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I wanted to comment something on this thread but I see I have to start a new thread to do it ;). I am not in the travel business but I'm in the travel. I have a site covering a place I've been to (namely Scotland). I've been researching on this topic for the last two years from the traveller's perspective mainly, and I have come to some personal conclusions.
People are sick of commercialised travel content. They are looking for original, honest content which doesn't have an ulterior motive to sell something. Travel sites have lots of options on how to get original content for their sites but mainly for their users. Experience and recommandations from other travellers (past or present) are more believable than those coming from the travel service providers. Pictures of places do very well. Small but crucial tips that can be found on your website are also appreciated I think because it shows you're not just after the money, you do take the time to make the holiday more enjoyable for the traveller outside of your hotel etc as well as inside. (example: weather in Scotland - small but crucial tip for the oblivious traveller eager to go there).
I think this has been said before but I think it's important to first make the user like what he or she can do/see in the area and make them want to search for accommodation afterwards. In fact, most people do that, search for info on places and then search for accommodation, why not give them both straight away? The competition for "hotels in area" is far more fierce than "pictures of area", "guide of area", or "area". Don't limit yourself to putting up 1-2 pages of "things to do" but make it more personalised, romance it up a bit, stories (example: story about people who fell in love and stayed at your hotel -- made that up ;), add pictures, add people who have been there or people that one can meet while in the area, make the information stand out and be appealing to users instead of making it seem like a side dish ;).
Sorry about the long rant and for going a bit side track here :)
Look at what type of guide books sell: cheap thin stupid.
Good travel guides make perhaps 5% of total sold.
So, assuming the same characteristics apply to the offline as to the online travel market it's pretty understandable why the vast majority of sites returned in travel serps don't have any content to speak of.
They don't need to. Users get on those sites exactly what they want.
The problem however is for the rest of the travel orientated sites to compete with those sites ranking wise. At that point I have to agree with bluecorr: get specific, and get broad.
Forget the top search phrases, like location+hotel, location+flight etc. Shoot for everything else, plus all the stray traffic and you have very good chances of getting past the travel site madness