Spain’s anti-trust agency CNMC on Wednesday cleared Amazon, Booking Holdings and Tripadvisor of participating in or facilitating fake reviews on their websites.
CNMC had been investigating a complaint filed by the OCU, a prominent consumer organization in Spain.
“CNMC found no indication that the platforms have participated in or facilitated the publication of these false opinions,” the authority said in a statement, noting the aforementioned companies had collaborated with investigators.
However, the watchdog has sent the complaint to a consumer rights authority due to a possible violation of consumer protection regulations.
Amazon, Booking, and Tripadvisor — as well as Expedia Group, Glassdoor and Trustpilot — announced in October they were launching a group named Coalition for Trusted Reviews that would fight fake online reviews.
Hidden in Tripadvisor’s latest earnings from earlier this week was some updates on its AI-based trip planning feature that it launched in July, along with some concrete numbers on performance of AI-assisted travel planning.
In the earnings call, CEO Matt Goldberg said that the company has seen much higher conversions (and revenues) from people who use their Generative AI trip planning tool.
From the earnings call transcript, this extract below has all the details of Tripadvisor’s early experiments with public AI tools, use in creating content, summarize reviews and for customer service, I have highlighted the important parts and metrics in bold.
“At our last call, we mentioned the promising early feedback from a significant upgrade to trips our core trip planning and itinerary product including a new generative AI powered itinerary feature. We’re still early in the journey and are iterating continuously, but we’re seeing compelling results. During the first three months in beta, members who created itineraries returned at a much higher rate within the first seven days than members who hadn’t created an itinerary and we’ve observed that higher return rate continuing for the full month thereafter as well. Importantly, members who build an itinerary also generate on average three times higher revenue than the average Tripadvisor member and the average member already monetizes at approximately 10 times the rate of non-members. We believe the initial data is a good indication of early product market fit and we’re on a plan to launch this full trip planning and itinerary product on our mobile app, on iOS and Android this quarter.
Another stated priority is to drive deeper engagement with travelers leveraging our unique content and data at scale. We continue to deliver progress in Q3, let me share two examples. First, we’ve been leveraging generative AI and machine learning tools to bring together guidance from our community and our editorial team on a set of our most popular destination pages, think New York City, Paris, and so on. Curating fresh, relevant content on these pages is driving over 15% more saves so travelers are engaging more frequently by adding a desired hotel, restaurant, or experience they discovered through our product to the trip they’re planning. Second, we recently rolled out a test across tens of thousands of hotels that uses Gen AI to summarize reviews and deliver clear insights to travelers on key quality attributes as they consider their choices.
Let me give an example, for me the single most important factor in booking a hotel is that I can get a quiet night sleep. We’re now leveraging our data to provide a clear signal about the noise level of a particular hotel, along with other critical qualities we know are important to travelers like atmosphere, service, value, and more. Gen AI provides the perfect way to summarize content at scale, trust is still at the center of why people come to us, so in this feature we share the specific underlying reviews from our community of travelers that were used to generate each insight and provide a direct path to go deeper on what matters most to the traveler. These examples are just a few of the many encouraging proof points that our teams are driving, which gives us conviction in our strategic direction, prioritization, and sequencing. But we know this only matters if it translates the financial impact over time, and we’re also pleased with the leading indicators we’re getting on monetization.
I mentioned before the significantly higher revenue we see among users who create a trip. As these users build an itinerary and engage more deeply they’re exposed to monetizable hotel and experience recommendations to relevant ads from our partners, all of which were increasingly integrating directly into this user journey. And the refreshed content on our destination pages is a perfect point in the journey to surface these options to a traveler. We’ve already observed double-digit increases in experiences revenue on the pages with these content enhancements and we are just beginning to scale.”
Sandemans Tours has partnered with TripAdmit to integrate its digital tipping and reviews platform, TipDirect, with its network of guides in more than 30 cities across Europe, North America, and the Middle East.
The service offers a cashless and contactless tipping solution, allowing guests to pay directly via their smartphones to tour guides. Chris Sandeman, managing director of Sandemans Tours, emphasized the importance of easy and secure digital tipping for their guides who work on a tips-only basis.
Additionally, TipDirect uses generative AI to help travelers create personalized reviews with keyword-rich text for platforms like Google and TripAdvisor.
Dublin-based TripAdmit, a technology company that enables the online selling of tour and activity providers, said the partnership speaks to a “growing trend towards a cashless society.” The company’s recent high-season booking data also showed that travelers continue to look for “affordable and spontaneous experiences” with short booking timeframes.
TripAdmit ticketing customers had seen an average increase of 25% in tour sales during this year’s high season compared to 2022. Activities priced under $55 (under 50 euros) also had a high lead time of under one week, with over 90% of bookings made within this timeframe.
