Thursday, 26 February 2015

* How TripAdvisor changed the way we travel

Rebecca Byng
When booking flights and searching for somewhere to stay or to eat, technology is the sole driver of the process.

Gone are those days when we were sat in a stuffy travel agent’s on a Saturday afternoon looking at brochures: the world of travel has changed for good.

Planning and booking a whole holiday can now be done from a mobile phone – it’s more accessible to the world than ever before. We can now rate hotels, restaurants and attractions, then leave comments and reviews about our good - or not so good experiences.

Of course this also means we have a wealth of travellers' opinions to reflect on in the form of thousands of reviews. As TripAdvisor celebrates 15 years in the business - are we less adventurous because of pre-reading this information before travelling?

No, says Barbara Messing, Chief Marketing Officer at TripAdvisor. “Some people can be anxious when planning a trip and the reviews help inform them make them feel more confident.”

Staff can’t post positive reviews of their own hotels; the site has special management that prevents bias and fake reviews from the public. Every review goes through their tracking system, where specialists investigate every review that is flagged for inspection by the system, and act on any reports the get from our community.

According to TripAdvisor spokesperson James Kay, "Because we have been tracking reviews for well over a decade we can spot what is normal reviewer behaviour and what isn’t".

So what happens when a hotel sees a bad review from a user?

“There are two sides to every story,” says Barbara, “we believe in transparency and owners and managers have the responsibility to reply to such comments.”

The amount of information now available at our fingertips allows us to make decisions on the go, as opposed to walking round with a guidebook or relying on out-dated information.

This system has also influenced the way the travel industry works. Barbara says: “It’s unique, as there is no other resource to give real reviews on your trip.”

In 2000, there were 677 million international tourist arrivals, by 2012 that number had grown to over 1 billion.

The biggest change is that everything is now mobile – and this is just as positive for the businesses as it is for the consumer. Companies are more accessible, allowing for a much more global profile.

TripAdvisor has an online community of its own, and this user-generated content is what consumers often value more than the information provided by businesses themselves.

TripAdvisor CEO, Steve Kaufer, believes that the site’s biggest impact has been to level the playing field in the hospitality sector, “The transparency of having millions of reviews written by travellers means great products and services can rise over the marketing budgets that push touched up photos.”

In 15 years the world’s largest travel site has raked in more than 200 million reviews. The total word count of all these reviews stands at more than 10 billion. MariaAA is the longest serving member of the TripAdvisor community, having joined the site in 2002. There are more restaurants (2.4 million) listed on TripAdvisor than hotels (915,000). The majority of TripAdvisor’s site traffic now comes from outside the US.

The first ever TripAdvisor traveller review was of Captain’s House Inn in Chatham, Massachusetts, which earned a rating of 4 bubbles. Since then, the number of traveller reviews and opinions has accelerated around the world, up 2,000% in the last 10 years, and up 60% since last year.

So how will our habits adapt to the fast-pace of technological advances?

Adam Medros, Vice President of Global Products, believes personalisation will play a key role in how we travel, “I think potential for personalised features that leverage a mass of data to give tailored results is huge. If it is smartly done and intuitive, it will feel less like a service and more like a travel companion.”

However new technologies affect the way we travel in the future, the review system is one we rely on more and more. Steve Kaufer says “Little did we know at the time what a huge decision that would turn out to be.”

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