By Daniel E. Craig, Reknown
There have been a lot of changes at TripAdvisor recently, and if you’re not keeping up you’re probably missing out on opportunities. In this exclusive interview with Reknown, Brian Payea, TripAdvisor’s head of industry relations, brings us up to speed on the latest developments on the world’s largest travel website.
From Business Listings fees to Instant Booking to the new Just For You search filter, Payea discusses the latest data on worldwide travel trends, TripAdvisor’s evolution as a total trip planning and booking site, and how hotels and travel businesses can adapt and thrive.
Brian Payea: It’s true, each quarter we see significant growth across multiple areas of the business. Currently, TripAdvisor attracts a remarkable 375 million unique monthly visitors and has more than 250 million reviews across over 5.2 million accommodation, restaurants and attractions listed on the site.
You and I have been talking about reputation management for years, and it seems the industry is finally listening. In a recent TripBarometer Survey of over 10,000 hospitality businesses worldwide, online reputation management was identified as the top investment priority in 2015. How should this investment be prioritized?
Online reputation is something business owners have really started to address over the past five years and if anything, its importance is growing. As you mentioned, this year three in five hoteliers globally reported that they were planning to invest more in online reputation management, the most notable increase in investment of any aspect reported on in our annual TripBarometer study. In fact, one in four (26%) said they planned to spend ‘much more’ on this area in 2015.
The reason behind this dramatic increase in investment is clear – when asked which elements they feel are central to the future of their business, online reputation management is cited as important by 95 percent of hoteliers.
There’s no question that sites like TripAdvisor play a big part in determining a business’ online reputation, so it’s essential for owners and managers to be actively engaged with their profile on the site. First and foremost, owners need to dedicate time to managing their presence, keeping their profile up to date, uploading photos and responding to reviews.
When it comes to investment, TripAdvisor offers choice so that hoteliers can pick the tools and solutions that are most suitable to them. A Business Listing subscription is the best way to complete a hotel’s profile on the site, posting Special Offers to stand out from the competition and ensuring those all important contact details are at the fingertips of travellers searching for a place to stay on TripAdvisor.
Instant booking is changing the game for consumers who want to make their accommodation reservation on the same website they know and love for reviews.
There has been a lot of grumbling about increases in the cost of Business Listings. With so many options in digital marketing, why should it still be a priority?
Research has proven that the TripAdvisor audience has very high purchase intent – according to a recent comScore study, over forty percent of online hotel bookers in nine of our top markets visited TripAdvisor at some point prior to booking.
For many small and independent properties that don’t have the marketing power that a hotel group or chain might have, being listed on TripAdvisor already gives them access to a huge international audience of potential guests. Taking the next step and completing their profile with contact details and Special Offers via a Business Listing makes them that much more visible and attractive – our TripBarometer research shows that almost half (45%) of travellers say special offers plan an important role in their accommodation booking decisions. The Business Listing also ensures travellers viewing the property page on TripAdvisor can get in touch with the hotel right away.
Business Listings are priced specific to the hotel or bed & breakfast. Instead of generalized rate structure, the pricing is tailored to the individual property. The rate is calculated based on a number of factors, including among other things, the location and size of the property, the average daily room rate (factoring in seasonality), the number of page views the property receives on TripAdvisor and the potential return on investment the property could generated through their Business Listing. Obviously these factors all vary considerably depending on the hotel or bed & breakfast. The annual subscription cost is designed to represent the value that Business Listings delivers to each individual property.
Offering choice is key to us. We want to empower businesses to optimize their exposure on TripAdvisor, finding the solution that is most appropriate for their business. So for those owners that prefer a different type of marketing solution, they can participate in the Hotel Price Comparison on TripAdvisor by providing their real-time rates and availability via their connectivity partner. Once connected, they’re able to drive traffic to their site by bidding against other distribution channels (e.g. OTAs) in a cost-per-click model or add a ‘Book on TripAdvisor’ button next to their rates and availability to capture bookings directly from TripAdvisor, paying a commission on completed stays.
We believe that, used together, participating in instant booking and subscribing to Business Listings can help properties attract and retain customers through every stage of the booking process – from inspiration to research to booking.
TripAdvisor first launched its instant booking platform to U.S. consumers in June 2014, with a gradual roll out to other international markets expected over time. The platform provides a more efficient hotel booking experience for travelers.
With instant booking, travelers simply have to click on the “Book on TripAdvisor” button to initiate a reservation. TripAdvisor reminds consumers throughout the process that their booking is powered by the hotel and provides the traveler with links and phone numbers to contact the hotel’s customer service associates directly. Unlike with other intermediaries, the entire guest relationship is managed and owned by the hotel.
Independent hoteliers can participate in instant booking via their existing technology provider, such as their online booking engine, channel manager or central reservation system. These ‘connectivity partners’ complete a certification process in order to power instant booking for their hotel partners.
TripAdvisor expanded Instant Booking in Q1 of this year to some mobile phone users in the UK, Australia, Canada, Ireland, and New Zealand. We’re honing a more seamless booking experience on TripAdvisor, and we’re working hard to enable all English-speaking countries.
We continue to grow our travel content and community, partner with leading travel players in each of the markets we operate in, as well as create innovations in our products and platform to make TripAdvisor more valuable for both consumers and businesses. Instant booking is the latest of those innovations.