Tripadvisor filled in the blanks, naming two executive appointments to flesh out a reorganization of its core business that the company disclosed during its fourth quarter earnings call a week ago.
Sanjay Raman, who had previous stints at Airbnb, Greylock and Google, starting working in January as chief product officer, a new position within Tripadvisor’s core business segment.
Likewise, Kristen Dalton, who has served in Tripadvisor roles since 2019 as vice president of financial planning and analysis and interim head of the company’s business to consumer group, started serving in January as chief operating officer of the company’s core business. That is a new position, as well.
Core Business Is Distinct From Viator and TheFork
What is Tripadvisor’s core business? Tripadvisor defines it as “Tripadvisor branded hotels, Tripadvisor branded display and platform, Tripadvisor experiences and dining revenue, and other revenue,” including cruise. Tripadvisor recently de-emphasized vacation rentals, flights, car rentals within its “other revenue” category.
Although Tripadvisor experiences and dining revenue are part of the core segment, the separately branded Viator experiences and TheFork dining revenue don’t fall within the core business. That means the January appointees won’t be responsible for Viator and TheFork, which have separate teams.
With the appointments and the reorganization of Tripadvisor’s core segment, Tripadvisor now had functionally led teams in operations (led by Dalton), marketing (John Boris), product (Raman) and engineering (Sugata Mukhopadhyay).
Under the prior structure, the teams were organized along business to consumer and business to business lines.
While Viator reached 171 percent of 2019 revenue levels in 2022, TheFork hit 99 percent, and Tripadvisor’s core business generated only 79 percent of 2019 revenue.
Travelers make multiple purchases in preparation for their trip, a consideration Tripadvisor believes should be noticed by marketers. The company honed in on the purchasing intent of its audience and found that despite rising prices, plans to travel is on par with 2019 levels.
Tripadvisor’s latest research report, with some 5,000 respondents across six countries, indicates purchasing behavior of travelers and its influence across industries is being overlooked.
It’s one thing that the pandemic did not disrupt in travel.
The intent when planning a trip is broader than flights, accommodations, and activities, according Tripadvisor.
“Part of the fun for travelers is the planning (and spending!) before a trip. Consumers find travel is a great excuse to buy new clothes, special toys, or just the right gear.”
Of those surveyed, the most bought item in preparation for a trip is clothes (89 percent), followed by luggage (72 percent), and electronics (62 percent). Tripadvisor stated these are “not one-off purchases, with respondents (luggage being an exception) buying these items at least 2-3 times in the past three years before traveling.”
And while three-quarters of those surveyed do plan to reduce discretionary spending, cuts to travel plans are a no-go “with saving for future vacations the top priority.”
Google made changes to Google Flights and Hotels related to transparency in hotel reviews and pricing under pressure from the European Commission — but stopped short of making those modifications elsewhere in the world.
At the behest of the European Commission, Google added text in hotel reviews in European Union countries, noting “Reviews aren’t verified.”
Unlike online travel agencies, Google doesn’t take bookings so it would be hard-pressed to verify user reviews. Tripadvisor, likewise, doesn’t verify hotel reviews for the same reason.
Clicking further into Google’s explanatory language about user reviews in Europe, Google states that it accepts reviews from signed-in users — there’s no requirement that they ever stayed at that particular hotel — and licenses reviews from third-parties. “Google doesn’t do any additional filtering for spam or inappropriate language beyond that done by the provider, nor do we verify these reviews,” Google states.
The European Commission stated that Google accepted this disclosure about hotel reviews and additional transparency commitments that other hotel-booking platforms such as Expedia Group and Booking.com agreed to on pricing and availability.
“The commitments made by Google are a step forward in this direction. We call on Google to comply fully with the Geo-blocking Regulation, ensuring that consumers can enjoy the same rights and access the same content, wherever they are in the EU,” European Commission Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders in the announcement statement.
Google agreed to these changes about user reviews, consented to disclose that Google Flights and Google Hotels is merely a middleman, and agreed to provide greater clarity when presenting discounted pricing, explaining that such deals are merely a reference point. But Google decided to make these changes in Europe only — and not in other geographies around the world where regulators were not providing heat.
“As part of our ongoing dialogue with the European Commission and the EU’s Consumer Protection Cooperation Network, we have made changes to our products that provide a clear benefit and protect consumers,” a Google spokesperson stated. “We appreciate the partnership on this topic and are open to constructive dialogue with all consumer associations and regulators.”
Google’s hotel reviews in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world have no added language explaining the reviews are not verified. So travelers might erroneously believe that everyone writing reviews about these hotels actually stayed a night or two there.
