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Skift Take

TripAdvisor’s metamorphosis is category-changing, heralding the advent of the pseudo online travel agency/booking site. Hotels that choose to be the powers behind Book on TripAdvisor are creating an alternative to the currently more expensive online travel agencies but they are making the already powerful TripAdvisor even more of a force.

— Dennis Schaal

Almost overnight and ahead of TripAdvisor’s second quarter earnings report July 23, TripAdvisor has made the transition into a true booking site with a majority of its hotel listings on the first page for cities from Chicago to New York and Miami touting options for travelers to Book on TripAdvisor without leaving the site.

On TripAdvisor’s first page of listings for hotels in Chicago, 26 of the 31 listings have a Book on TripAdvisor choice. On the first New York page, 23 of 26 listings enable user to Book on TripAdvisor without leaving the site.

TripAdvisor now says that one-third — 235,000 hotels — viewable on its site can now be booked right on TripAdvisor.

Many of the Book on TripAdvisor options come through partnerships with Accor hotels, Best Western, Mandarin Oriental, Choice Hotels, Carlson Rezidor Hotels, and Preferred Hotels & Resorts, as well as, individual properties or independents, including The James Chicago, Citizen M and Row NYC Hotel in New York City, and Trump International Hotel Las Vegas. Some of these partnerships have been previously announced; others are believed to be new.

Some of the new hotel direct-booking partners, including Mandarin Oriental, Langham Hospitality, and Americinn, were not announced until TripAdvisor released its earnings this afternoon.

TripAdvisor has announced that Marriott is waiting in the wings to be implemeted as a partner for Instant Booking, as the program is formally known in the travel and hospitality industry, and a Hyatt partnership will soon be announced, as well.

For some hotels that aren’t directly partnering with TripAdvisor, online travel agencies such as Getaroom and TripAdvisor’s own Jetsetter are providing the customer service when consumers book directly on TripAdvisor sites.

Category-Changing

The TripAdvisor transformation is category-changing as it has become a booking site without all the heavy lifting of having to become the merchant of record or hiring customer service staff because the partner takes care of these tasks. TripAdvisor becomes a pseudo online travel agency along with a media and user-review site.

For hotels participating in Book on TripAdvisor, they are accumulating bookings at 12 or 15 percent commission, which is considerably less than what they would otherwise have to pay to sites such as Expedia and Booking.com.

This head-spinning transition of TripAdvisor takes it from primarily a promoter of pop-up windows for booking sites in its infancy to a metasearch provider of pay-per-click leads to hotels and online travel agencies a couple of years ago, and now to a booking site featuring Book on TripAdvisor as a dominant alternative among third-party booking options for users.

It is great news for the still-pending Expedia-Orbitz merger as TripAdvisor will be seen by the U.S. Department of Justice as an emerging and viable alternative to Expedia Inc.’s Expedia.com, Hotels.com, Travelocity and Orbitz, as well at The Priceline Group’s Booking.com-Priceline.com. Although it took TripAdvisor awhile to get these partnerships going, it is now scaling Book on TripAdvisor rapidly.

For TripAdvisor, the changes mean it can get higher rates of conversion of lookers into bookers because it is more convenient for customers to complete the transaction on TripAdvisor than to have to navigate to third-party sites of varying quality. This will be especially true on mobile, where conversions usually lag the desktop.

Similar Book on TripAdvisor options are now available in the TripAdvisor app although these booking choices appear to tilt heavier toward online travel agency partnerships than direct hotel relationships for now. Two of the biggest online travel agencies — Booking.com and Expedia — participate in TripAdvisor metasearch but are boycotting Book on TripAdvisor out of competitive concerns.

Partners Now Getting More Prominent Branding

TripAdvisor’s transition into a booking site comes with higher-profile branding for its partners than TripAdvisor initially offered. The new branding includes verbiage such as “TripAdvisor With AccorHotels” on the first search results page.

tripadvisor_with_accorhotels

On the room-selection page you’ll see the hotel brand’s logo and the words, “We have teamed up with AccorHotels.com (or Radisson Blu or Mandarin Oriental etc.) to find you the best room.”

we_have_teamed_with_accorhotels.com

On the final booking page TripAdvisor informs customers that “AccorHotels.com will provide customer service for this reservation.” With the TripAdvisor and hotel logo serving as bookends, the message then appears: “TripAdvisor has partnered with AccorHotels.com to bring you this deal.”

accor_will_provide_customer_service

Other metasearch sites, including Kayak several years ago and Hipmunk, have offered booking options on their respective sites. Like TripAdvisor, the much smaller Hipmunk is aggressively going down this road.

But while Kayak and Hipmunk partnered predominantly with online travel agencies as booking partners on the metasearch sites, TripAdvisor is aggressively becoming more of a channel for hotels as booking partners.

Hotels that choose to be the powers behind Book on TripAdvisor are creating an alternative to distribution through the currently more expensive online travel agencies but in doing so they are making the already powerful TripAdvisor even more of a force.

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