Hundreds of the travel industry’s most-forward-thinking executives will gather for our third annual Skift Forum Europe in London on April 30. In just a few years, Skift's Forums — the largest creative business gatherings in the global travel industry — have become what media, speakers, and attendees have called the “TED Talks of travel.”
Focusing on responsible travel practices and other key issues, Skift Forum Europe 2019 will take place at Tobacco Dock in London. The Forum will feature speakers, including CEOs and top executives from British Airways, IHG, Thomas Cook, Booking.com, TripAdvisor, Silversea, Uber, and many more.
The following is part of a series of posts highlighting some of the speakers and touching on issues of concern in Europe and beyond.
Nelson, who had been chief commercial officer and chief marketing officer of Vox Media, has begun to oversee TripAdvisor’s platform and brand, with a focus on growing new revenue streams as well as TripAdvisor’s offline and online marketing efforts aimed at travelers.
TripAdvisor faces a few challenges. Now that it has grown beyond hotel recommendations to other services, like tours-and-activities booking and restaurant discovery, how can it thread together a consumer’s experience of using its products?
As TripAdvisor approaches its 20th anniversary next year, will the company tweak its market repositioning with a rebrand or new campaigns? The company has arguably had less marketing success with its owl mascot than, say, hotel search company Trivago has had with the Trivago Guy.
Plus, could — and should — TripAdvisor open up fresh revenue streams by offering more marketing services to advertisers like destination marketing organizations?
Nelson will speak April 30 at Skift Forum Europe in London in what is her first appearance onstage at a travel industry conference. Here’s a preview of the conversation.
Skift: You joined TripAdvisor at the end of October 2018. What intrigued you about the company?
Lindsay Nelson: There is something very powerful working for a global brand that just about everyone interacts with. The sheer scale of the people we touch through the travel planning journey means we not only influence the macro travel ecosystem, but also the people behind the small restaurants, local tours and adventures, and hotels that become part of our trip memories. This is both an opportunity and responsibility that we take seriously.
I especially love the TripAdvisor origin story. From the very beginning, Steve [Kaufer, co-founder and CEO] uniquely believed that people should have access to the information that will help them make the best decisions. Nearly 20 years ago, this meant offering a counterbalance to the glossy brochures that travel agents would hand out.
Because travel requires two of the most precious resources — time and money — helping people manage the expectation gap is such a critical piece of the equation. I would argue in the age of Instagram, the need for a trusted advisor has never been more critical.
Skift: You’re president of TripAdvisor’s core experiences (CoreX). Some people in the travel industry may not be familiar with what such a business unit does. What’s the broad goal?
Nelson: One of the brilliant advantages of TripAdvisor is that we service so many unique traveler needs. Think of our forums, which collect deep local knowledge, such as for help with planning a big ice trek in Patagonia for a once-in-a-lifetime journey.
My [new] group is responsible for making sure we take a traveler-first perspective across everything we do and that the core foundation of TripAdvisor and the brand maintain forward momentum.
This means bringing new, innovative capabilities to the platform like the redesigned homepage [and] exploring how the rise of mobile payments and super apps are changing how people plan, book, and experience travel.
On a practical level, the group is responsible for the centralized thinking around consumer experience, brand marketing, communications, and non-shopper monetization. We think a lot about the value of loyalty and our commitment to TripAdvisor members.
CoreX is focused on acquisition, engagement, and developing exclusive benefits across the travel life cycle to keep members coming back. Over time, we can expect to see meaningful business results if we can give our massive community enough value in return, so they start and end every trip with us.
I also believe that TripAdvisor is uniquely positioned to solve some of the most significant unmet needs for travelers. Recently I’ve been studying the effects of decision-making on the brain, in particular, the stress and anxiety people feel when they’re vacillating between choices.
I believe there are ways that TripAdvisor can help people make decisions quickly but confidently, so we can all spend more time enjoying all of the positive psychological effects of travel (that can actually start far before the trip does).
Skift: In your previous role, you were chief commercial officer at Vox Media. During your time there, you helped Vox Media rebrand, and you scaled its branded entertainment, branded content, and other marketing efforts. Along the way you’ve closely tracked how various companies think about branding. Is there a particular marketing or branding mindset you hope to bring to, or amplify at, TripAdvisor?
Nelson: I don’t have to tell you that travel is a crowded space, and much of what exists is being increasingly commodified. This is actually a good thing for TripAdvisor, because we have an incredible heritage of consumer trust and permission within the category.
That being said, over the past few years, our efforts have largely been focused on telling our hotel story — price comparison and low prices — which is just one component of our full value proposition.
We know that we need to do a better job of articulating our purpose, point of view, and breadth so that people can see their identity within ours. More than 500 million people choose to spend time with us every single month.
We want to increase the emotional connection between this community and TripAdvisor, which represents both a fortress around our business and a powerful feedback loop to inspire product development and innovation.
Skift: What are one or two brands — not necessarily in travel — that you look to for inspiration because of what they pay attention to in branding and core experience?
Nelson: I admire brands that master customer loyalty not by selling harder or optimizing conversion flows, but by creating magical interactions during those micro moments between the commercial occasions.
Since I’m really interested in the notion of confidence, I admire brands like Costco and REI for having incredible “no questions asked” return policies. The business analysis might highlight the financial exposure and potential abuse; but it doesn’t capture the pervasive loyalty, repeat purchase behavior, and likelihood to buy something that comes from the confidence of knowing there is no risk if you don’t like it. It’s also a brand signal to the customer that says: We trust you, too.