews, itineraries and reservation information.
  • Enable the creation of ad-hoc travel guides, “small fit-to-purpose travel books that match a particular itinerary.”

Like its cousin Wikipedia, the intent is to run Wikivoyage as an entirely non-commercial endeavor.

The Wikimedia Foundation hopes that its site will contain information about and links to relevant commercial enterprises that serve travelers, such as hotels and restaurants, but does not want Wikivoyage to serve as an “advertising brochure” or “Yellow Pages.”

Cause for concern?

Obviously, Wikivoyage won’t be the only non-commercial travel resource on the web, but given the vast audience the Wikimedia Foundation has access to through Wikipedia, one has to assume that Wikivoyage could become a very popular resource in a relatively short period of time, especially if it’s able to parlay some of Wikipedia’s Google juice.

If Wikivoyage does take off, its non-commercial nature could make it a problem for commercial players in the online travel space.

From booking sites that earn commissions when they connect travelers and airlines, hotels and car rental companies to publishers that create and sell travel guides, a strong non-commercial travel destination that’s rich in content and hard to market through (at least in a direct way) could create a less-than-desirable dynamic for commercial players in the market.

Putting Wikipedia’s model, and clout, to the test

While the Wikimedia Foundation may be a formidable competitor, Wikivoyage could prove far less disruptive than it might seem destined to be. The Wikipedia model may be good enough for a virtual encyclopedia, but would it produce enough high-quality resources to earn the trust of travelers? Existing travel sites with user-generated content may remain more attractive to travelers until that question is answered.

Additionally, the Wikimedia Foundation’s clout is somewhat questionable. According to a recent study, Wikipedia is losing editors and while that may be due, in some part, to a growing focus on improving the quality of content.

For Wikivoyage to succeed, it would seem that the organization will need to find a way to use the Wikipedia army in some fashion, something that may prove easier said than done.