TripAdvisor has been running for 12 years and has evolved into one of the world’s best travel resources. It is also a leading example of an online community, user-generated content and successful SEO.
Without a doubt, the brains behind this online community are worth their weight in gold – they have created a business model where they provide a free platform for the public to share travel recommendations and a handy booking service all under one roof, in return for revenue streams related to those travel bookings and online advertising.
They realised (well before the advent of other social media sites) that humans are a naturally collaborative species and word of mouth amplified through the internet was a great idea. Cleverly, travellers invest a lot of their time to create useful content (to help their fellow man) and at the same time, give invaluable feedback to the creators of TripAdvisor about how the functionality of the site could be improved.
Sounds perfect right? Well, actually there are many pro’s and con’s for the travel industry. Here is my summary (with my travel marketers hat on).
TripAdvisor has an extensive database of information about hotels, resorts, airlines and restaurants that form the backbone to their review engine. This has driven very high levels of visits from consumers because it is so convenient to view all this information in one place. This also appeals to the marketer because more eye balls = more sales opportunities.
Safety in numbers
Thanks to the millions of hours that holiday makers have invested in contributing to the site, TripAdvisor now has over 50 million reviews and opinions. This is a staggering amount of content. This appeals to consumers because review sites need to be trustworthy - the adage of “safety in numbers’” comes to mind.
TripAdvisor has employed many strategies from the gaming industry – profile pictures, connecting to social networks (via Facebook friend activity), intrinsic rewards for top contributors with “senior contributor” badges etc.
How many of the 50 million reviews are genuine and accurate? As a regular contributor to the site, I have noticed that there are no effective checks to ensure that I have actually been to a particular venue before providing my review, or that my review reflects the reality of the experience. After complaints from the travel industry, the Advertising Standards Authority in the U.S. investigated this issue and asked TA to remove the words “reviews you can trust” from their site. Consumers can now proceed with caution.
The big picture
Like Facebook, TripAdvisor has a vested interest in making it difficult for you to export raw data from their platform. Put simply, they own the data and the insights that can be gleaned from it. If you represent a hotel, you can use a widget to display those reviews on your site, but nothing else. This is a major pain for a travel agents that represent many hotels who want to see the big picture.
On first glance, the TripAdvisor site seems to have every feature imaginable and this is no doubt due to the number of years that reviews have been collected and the collaboration of one of the largest online communities in the world. The scoring systems (value, location, sleep quality, rooms, cleanliness, service), filters (holiday type, language) and sorting (date, score) functionality are deliberately generic in order for them to meet the needs of the global travel industry. But this generic layout may not suit the niche travel company. For example, a tour operator that specialises in Pacific Island getaways may want their customers to be able to rate the quality of the sand, ocean, snorkelling or food.
So what is the answer?
The perfect middle ground could be the development of a review site that is connected to your booking system. This would ensure that only genuine customers are asked to review a hotel, thereby reducing the risk of fake reviews (positive or negative). It could also be designed to meet the needs of the travel agent with the best functionality for that industry niche.
By controlling the platform, you also have ownership of all the data for reporting and analysis. This could provide insights that are not readily available from TripAdvisor. For example, performance reports for hotels in a region based on different criteria (NPS, price, service etc) or content analysis from free text comments to identify the most common compliments or complaints for a particular destination. This type of insight can help to transform a travel operator by identifying problems and leveraging off from successes (which hotels to recommend to customers).
What do you think are the pros and cons of TripAdvisor?