It is hard to remember a time before TripAdvisor. It was only in the year 2000 that it was established, but somehow, as the result of the impact of this web-based travel community, the world these days seems to be a different place. It is the travellers, the holiday-makers, the consumers that set the agenda.
At its most basic, TripAdvisor is a travel website – it provides directory information and reviews of all types of travel options, accommodation, attractions, tours, everywhere around the world. Latest estimates rank TripAdvisor as the most popular and largest travel community in the world, with over 32 million registered members and over 100 million reviews and ratings posted.
So what is it about this website that has made it such a major player in the world’s travel industry?
Trip Advisor was an early adopter of user-generated content. This is a form of online collaboration that was enabled by technology advances in online forums and publishing. For TripAdvisor, what this means is that its content – its directories and reviews – are all created by the users of the website itself.
This is a website that is free to use, and TripAdvisor doesn’t have to pay for the content that is generated by its users. In this context, user-generated content is seen by users as being more honest and more reliable – the reviews and ratings are posted by fellow travellers.
Of course the down-side of user-generated content is that what some people value in a travel experience may be different to what is important to you. I don’t really care if the check-in clerk at a hotel smiles at me or not – but apparently that’s a big deal to some people. Also the way that some people express their opinion can be a little intense – it’s a little like reading the comments on a popular YouTube clip, you can’t help but think that maybe these people should get out more, and crossing your fingers that your travel paths never cross.
Make or Break a Travel Business
By getting in early on the user-generated review concept, TripAdvisor has been able to build an incredible presence in the psyche of the world’s travellers. When planning a trip, when considering options, travellers will check out the TripAdvisor reviews. If you are not in the Top 5 for a location then you are going to be losing out to your competitors.
These days I probably wouldn’t base my final decision on the TripAdvisor rating alone, but it’s definitely one of the things that I would take into consideration – price, availability, suitability, and recent fellow-traveller experience, it’s a pretty potent combination that is difficult to ignore.
TripAdvisor is particularly powerful for hotels and accommodation, but any type of travel business (where you are selling similar products to your competitors) is fighting to boost their rankings on TripAdvisor. For example, city tours are a particularly competitive space and industry experience shows that TripAdvisor can drive a lot of business to a highly ranked tour – as a result tour guides are now trained in how to encourage positive TripAdvisor reviews, handing out flyers that show how to do it, sending follow-up emails to remind guests to complete their feedback. Tour guides have had to evolve into social media marketing experts.
A Blessing and a Curse
While there is a light level of corporate moderation on the site, effectively all reviews are given equal weight and this leaves TripAdvisor open to manipulation and competitor sabotage. It is extraordinarily easy to open up an account and post a fake review. There are countless stories of travel operators who pay to have positive reviews written about them, boosting their ranking on the site; or if you are envious of a competitor’s top rating, a few negative reviews can have a material impact.
TripAdvisor gives travel operators an opportunity to reply to all reviews posted, but it is difficult to prove fraud. Small businesses with only limited resources can easily be damaged by the vagaries of TripAdvisor.
But it is hard to feel a lot of sympathy for the travel industry as a whole – review and rating systems aren’t much good if only good reviews are published. Choosing a holiday destination is a really big deal for travellers – a huge investment in time, money, and emotion. Much of the travel industry seems to be skating by on ultra thin margins, relying on volume to deliver profitability. The occasional prick from a bad review is probably a helpful reminder that travellers are expecting a bit more from their holiday providers these days.
TripAdvisor has changed the game for the travel industry, and now that the power of user-generated reviews and ranking has been unleashed, we all need to find a way to navigate through this new order in the world of travel.
An Australian writer living in London, Gareth loves travel and fashion and is obsessed with water polo. You can follow Gareth on Twitter @gtvlondon
photo credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons