TripAdvisor isn't an online travel agency because it doesn't take flight or hotel bookings. But, given its desire to expand further into a solution for in-destination tours and activities, you can make the argument that it is a more well-rounded one-stop shop for travel than many of the travel booking sites.
TripAdvisor, which began as a place to read reviews and research a trip, and lately has morphed into hotel bookings through metasearch, has a new frontier: TripAdvisor wants to become an in-destination personal concierge.
This extension of TripAdvisor’s interest into another facet of the travel cycle comes because of the proliferation of mobile devices, and is great news for tours and activities startups, many of which have been struggling with business models or have died off.
Don’t be surprised if TripAdvisor, which often buys a handful of travel startups each year, comes knocking on the door of GetYourGuide, 18-year-old Viator (although it would be relatively expensive), or another tours and activities startup to further TripAdvisor’s in-destination ambitions.
Skift sat down with TripAdvisor CEO Stephen Kaufer earlier this week, and he described TripAdvisor’s vision of the future, which broke down into four areas: global growth, becoming an in-destination personal concierge, vacation rentals, and improving TripAdvisor search.
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Tours, Activities and Restaurants
“When you think of how smartphones are changing the way we do things, it’s that device, it’s that computer in your pocket, it’s that map in your pocket, and we think it [TripAdvisor] will be the personal travel assistant in your pocket in part for planning, but very much so in-market,” Kaufer says.
Kaufer says he recently was on vacation and used TripAdvisor’s various apps, including TripAdvisor, City Guides, GateGuru and SeatGuru, and not surprisingly he liked the experience — up to a certain point.
“The onus is on us to consolidate them,” Kaufer says. “To add more unique value that is relevant to a traveler when they are already in market that the phone can provide because it has video and it has your GPS, and it has theoretically all the information that went into the planning of the process. And, we are in such early days there. There is so much more we can do.”
He was reminded that there are a ton of tours and activities startups up for sale.
“It’s a lot of heavy lifting,” Kaufer said, referring to the tasks that tours and activities companies are charged with. “I give those companies a bunch of credit for being willing to go out and contract, and in lots of cases bringing inventory online that’s never been online before.”
If TripAdvisor can really make a run at the tours and activities market, in addition to providing restaurant reviews and recommendations in-destination while people are traveling, then despite the fact that it is not an online travel agency, TripAdvisor will have much of the travel cycle covered.
That includes travel inspiration (see the site’s redesign), trip research (reviews), hotel booking metasearch-style, and now in-destination activities.
And TripAdvisor already is involved somewhat in post-trip activities, asking guests at a hotel’s request, to write reviews, for example.
Only Reaching 10% of Travelers
Worldwide growth, though, is undoubtably TripAdvisor’s key objective moving forward.
“First remains the worldwide growth objective,” Kaufer says. “Knock on wood, we are super-strong in a whole bunch of markets, reasonably well-known. We think we are only hitting about 10% or 11% of travelers who are online each month so that is 90% who aren’t visiting TripAdvisor.
“We are super-strong in a bunch of markets, and not-so strong in other markets. Expanding the number of travelers who consult TripAdvisor every time they are planning a trip, we think we have the value proposition.”
That Other Type of Lodging
Expanding in vacation rentals is also on TripAdvisor’s agenda, and despite some acquisitions, including FlipKey and Holiday Lettings, it hasn’t really excelled as rivals HomeAway and Airbnb have advanced.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see TripAdvisor acquire a vacation rental site to expand its geographic reach.
Vacation rentals is a “great market for us to use our brand trust and our traffic to introduce travelers who haven’t really gone the vacation rental route,” Kaufer says. “It is an excellent lodging option that we continue to build.”
There’s Something Missing In Search
The fourth item on TripAdvisor’s roadmap, improving TripAdvisor’s inspirational search, is probably the most surprising.
“As powerful as TripAdvisor is for representing all things user-generated content, and as helpful as our Facebook connection is to get the wisdom of your friends, there is still something missing in terms of, hey TripAdvisor, help me with my week-long vacation in the Caribbean,” Kaufer says. “If you type in “dream vacation to the Caribbean” in our search box, God help you. I’m sure it is not a particularly pleasant experience.”
Kaufer argues that no travel site in the world does a great job with such inspirational search, and it is really a tough proposition.
“What does a city dweller in Germany want for that vacation versus Steve with his umpteen kids coming from Boston, versus the honeymooners?” Kaufer says. “There are very different answers. TripAdvisor probably has in our database the right answer for all trip types, but we don’t quite show it yet as good as a travel agent who knows you well.”
There aren’t many travel companies focusing on travel inspiration these days because it is too far away from the transaction, and many travel inspiration startups have failed.
Still, improving inspirational search does make sense for TripAdvisor given its use for many travelers who are just beginning the trip-planning process.
So there you have it: TripAdvisor has visions of becoming a traveler’s personal travel agent with more personalized recommendations before the trip using its Big Data; it wants to help you book your hotel, and it has aspirations of developing into a mobile concierge once the traveler arrives at the destination.
TripAdvisor is going full-circle.