TripAdvisor is very soon going to look a lot like your Facebook newsfeed, with a dash of Instagram here and a dollop of AirBnB and Pinterest to go with it. The reason being- it is redesigning and rebranding itself as a social network platform. Users will soon be able to create a profile through which they can share photos, videos, recommendations as well as follow friends, other travellers, and travel brands.
Why the Trip down this route?
I conducted a simple search for the hashtag #travel and it generated a result of 327 million posts on Instagram and 2000 Tweets per minute on Twitter. Conversations on travel and holidays engage users like no other.
From a consumer’s point of view, travel is an experience that people get fulfilment from by documenting and sharing with others. From a business point of view, it as an industry that runs on the backbone of recommendations because trust and reputation drive a consumer’s decision-making process. The latter part TripAdvisor already does well. TripAdvisor is responsible for $546 billion (more than 10%) of annual global tourism spending. More than half of consumers who booked their travel online visited TripAdvisor for planning and booking. Brands too take their reviews on TripAdvisor seriously working hard to earn that “Certificate of Excellence”. You surely must’ve seen them placed as a badge of honour in many places.
The next step for TripAdvisor according to Stephen Kaufer, CEO & co-founder of TripAdvisor is to “create a more personalized and connected community”.
Is that the real intention though?
In its beta version, TripAdvisor has gotten more than 500 social media influencers, well-known consumer brands, publishers and travel partners to join its platform. These brands are currently in the process of curating inspirational and informative travel content to increase their followers and help travellers improve their experience. This begs the question – is the focus of TripAdvisor shifting from users to brands?
The appeal of TripAdvisor lies in its bottom-up approach towards travel related content i.e. the word of masses. It is a heavily user generated content platform because people want to read authentic and recent experiences from real, on-the-ground travellers while researching places they want to visit. Snaps in the “traveller photos” section are more persuasive than filtered, well-framed glossy HD photos posted by travel brands.
With this new approach TripAdvisor needs to be careful to not turn user’s feeds into a stream of manufactured, stock-footage like advertorials.
What is the value proposition?
There is no denying that TripAdvisor attracts tremendous traffic on its platform (approximately 456 million unique visitors a month). But the traffic they generate is at a specific time point in the consumer’s journey i.e. while planning a trip, the moment of intent. Travel however is not a daily need. Will the platform have enough pull and stickiness to engage users on a regular basis?
It is important to note that people visit social sites for travel related activities but not for it alone. Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest are existing huge platforms that already have friends, brands, and social media influencers providing travel-related inspirations and content as one of the many offerings. It remains to be seen whether TripAdvisor will succeed in getting users worldwide to create a yet another active social media profile and engage on it only for travel on a daily basis.
TripAdvisor will also have an uphill task of convincing users to use their platform as a default medium to share their travel photos, videos, and experiences, a space that is dominated by big incumbents like Facebook and Instagram. The joy of sharing experiences lies in sharing it with people you know, people who care, and people who will respond and engage with it. So unless TripAdvisor succeeds in getting people and their social/familial networks to migrate as a whole, this may seem challenging.
What does this mean for brands?
This also begs the question- are major travel brands going to have to establish and develop a presence on an additional platform? If TripAdvisor aims to become the indispensable, must-have social travel platform, brands have to invest in yet another customer touch-point and relationship handle apart from Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Hotels, restaurants, and flights invest a lot of their time and money catering to customer queries and complaints on other platforms, it will be interesting to see how they adapt to the landscape TripAdvisor is looking to disrupt.
A trip to remember?
Creating a new social platform in a landscape with strong competitors is not an easy feat. While travel and social media go hand in hand, TripAdvisor will need to create enough unique value (that differentiates it from other platforms) for users to engage on it..that too regularly. They also need to ensure that they are adept at matching what brands and social media influencers have to offer with what consumers seek in a platform like TripAdvisor. TripAdvisor can also look at integrating existing platforms into their social feed by enabling a re-post from Instagram or Facebook or vice versa so that it saves users the effort of creating multiple posts. Furthermore, incentivising users by rewarding them with benefits in the form of travel and/or accommodation discounts/points might be a smart way to get them to generate content on their platform.
For now, all eyes are going to be on TripAdvisor to see how they navigate tricky waters to become a social media hub for travellers.