Google frequently talks about helping travelers and other consumers to discover information as being one of its top priorities. However, the search engine giant, perhaps in the interests of providing a cleaner user interface that wouldn’t get in the way of users clicking on hotel ads, sacrificed transparency for expediency in the rest of the world.
Google is not alone in doing what regulators demand in one geography, but not expanding it to other regions for the good of consumers. For example, for several years Airbnb has shown the total price of stays, including taxes, up-front in the European Union at the urging of the European Commission. However, it was only this year that Airbnb became displaying the total rate, albeit without taxes included, instead of just the nightly rate without fees at first glance, in other geographies.
Actor (and travel tech investor) Ashton Kutcher is at it again, as his Sound Ventures venture capital firm has co-led a $15 million investment in climate tech company Chooose.
It’s the latest in a long chapter of travel investing for Kutcher, revealed on Friday, with previous deals including Affirm, Airbnb, Hipmunk and Citymaps, which was bought by TripAdvisor .
Norway-based Chooose, which offers climate solutions such as carbon offsetting, carbon removals and sustainable aviation fuel, already works with global companies and airlines including British Airways, Air Canada and Japan Airlines. It also works with Booking.com, Trip.com and SAP Concur.
Startups like this have fast emerged out of the need to give companies better insight into their carbon footprints when flying. This extra capital will go towards scaling up its platform, and further “embed climate action solutions into customer experiences.” It also plans to expand into new geographies, thanks to the funding provided by Soundwaves, which is the sustainability-focused vehicle of Kutcher’s fund.
GenZero, a decarbonisation-focused investment company owned by Singapore’s Temasek, also co-led the investment round. Existing investors Shell Ventures and Vinyl Capital also participated in the strategic capital round. Other current investors include travel technology giant Amadeus and Contrarian VC.
UPDATE: This article was amended to remove the series B mention, which had originally been provided.
Tripadvisor will replace longtime chief financial officer Ernst Teunissen with Michael Noonan, a former Booking Holdings vice president of finance, effective October 31.
Tripadvisor, who several months ago saw the appointment of Matt Goldberg as CEO, replacing Steve Kaufer, said Teunissen, who served as chief financial officer for the past seven years, will leave “to pursue other interests.”
In addition to his chief financial officer role, Teunissen also served as chief executive of Tripadvisor brands Viator, The Fork and Cruise Critic.
Tripadvisor said Noonan, who has three decades of finance experience, most previously served as chief financial officer of the health app Noom. He was in that role since October 2020.
Tripadvisor didn’t say who, if anyone, might assume Teunissen’s role at Viator, The Fork and Cruise Critic. He will stay on through the first quarter of 2023 for transition purposes.
“I would like to thank Ernst, also on behalf of our Board of Directors, for his many valuable contributions over the past seven years, and personally for the counsel he has provided through my own onboarding,” Goldberg said in a statement. “His guidance, especially through the volatile pandemic period, has been key to our strong financial position. Moreover, his leadership of Viator, TheFork, and Cruise Critic, has driven strong revenue growth for these strategic businesses coming out of the pandemic.”
Booking.com expanded the geographic reach of its tours and activities offerings in Asia by entering a long-term strategic partnership with Klook, Booking.com announced Monday.
“Klook experiences are now live in over 175 cities, across over 30 markets on Booking.com, and the majority of these are available in Asia and Oceania,” Booking.com stated as it cited Klook as “the category leader for experiences in Asia.”
Booking.com is headquartered in Amsterdam, and Klook is based in Singapore.
Booking.com already had provider agreements with TUI’s Musement, based in Europe, and Tripadvisor’s Viator, which is headquartered in the U.S.
Tripadvisor began letting some hotels in the U.S. and Canada self-identify in their business listings if they are woman-owned, Black-owned, or Asian-owned, for example.
Other categories include Disability-owned, Hispanic/Latinx-owned, Indigenous-owned, LGBTQIA+-owned, and Veteran-owned.
Tripadvisor doesn’t verify whether indeed the business is at least 51 percent owned — which is the criteria — by that group. That’s similar to its approach to user reviews.
Businesses must have claimed their listing, can self-identify in more than one category, and then that self-identification would be noted under the listings details in both the Tripadvisor website and app, Tripadvisor said. Tripadvisor sees itself as a platform, which enables people to make judgments based on the “wisdom of the crowds,” so to speak.
The new woman-owned or veteran-owned designations, for example, specify that the restaurant or hotel identifies themselves in this manner.
Tripadvisor has been testing the new feature, and stated that “hundreds” of businesses already have taken advantage of it. It plans to roll out the feature more broadly.
The company said its intent was “to make its platform more inclusive of the diverse communities using its influential website and app.” The hope is that travelers may gravitate toward businesses that are woman-owned or Asian-owned if that is their inclination.