VirtualTourist is a free, travel-oriented community website featuring user-contributed travel guides for locations worldwide. VirtualTourist (often written VT) is one of a number of travel websites on the Web, which include websites like TripAdvisor (VT's parent company) and Cruise Critic (a sister company to VT). VirtualTourist hosts content such as tips and reviews, online forums, sells advertising and provides travel booking or link to travel booking. Because VirtualTourist derives its revenue from advertising and selling ancillary services, the general public is able to register on the site as a 'member' and use a number of the website's services at no cost.
VirtualTourist uses social media techniques to provide not just content for travel issues, but to enable a sense of community through its active travel forums. VTers regularly get together for face-to-face social events all over the world. For example, in May 2010, more than 150 VTers from around the world met in Krakow, Poland, for VT's 6th annual Euromeet.
With over a million registered members, the website offers 1.7 million travel reviews and 3.6 million photos on over 72,977 destinations.
The origin of Virtualtourist is found in a project at the University of Buffalo to provide a Web-based map of all servers on the Internet. This project was nominated for “Best Navigation Aid” at the Best of the Web Awards at the First World Wide Web Conference ever organized.
In 1996, Brandon Plewe at the University of Buffalo registered “Virtual Tourist” as a trademark in the US, but abandoned the trademark in 1997. Shortly thereafter, two German computer science students, Tilman Reissfelder and Thorsten Kalkbrenner at the University of Karlsruhe, picked up the URL with the intention of doing “something cool” with it, that something being no more precise at the time than creating a map of the world and providing places to put travel information.
By 1999, Reissfelder and Kalkbrenner had a site with a few hundred city locations with travel links that people could add to and which would reference their user profiles. The site, which had links about “Hotels, Restaurants, Things to Do”, was doing about 1.5 million page views per month from about 500,000 unique visitors.
In 1999, J.R. Johnson, an American attorney, met Reissfelder and Kalkbrenner. Together, they moved the company to the US, raised money, and relaunched Virtualtourist in late 1999 with Reissfelder as CTO and Johnson as CEO. During the 2000s, the website grew rapidly and won a number of awards and positive mentions in the mainstream press, from sources as disparate as PC Magazine, The Times, Travel and Leisure, and The Wall Street Journal.
Each destination page offers information on the local time and date, number of members living there, member tips, hotel reviews, must-see activities, restaurant reviews, local customs, nightlife, off-the-beaten path tips, tourist traps, warnings, transportation, packing lists, shopping, sports travel and general tips.
VT offers several forums - a travel forum with a top-down structure to get to each destination, a 'miscellaneous' forum and a technical help forum.
Unlike Rick Steves's website, Tripadvisor, and Cruisecritic, VT has in practice only one 'miscellaneous' or non-destination specific forum (the technical help forum is very narrowly focused on questions about the website itself). Tripadvisor, for example, has some 35 non-destination specific forums. Having only one Miscellaneous Forum has the effect of forcing the entire VT community into one area, with the result that the VT member base tends to interact a great deal.
This leads to one of the biggest differentiators between the other travel websites and VT: the high number of face-to-face meetings that, while encouraged by VT, are largely put together by the members themselves.
Members have their own travel pages with space displaying their personal writing and photographs. These homepages can be much more extensive in content when compared to the 'user profile' at Tripadvisor and other travel websites.
Top Ten lists
VirtualTourist takes advantage of its worldwide membership to periodically ask for "Top Ten" lists. These lists, humorous as well as informative, are routinely repeated in the press around the world.
On November 14, 2008, Reuters carried a story on VirtualTourist's list of the "World's Top 10 Ugliest Buildings and Monuments."  Boston City Hall came in first place. Other top ten lists have included:
- Top Ten Wild Rides for Travelers 
- Top 10 Unusual Places to Stay 
- Top 10 Good Luck Monuments
- Top 10 Unusual Places for Holiday Gifts
- Top 10 Most Unusual Foods 
- Top 10 Most Legendary Bars.
