Travel sites are in fashion this spring, with new sites adding at a steady pace. Finnish travel site TripSay is just the latest to emerge, for example, with ways to share tips about travel. It’s still in closed testing, but it plans to open to the public in a few months.

With hundreds of travel sites now existing — ranging from the big ones like Expedia to the small, single-author blogs dedicated to travel — how are they all going to make money?

Well, enter Travel Ad Network, TAN, which wants to help place ads at all these sites. It just raised $15 million from Rho Ventures, Village Ventures and individuals. The money will be used to increase advertising across travel websites. The company says it is serving 50 sites already. This could mean that some of these flavor-of-the-times sites may eventually make some money.

But being a traveler online is not always glamorous. While testing the basic features of TripSay, I was met with: “Cecilia has been to 5 places and is thus described as “Random tourist”. Next level at 10 ratings.”

Huh? It’s early days still for TripSay, so let’s cut it some slack. It works as a social community where as a member, you create and personalize your profile. You’re asked to list places you have been and rate them with a five-point smiley system. The ratings appear as icons on a world map. Only placing a few ratings will result in being dubbed the “Random tourist” — not a very admirable introduction for someone who has traveled the world. If you’re patient, and add a couple of hundred places, you’ll eventually earn a nickname like “Columbus.” However, quality of ratings might suffer if new users feel rushed to fill in information to avoid that initial rude description.

When you connect to other people on the site you can see their ratings and share their traveling tips. You can also discover new destinations via a search engine. So far, there are about 260,000 cities, places, restaurants, hotels and sights in the database. By searching a city you will find ratings and tips from other members. Clicking the “place details” function will show a full list of visiting members. You can connect one-on-one or simply read the tips from users that are close to your own profile. There are also useful links to other web sources of information, such as Wikipedia, Lonely Planet or Time Out.

TripSay doesn’t easily recognize small places or different parts of a city, which is problematic. If I want to rate Mission differently from Pacific Heights, I first have to add the two different places myself on the San Francisco map. This is tedious and I’m already stressed about getting rid of that random tourist title. There is a risk that the audience of adventurers are already off to seek more action in the offline world.

TripSay has funding from the Finnish government founding agency TekEs and Finnish venture capital firm Veraventure. The start-up is run by six people in Helsinki, Finland. The main revenue will stem from advertisement and commission on sales generated through those ads.

It will be interesting to watch whether the development of travel-focused ad networks like TAN result in a break-through for monetizing travel sites. TAN got the funding to expand its ad broker sales staff and continue growth in Europe.

Nevertheless, TripSay faces strong competition from sites like Dopplr, TripIt, Driftr; and WAYN. Dopplr is more targeted at business travelers that want to share travel plans with friends and colleagues. TripIt is also more focused on the itinerary documentation online, whereas Driftr and WAYN offer similar ranking and log book features as TripSay, with personal profiles alongside general information. If you’re in the travel site business, it doesn’t look as if you’ll have time for any traveling in the near-time.

To get access to the test, the first 200 readers who are interested can get an invite by sending an email to info@tripsay.com with the subject “Venturebeat.”

[photo: Warner Home Video]