TripAdvisor has evolved from being primarily a hotel review site to becoming a site where you can plan and book every aspect of your trip.
But as far as we’re concerned, we prefer the media model. We want travellers to be able to come to TripAdvisor to be inspired, read reviews, compare options and prices and, ultimately, book. We’re happy to facilitate that reservation while our partners fulfill the request vs. an OTA model where the booking is handled 100 percent through the OTA. Our goal is to make it easy for travelers to make a booking through whichever hotel, OTA or supplier they choose.
As our CEO Stephen Kaufer said on our most recent Earnings call, we’re also investing more resources in delivering value to users throughout all phases of travel planning and trip taking. This is evidenced by the lafourchette and Viator acquisitions in 2014 helping us to improve consumers’ booking experience when it comes to restaurants and attractions.
Our latest TripBarometer report focused on the growing subset of Connected Travelers – those travelers who have used their smartphone to plan or book travel. Reaching these Connected Travelers presents a big opportunity for travel and hospitality businesses.
Smartphones are now an essential travel companion: 81% of Connected Travelers use their mobile to get directions and use maps while on a trip, 72% use their mobile to look for restaurants and one in two use it to look for accommodation options on the go.
While mobile booking is still relatively low when it comes to accommodations, it’s growing at a rapid rate – in 2014, four percent of TripBarometer respondents booked their lodging using a mobile app. This year, that percentage has doubled to eight percent. And looking strictly at Connected Travelers, it rises to 11 percent. More importantly perhaps, for those travelers that do book accommodation via a mobile device, it’s becoming habitual – one in four Connected Travelers say they use their smartphones to book hotels routinely and one in five say they chose to book via mobile because of the ease and speed.
While a lot of hoteliers have already begun to make changes to their mobile offerings in order to reach Connected Travelers, there is still room for improvement. Thirty four percent of smartphone-loving Connected Travelers want a mobile check-in option yet only 11% of lodgings are currently offering this option globally.
The new default “Just For You” filter significantly changes how hotels are listed in search results on TripAdvisor. Can you explain how it works?
‘Just for You’ is the evolution of hotel search on TripAdvisor. When travelers search hotels in a particular destination, they are presented with a variety of tags allowing travelers to select their travel preferences, such as travel style, location, price range, hotel class, amenities and brand. TripAdvisor takes this feedback into account, along with the traveler’s prior research and contributions on the site, to deliver customized hotel results unique to that traveler. The beauty of this feature is the machine learning that takes place, allowing us to drive a more accurate set of recommendations for every subsequent user. Over time, we want to be everyone’s personal travel guide, whether someone is looking for a place to stay, a place to eat, or something to do while on their trip.
How important are Popularity Index rankings now that “Just for You” is the default option and there are six other ranking options? I’ve heard from a few top-ranking hotels that they have seen a significant drop in visitor volume.
The TripAdvisor Popularity Index is incredibly powerful in recognizing properties that deliver great hospitality experiences according to the wisdom of the crowds. But the hotels that are at the top of the list may or may not be the best hotel for you for a particular trip for a variety of reasons – such as budget, location, hotel style, availability, or amenities. Just for You is meant to help each user find the ideal hotel for their individual preferences and needs that they selected.
The Popularity Index is still relevant – it helps users understand the relative ranking of each hotel – while Just for You helps narrow the consideration set to the best properties that are right for you. Travelers can toggle between personalized results using the Just for You sort and overall Popularity Index rankings.
How can hotels increase their visibility in Just for You search results? Does participation in Business Listings, Instant Booking or other paid products help?
Commercial relationships with hotels do not factor into our algorithm in any way. We do not give preference to hotels that spend money with TripAdvisor, whether they buy cost-per-click or display advertising from us, participate in instant booking or subscribe to Business Listings.
Hotels that fall into certain travel preference classifications, as a result of their reviews, amenities or even the kind of neighborhood in which they are located, are more likely to be visible in the Just for You search results for travellers who have selected the relevant tags.
OTAs aren’t shy about touting that their reviews are verified, whereas TripAdvisor’s are not. What is TripAdvisor’s position on verified reviews? Now that transactions are possible on the site, do you intend to start identifying verified reviews?
We do not verify reviews. However, every single review does go through our automated tracking system, which maps the how, what, where and when of each review. Every review that is flagged for inspection by that system is then manually reviewed by our team of content specialists, who work 24/7 to maintain the quality of the reviews on our site.
If a verification model was better for consumers, we would have adopted it years ago. We have considered all of the verification options out there, and have elected to use our current model for one simple reason: the volume of opinions provides for the most in-depth coverage of consumer experience, and it is the model that consumers prefer.
We have a lot of reviews on TripAdvisor, and some are tied to a transaction and others aren’t. This is because we believe that every experience counts, not just the experience of the person who paid the bill. For example, if four friends go out to dinner there will be four different opinions but under a verified model only the one person with the receipt would be able to leave a review. We don’t think that’s fair.
Requiring a receipt to write a review also wouldn’t prevent the most common type of fraud attempted – property boosting – as nobody has better access to receipts than a property owner themselves.
To learn more about TripAdvisor check out:
- TripAdvisor Insights
- Eight Service Strategies for Earning Five-star Reviews
- Eight Key Strategies for Climbing TripAdvisor Rankings
- How to Manage TripAdvisor Reviews