TripAdvisor is making history with a catamaran sailing expedition in Panama City Beach, FL, as it names the activity its 100,000th bookable experience on the platform.
The travel site achieved the milestone when the product went live on March 6, PhocusWire can exclusively reveal.
“I think 2017 was a pretty fundamental year for the attractions business,” TripAdvisor president of attractions and vacation rentals Dermot Halpin says in an interview. “We made a lot of changes focused on enabling growth across the platform.”
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TripAdvisor ushers in the achievement for its tours and attractions business as the company finished 2017 with year-over-year growth of 48% in bookable attractions inventory and more than doubled growth on the demand side.
Last year tour guides and operators added more than 30,000 new experiences to the attractions segment, which was a key driver of revenue to TripAdvisor’s non-hotel segment: The division grew 24% year over year, significant compared to the modest 5% growth the company saw in total revenue for 2017.
Halpin says investment in tech optimization has helped enable an accumulation of inventory on the platform. “It’s a testament to our demand footprint and the team that we got to 100,000 [experiences] because the people who own inventory are really the ones who put bums in seats,” he says.
He says last year the company also spent a lot of time integrating Viator’s business, which the company acquired in 2014 for $200 million, into the TripAdvisor audience (a move that went noticed and denounced by Viator founder Rod Cuthbert in December).
Says Halpin: “The primary thesis when we acquired Viator was to provide a better experience for the half a billion people that come to TripAdvisor.”
Halpin continues that a major focus has been on “bookability” and understanding how travelers use the site and what they want to shop for, then aligning product to ensure supply is easy to find – not always an easy task with online penetration in attractions hovering around 20%.
“Much of the reason for this is because we have to solve consumer problems better,” he says. “There’s a lot of fragmentation. We need to make it easier for them to first come find what they want, and second, to book it online. … In a world of Netflix and Amazon, people want to be able to click and reserve and be confident that it’s going to be as advertised.”
On the supply end, Halpin says the number one thing suppliers want is bookings, and TripAdvisor has worked to facilitate growth on the demand side to meet this need.
“If we have more demand, then we have more supplier engagement, and suppliers are more likely to give us good deals. If they’re more likely to give us good deals, there’s more likely to be conversion. There’s kind of a virtuous effect there, which is what we’re trying to achieve.”
News of TripAdvisor’s 100,000th experience comes amid recent plays by fellow travel brands to further their positions in the attractions space.
Airbnb, in particular, just announced its new Experiences strategy, one which factors heavily into the home-share site’s brand proposition.
Halpin notes that TripAdvisor offers many of the same unique experiences Airbnb is touting, but niche is not always what travelers want.
There’s a lot of wood to chop to make it a brilliant platform, but we’re chopping wood right now.
Dermot Halpin - TripAdvisor
“[With Airbnb] there’s a little bit of looking down their nose at the general travel population and saying it’s not all about a bus tour or the Eiffel Tower. But it is for a lot of people. People will always want to see those things,” he says. “We’re very much in the mode of celebrating all those things.”
He says that while Airbnb has proven a success in the rental market, the verdict is still out on if its Experiences business will deliver in the same way.
Google, though less of an immediate threat, also poses competition to the tours and attractions market.
Given the search giant’s latest inroads around flights and hotels, “Google’s behavior over time should make everybody worried about their intentions,” Halpin says. “They’re a large dominant competitor that will always have an early interaction earlier up the funnel with the traveler.”
But that said, “All we can do is make sure our claim in the marketplace is known. TripAdvisor is a quality marketplace, and at this point such a marketplace on a global basis doesn’t really exist at this scale. It’s a bit of pioneering. Not pioneering of this business model, but pioneering of [the attractions] vertical.”
Since 2013, TripAdvisor has multiplied its inventory tenfold. In 2015, the company launched its marketplace and self-service platform for suppliers, and the intervening time has been its largest growth period to date with inventory advancing at 5X.
Looking ahead, “We’re very, very ambitions for the business – bullish on it,” Halpin says. “I think we’ve got great assets in the space, we’ve got the biggest inventory footprint by a long shot. We know we have to do more and that others are interested, and we’ve got to keep running as fast as possible.”
One of TripAdvisor’s big initiatives for 2018 is revamping the tech on its supplier service, an area the company started improvements on last year.
Tours & Activities Come of Age: Global Travel Activities Marketplace 2014-2020
The goal is to make it easier for suppliers to update things like rates and availability – applying a similar marketplace methodology to what’s done in the rentals division.
“There’s a lot of wood to chop to make it a brilliant platform, but we’re chopping wood right now,” he says. “We’re pretty confident that we can completely transform the supply side of experiences. Nothing less than that is our ambition.”
And while, for right now, reaching 100,000 experiences is significant, “it’s not just about 100,000,” Halpin says.
“It’s about the bookability, it’s about availability, about the engagement, about being the preferred place for somebody to sell their inventory. These are all things we have to focus on.”