With the purchase of Frommer's and Zagat, and a push to elicit reviews from Google users, Google's travel strategy is multifaceted, although TripAdvisor's Stephen Kaufer chooses to focus on just the guidebook aspect for now.
TripAdvisor, which is feeling some heat from Google’s acquisition of Frommer’s, is disparaging the move as merely the purchase of a travel guidebook company — and a product that can’t compare to TripAdvisor’s 75 million user reviews and opinions.
Stephen Kaufer, the CEO of TripAdvisor, which has seen its stock take a hit since the Frommer’s announcement, weighed in on the maneuver to Skift:
“Google can buy a travel guidebook company, but they can’t buy a community of millions of travelers,” Kaufer says. “The reviews and opinions we have on TripAdvisor (we just announced hitting the milestone of 75 million reviews and opinions) is more than you would find in all the world’s travel guidebooks.”
Rock, paper, scissors
In other words, Kaufer is saying that user-generated content trumps expert recommendations and ratings.
“Plus,” Kaufer adds, “guidebooks are published once a year, whereas on TripAdvisor, 50 new pieces of travel advice are posted every minute. It’s that remarkable freshness and scale of content that keeps millions of users every month coming back to TripAdvisor to plan their perfect trip.”
Of course, contrary to Kaufer’s statements, Frommer’s is more than a “guidebook” as it offers a wealth of online content which gets updated periodically, although Frommer’s does rely on experts, not travelers, to formulate its star ratings for hotels.
And, unlike TripAdvisor, which has the most comprehensive roster of hotels and traveler reviews, Frommer’s won’t even rate a property if it doesn’t feel it is worth recommending.
Unverified user reviews of hotels have their own well-documented issues, of course.
Not a guidebook strategy
But, it would be a disservice to characterize Google’s efforts in the travel-content space as merely relying on acquiring a “travel guidebook company.”
Even before acquiring restaurant maven Zagat in September 2011, Google had been busy building its own base of reviews of restaurants and hotels from Google users.
However, Kaufer hammered home this line of thinking in comments to The Wall Street Journal, stating:
“It is puzzling to us that Google is going backwards to [relying on] the opinion of one—a writer—when TripAdvisor is proof that travelers like the wisdom of crowds …
And, like TripAdvisor, Google is trying to leverage social networks — for TripAdvisor it’s Facebook and for Google it’s Google+ — to build up the desired wisdom of the crowds.
And, given Google’s track record, Kaufer’s concerns are well-founded when it comes to one aspect of the Frommer’s acquisition.
“I absolutely worry,” Kaufer said, “that Google will preference Frommer’s content above organic search results to the detriment of the users’ experience and the enrichment of Google.”