TripAdvisor – No Longer the Google of Travel
I received my TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence again today for my little one man tour company that explains the indigenous and Spanish roots to modern traditions in central Mexico. The irony was not lost on me since this week TripAdvisor also released their new user interface. Since I don’t book through them, I’m now nearly impossible to find. No longer is TripAdvisor an objective and unbiased resource for travelers and vacation planners. Pity.
In an effort to increase profit TripAdvisor has altered its ecosystem to promote what TripAdvisor calls “Sponsored Placements” above all other traveler options for hotels, restaurants, tours, activities and attractions. In exchange for seamlessly and endlessly advertising Sponsored Placements, TripAdvisor receives 40% of the cost and delays payment to the service provider for three months. All business owners know it is never good to have another company between you and your clients.
For someone like me, that has a variety of options, I prefer to engage with folks to find out where their interests lie and point them in the right direction. Plus I loathe the notion of having some faceless company assigning my tours’ dates and times. TripAdvisor doesn’t know the impact of weather or certain local events, like I do.
For others the new system is a godsend. I’ve a pal that does two of the same horseback riding tours daily. By having TripAdvisor promote her she’s greatly increased tour guests to more than compensate for TripAdvisor’s hefty percentage and glacial timing with payment.
The new system is not a surprise as TripAdvisor purchased a reservation software company in 2018 so the writing was on the wall. The part that surprised me was how aggressive TripAdvisor became with literally hiding hotels, activities, attractions, etc. that don’t pay them thus completely defeating the point of TripAdvisor being an unbiased and objective research option for travelers. The conflict of interest is blatant.
Sidebar: TripAdvisor was forced by the courts to remove the words “trusted” or “truth” in their tag line which now simply states the more mundane “The world’s largest travel site.”
TripAdvisor’s top management stresses they are objective as they are maintaining their ranking structure and this is true. I’m still the number one private tour guide in my area according to TripAdvisor. You just need the sleuthing skills of Hercule Poirot to actually find my listing on TripAdvisor after a screen by screen bombardment to instead go to a vendor that pays TripAdvisor.
The money and man hours companies spent encouraging over 45 million clients to leave TripAdvisor reviews trusting TripAdvisor to remain neutral is in question. The benchmark of being highly rated by clients becomes rather pointless if they can’t find you unless nearly half your earnings go to TripAdvisor.
For large hotels and attractions another big issue is security. If TripAdvisor has control and access over a business’ proprietary booking data, what if that data becomes shared by TripAdvisor with the competition in that exact market?
As a TripAdvisor user the immediate impact is twofold. One is your access to options is now limited as seeing all your options, not just the ones TripAdvisor is paid to advertise, is difficult, to say the least. The second is you’ve lost an immense resource that helped you to objectively research your travel options. I liked looking at a hotel and learning the pool is nice but rooms noisy from the adjacent highway. Finding that information for a hotel that isn’t paying TripAdvisor is much harder to come by.
And, naturally, as a consumer you can expect a sharp increase in travel costs as the expense of advertising on TripAdvisor will filter down to you. I’ve already seen it in my little world as, for other local tour offerings, the cost of two hour tour has quadrupled.