Open Web Awards Travel Category Winner: VIVA Travel Guides

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The surprise winner of Mashable's Open Web Awards in the category of Best Mobile Travel Site or App is a start-up that collaboratively builds travel guides to Latin America's most exotic destinations. The company produces paper guide books, showing that the book is not dead, but the old way of creating it may be.

Intrepid travelers from around the world voted for VIVA Travel Guides, a little known travel guide company with a growing following and some big ideas on how to make the ideal travel guide for off-the-beaten trail destinations.

"When you're traveling on your own to places like Colombia, for example, you really need to be able to trust you have the latest accurate information to get around with," says VIVA's Editor in Chief Paula Newton. "Printed guidebooks are chronically out of date, and on the web, it's hard to know who really to trust."

For travelers across Latin America, the answer has been found in VIVA's burgeoning community of on-the-ground travel writers, local experts and savvy travelers, who all work towards one mission: create the most helpful up-to-date local guide available anywhere.

"We asked the question: ‘What would the travel guidebook look like if it was invented from the ground-up today, in the era of mobile connectivity, Facebook and Google?’ We concluded that the key is the community of travelers, professional travel writers, local experts and knowledgeable editors collaborating together on the web. Then, this up-to-the-minute knowledge is exported into the reader’s mobile device of choice, be it an iPhone, Kindle, or good old fashioned paper guide book,” says founder and CEO Jason Halberstadt.

The large number of votes for VIVA in the Mashable Open Web Awards validates this new model for building and distributing a guidebook. It shows that the paper book is not dead, but the old way of creating it is. It shows that travelers appreciate technology, but also appreciate always having the appropriate way to access information when they need it. It shows that today’s readers want a role in shaping the content that they read.

The Open Web Awards competition consisted of a month-long voting period. During this time, visitors to the site cast votes in fifty categories, including Mobile Travel Site or Application of the Year. The list of competitors was then narrowed down to five finalists, and a second month long round of voting was opened. Mashable is a hugely-influential technology website, with one of the highest readership levels among all blogs, and the award is one of the most prestigious ones granted to websites in the travel industry.

Contributors and editors create and update the guides Wikipedia-style, then VIVA makes it available to readers across a number of platforms. VIVA publishes continually-updated guidebooks to many countries in the South America. All of the company's content is also available online at its website, V!VA has also begun publishing its book chapters as e-book files, which can be purchased and downloaded onto mobile devices.

VIVA even provides travel writing boot camps, five-day long courses for those who wish to learn what it takes to be an guidebook writer and pursue a travel writing career. Boot camps are scheduled in Cusco, Peru and Quito, Ecuador during January 2010.

The other finalists for the Mobile Travel Site or Application of the Year Award were:

Deal Base, a website that lists hotel deals in North America;, an application that allows users to post to their travel blog from smart phones and other mobile devices;
TripIt, a site designed to organize and manage trip itineraries booked from multiple websites; and
Zagat To Go, an application which allows Zagat’s famous restaurant reviews to be accessed from a mobile device.

Other Mashable Open Web Award Mobile Category Winners were:

Best Location Based Mobile App: RunKeeper
Best Mobile App: eBuddy
Best Mobile Based Twitter App:
Best Mobile Game: Tap Tap Revenge
Best Mobile Music Site or App: Pandora
Best Mobile Social Network App: Facebook

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Jason Halberstadt
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