We all know Tripadvisor and what the website is about. As an online review aggregator, it is not unique or alone in what it does, although it has become especially and remarkably powerful in the tourism and travel industry, and has a distinct ability to influence travellers.
Founded at the turn of the century in February 2000, Tripadvisor was one of the first internet companies to adopt user-generated content, building their business as a neutral, impartial and unbiased source of information about hotels, restaurants, attractions and experiences around the world, provided by the public. Tripadvisor earned a reputation extolling the value of the opinion of the layman, and posited themselves as a benevolent conduit for information sharing between those who wanted to experience, and those who have already done so.
Users of the website could read other traveller reviews of places and experiences, ranked on a scale of one to five stars, and peruse the rankings of ‘Things to Do’ based on popular opinion in any given city. Not surprisingly, Tripadvisor rose rapidly to popularity and, with their recognisable owl logo, green-and-white company colours, easy-to-remember name and clear corporate goal and purpose, became an indispensable cog in the machinery of the online travel community.
And as Tripadvisor’s reputation continued to grow, so did their profits. Tripadvisor made their money through a business model supported by advertising revenue, as well as an online hotel booking system. The review side, however, has always remained its most popular and recognisable feature. This is where it was trusted as an impartial aggregator of customer reviews, and a key aspect of this was that Tripadvisor included links to the websites of the companies available to review. This meant that users of the website, upon reading the reviews and making a decision to book, could do so directly with the operators of any given experience.
In 2014, Tripadvisor acquired Viator, an online platform for booking tours and other tourist experiences across the world. This was the beginning of the end for Tripadvisor’s neutrality as a review aggregator, and underlines that they are, at the end of the day, a for-profit organisation (and a successful one at that – they’ve been turning over a figure in the region of 1.5 billion USD every financial year since 2014).
Viator operated as usual for a while, until recently, when it became rebranded under the moniker ‘Tripadvisor Experiences’.
So what’s in a name?
More than just an attempt to consolidate and unify the various businesses under the Tripadvisor umbrella. The change also signified the end of any previous attempts by the American tourism giant to promote the businesses on their platform, or encourage direct booking on the part of the users of their website.
With the introduction of Tripadvisor Experiences, the website no longer features any links to the website of the companies featured. Instead, it promotes and encourages users of the formerly non-partisan review platform to book their tourist experience through Tripadvisor. Obviously this is bad news for owners and operators of businesses in the tourism industry; they’ve spent years gently urging guests on their tours to leave positive reviews on Tripadvisor, because its power as a kingmaker for holiday planners was recognised, and because in return, it directed customers to their websites and generated business. Now, and all of a sudden, that favour is gone, and business owners are left in the lurch and having to pay commissions between 25 and 30% on bookings that previously would have come straight to them.
So while it’s a slap in the face for companies in the industry, one might be tempted to wonder what difference it makes for the traveller – right? Let’s dig deeper.
Across the tourism industry in general, direct bookings for hotels and experiences are dropping, as huge agencies and booking platforms channel enormous money into monopolising the online market. The big companies like Booking.com and Hostelworld funnel massive cash into buying the best keywords on Google and the ones that established the actual experiences and work hard to run them on a daily basis miss out, slipping down SEO rankings and staring down the barrel of huge online marketing campaigns.
Now that Tripadvisor has jumped on the bandwagon of the hotly lauded ‘Experiences’ game it has joined it’s fellow goliaths in cannibalising the market – the effect of which is that operators, having to pay huge commissions to the big companies, are becoming forced to raise their prices to afford them. The pounds and dollars falling freely into Tripadvisor’s coffers mean less for the people booking and providing experiences, now and in the long run. Ultimately, it’s money in the hands of rich people sitting in air-conditioned suites in a skyscraper in Massachusetts, rather than in the pockets of those carefully planning and budgeting one of the few holidays they get to take around busy lives and schedules.
While the decision regarding who you book your accommodation or experiences with is, at the end of the day, in your hands, it can be easy to get sucked in by big names like Tripadvisor and Google advertising, especially if you’re pushed for time or planning your trip at the last minute. But if you dig a little deeper, scroll down past the Google Ads, and make an effort, the chances are you’ll find websites where you can book everything you need, direct. At the very least, this offers a helping hand to the provider of the experience – the person or group that’s on the ground level, working hard to maintain a high standard of quality – and at best, it’s an ethical way to shop and one that has a financial and economic benefit on both a personal and collective level.
At Cycle Cities, our website promotes the owners and operators of the bicycle tour business in our networks, gathering them together and allowing you – the traveller – to make an informed choice to book direct. Our website, which has negated the opportunity to sell our partner operators’ tours, instead offers information about various cities and the bike tour operators there, linking to their websites and empowering users of cyclecities.tours to shrug off the negative influences of Tripadvisor and other ‘big business’ and give the little guy a helping hand.
For the best bicycle tours across four continents (and counting) head to cyclecities.tours and make the best booking choice.
By Rob Binns