Skift Take

Boom or bust, these are early days for generative AI. Tripadvisor could either turn the new tech to its advantage, or if not the company could become the Blockbuster Video of trip planning.

Can you imagine an easier application for generative AI than creating travel itineraries and in-destination tour plans, in particular? One way or another, Tripadvisor will have to deal with this emerging technology because it runs square into the company’s evolving turnaround strategy.

During Tripadvisor’s fourth quarter earnings call Wednesday, CEO Matthew Goldberg said an emerging strategy for the company’s core business would be to leverage its trove of reviews and data, and create a differentiated product, including new tools and personalized recommendations for travelers before and during their trips to increase direct engagement with the company.

A financial analyst asked Goldberg the implications of generative AI sourcing Tripadvisor’s reviews, which have no paywall to access, “to answer questions for travelers,” obviating the need for travelers to consult Tripadvisor reviews?

“You can imagine that over history, when you look at new technologies, people often get really excited in the short term and maybe overestimate what’s going to happen and try to be predictive about that short term, only to underestimate in the long term,” Goldberg said. “So this is one to watch in the long term.”

Goldberg said he expects generative AI to be everywhere, but “the key differentiator is the underlying data and content, if you will, that generative AI draws from. People in travel want real recommendations based on what other travelers or experts have done and recommend not just generic thought recommendations.”

Search engines wielding generative AI would in theory have to strike a partnership with Tripadvisor to access its reviews and data, although that doesn’t always happen. On the other hand, the new tech could present Tripadvisor with ample licensing opportunities.

The Tripadvisor Conundrum

That gets to the heart of the Tripadvisor conundrum. Founded in 2000, Tripadvisor rose to be the largest travel site in the world based on visitors on the strength of its user reviews, but a lot of other companies, including online travel agencies and Google, caught up if not in quantity than in breadth of content. Tripadvisor has been struggling with that development ever since, as well as with Google sweeping in with a competitive product while sabotaging Tripadvisor’s prior advantages in free search engine results in favor of Google’s own commercial travel products.

On the other hand, Tripadvisor would argue that its review content is more comprehensive than that of its rivals.

Goldberg argued that Tripadvisor is “in a really strong position with the technology,” presumably referring to generative AI, “to take advantage of our vast content asset we have, as you know, over 1 billion reviews. And of course, we’ve got hundreds of millions of members of our audience with unique interests here.”

He said Tripadvisor could then “create unique tips, guidance and drive a more personalized experience.”

Data, Data, Data

Every major travel company under the Big Dipper touts its data riches and advantages, but few really use the data to maximum effect. With so much user-generated content, professional advice, and other data available, it remains to be seen how differentiated a product and unique value proposition Tripadvisor is capable of unleashing.

Goldberg conceded that Tripadvisor has had trouble executing on its plans on the past — before his arrival last year — and it’s his challenge now to turn that around in a meaningful way. He’s beginning that attempt in part by reorganizing the ways the company’s employees are managed.

Goldberg said it’s an open question how generative AI would impact major search engines — like Google and Bing (if you can call Bing a significant player) — and Tripadvisor will look to take advantage.

“We think it reinforces the imperative of our strategy to build a persistent and direct relationship with the traveler that experiments with content,” he said.


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Tags: artificial intelligence, bing, generative ai, google, online travel newsletter, travel tech, tripadvisor, ugc, user reviews

Photo credit: Travel planning is about to undergo significant change and Tripadvisor thinks it can be in the forefront of the revolution. kitzcorner / Getty Images

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