- Travel Weekly: Gold Magellan Award (2009)
- Newsweek: Featured Travel Site (2004)
- Travel + Leisure one of 35 Best Travel Sites (2004)
- Time: Recommended Travel Forum (2003)
- Yahoo!: Most Popular Guide site (2002)
- AOL: Editor's Pick (2002)
- USA Today: Hot Site (2001)
- U.S. News: Best of the Web Travel Site (2001)
- Yahoo!: Most Popular Destination Guide
Corriere della Sera (an Italian newspaper) listed VirtualTourist as one of the "big three" travel community websites in 2005 (along with TripAdvisor and Worldsurface). The newspaper commended VT for being easy to navigate, 'spartan,' equipped with a search engine to goes down to the smallest town, and really covering the world ("Facile da navigare, spartano, è dotato di un motore di ricerca che arriva alla città più piccola (esempio, Finale ligure) e copre davvero il mondo"). In addition, the paper advised Italian readers to evaluate the website by looking at the tips on their own hometowns.
In a September 2007 International Herald Tribune article about how online travel agencies like Orbitz.com were enabling the capability of users to add tips and helpful content like social networking travel websites, New York Times contributor Bob Tedeschi said, "As fast-growing as the new travel networking tools are (i.e., Orbitz.com and others), they have far to go before they challenge the category leaders, Yahoo Travel and VirtualTourist.com."
VirtualTourist members who post their own content at www.virtualtourist.com are granting a perpetual, non-exclusive copyright to VirtualTourist to use the material. Thus, no content may be posted at www.virtualtourist.com which is under another copyright (i.e., other than the member's own). Previously copyrighted material that is posted at VT without the proper permissions will be deleted as quickly as possible.
Moderation of forums
As part of the User Agreement, VirtualTourist states in part:
"VT values freedom of expression on our site but we do not guarantee the right to free speech. We believe our community will thrive when there is freedom to present what you want, but not at the expense of others."
As noted in the User Agreement, advertising, attacks on other members, racist language, abusive speech, overly political discussions unrelated to travel - all these things are deleted by the forum moderators, who are often alerted to the misuse of the forums by the members themselves.
The VirtualTourist website is in English. However, there is no requirement that the content in the tips or in the forums be restricted to English, and it is not unusual to see Spanish, French, or other world languages. The forums on Virtualtourist do not, however, support Unicode, which means that languages with non-Latin alphabets cannot be represented in their native alphabets. VirtualTourist maintains a list of volunteers who offer language help, typically to help non-native speakers of English "clean up" their tips.
- http://members.virtualtourist.com/vt/t/32/ retrieved February 12, 2010
- Virtual Tourist, Trademarkia search engine.
- Giampiero06 VT member profile (personal profile page of VT's General Manager), interview posted c. October 2012.
- 'VirtualTourist.com Selects Gomez to Enhance the Web Experience of its Online Travel Community' (press release), May 13, 2008, Sys-Con Media.
- Virtual Tourist, Crunchbase directory.
- VirtualTourist Press Compilation Video, Virtual Tourist Press Page.
- J.R. Johnson, CrunchBase. Retrieved 2011-11-25.
- TripAdvisor Acquires VirtualTourist and OneTime, Tripadvisor (press release), July 1, 2008. Retrieved 2011-11-25.
- About VirtualTourist.com, Virtualtourist.com - There are about 2,000,000 destinations in the VT database as of February 2010
- http://www.tripadvisor.com/ListForums-g1-World.html A list of these forums can be seen at this URL
- Travel Picks: 10 top ugly buildings and monuments, Nov 14 2008, Reuters.
- Edward Mason, 'Boston City Hall named world’s ugliest building', Boston Herald, November 15, 2008.
- Top 10 Wild Rides for Travelers
- Top 10 Unusual Places to Stay
- Top 10 Good Luck Monuments
- "Top 10 unusual places for holiday gifts". Stuff.co.nz. Reuters. December 22, 2008. Retrieved November 30, 2011.
- 10 of the World's Most Unusual Foods
- Top 10 Most Legendary Bars
- April 19, 2004 print edition
- http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/the-35-best-travel-sites/1 Travel + Leisure listed VirtualTourist as the best travel blog in 2004. However, VirtualTourist, like the other travel websites, provides online forums, not a blog. Blogs are generally written by individuals as a series of commentaries, while online forums have many members, and allow a higher level of collaboration.