The regime under CEO Matt Goldberg is testing a bunch of stuff, including Tripadvisor Instant Book, and a new form of the previous subscription plan, Tripadvisor Plus. The idea is to not throw out the baby with the bath water, and to see what works now.
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This story began with a promotion featured in an email from my credit card company, Capital One, and it took me aback: “Save up to 30% off on your Instant Book hotel with Tripadvisor.”
If you aren’t an online travel nerd, or don’t work in the industry, you may not understand my shock, but many of you who read this column will “get it” right away.
Capital One cardholders can earn 10% cash back on this offer when booking an Instant Book hotel on Tripadvisor. That means they can book the hotel right on Tripadvisor.com or its apps. Source: Capital One
Although it may have appeared sporadically over the years, Tripadvisor largely abandoned Instant Book in 2017, and the strategy reversal was a big deal at the time.
When Tripadvisor markets hotels, it largely does so as a metasearch site. In metasearch, online travel agencies and hotels bid to list their hotel rates on Tripadvisor, and have to pay a pre-determined cost per click when consumers select them and get redirected to their websites for booking.
But with Instant Book six or seven years ago, Tripadvisor was trying to be much more like an online travel agency in that travelers could book the hotel without having to leave the Tripadvisor platform.
At the time, the Instant Book initiative was a key strategy plank for Tripadvisor, but the hotel industry and some online travel players didn’t adopt it in a big way. On the one hand, some hotels welcomed the idea of Tripadvisor becoming more powerful as a marketing platform to blunt the power of Google, Expedia and Booking.com. On the other hand, many hotels and online travel agencies wanted consumers to visit their platforms directly without having to rely on a third party like Tripadvisor.
Tripadvisor’s abandonment of Instant Book in 2017 landed with a thud.
But now, under CEO Matt Goldberg, who took up his post last year, replacing Steve Kaufer, Tripadvisor is resurrecting Instant Book, or at least testing another go-round, although there are some notable twists.
In this prominently placed search result for Library Hotel in New York City on Tripadvisor this morning, the Instant Book feature is the one from Tripadvisor itself ($472), as opposed to offers from Expedia.com ($472), Priceline ($524), and Hotels.com ($472).
One of the advantages to travelers — just like it was in the previous Instant Book incarnation — is that if they choose the Instant Book offer from Tripadvisor itself, they can complete the booking right there. If they choose Expedia, Priceline or Hotels.com, they would first be redirected to those websites to search some more before completing a booking.
It’s Actually an Expedia Partnership
For the uninitiated in the complexities of online travel, this next statement may be mind-boggling. If you click Book & Get Rewards, then on the next page, where you insert your name and credit card details, you’ll learn that this particular Tripadvisor Instant Book deal actually comes through a partnership with Expedia.
If travelers complete the booking on Tripadvisor, the booking details will be available on Tripadvisor, but Expedia will be the merchant of record on their credit cards, send the email confirmations, and handle customer service. Tripadvisor is not in the customer service business for these sorts of things.
This was how it worked in the older versions of Tripadvisor Instant Book, as well.
But here are what appears to be a couple of twists in this new test. Most of the Instant Book reservations several years ago required travelers to pay immediately instead of when they arrive at the hotel. In the Library Hotels example, consumers wouldn’t have to pay anything at the time of booking, could cancel without penalty by July 19 for a July 26-28 reservation, and would only have to shell out some money when they arrived for their stays.
Another new element in this Tripadvisor-Expedia partnership for Instant Book is that Tripadvisor stated that the booking would be eligible for rewards (from credit card companies like Capital One).
In the world of online travel, where companies are constantly testing what works best to get consumers to book, this Instant Book listing could vanish before I finish writing this sentence. Or Tripadvisor might resurrect it for real.
To be determined.
Tripadvisor downplayed the Instant Book appearance.
“This isn’t a strategic shift, but just a recent example of a partnership model that we’ve operated for years,” said spokesperson Duncan Skehens. “We regularly work with affiliate partners in this capacity in the U.S., as it offers a reliable way to accurately track and attribute campaign performance. And, while nothing has changed from a wider strategic perspective, we’ll continue to focus on and expand our work with affiliate partners.”
What it does say about the new Tripadvisor regime is that the company has a lot of things on the table and is willing to test and learn to see what sticks.
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