When a TripAdvisor email with a Detroit Special Destination Update popped into my inbox yesterday, it was sort of a shock.
I live 600 miles from Detroit, Mich., and -- nothing against the Motor City -- have no plans to visit.
I immediately thought of how Murray Harold wrote the other day that "websites do not understand the client."
Well, here's a case in point.
Why was TripAdvisor suddently sending me an email touting Detroit hotels, B&Bs, restaurants, attractions, airfares and Traveler Deals for Detroit from advertisers including Expedia, Orbitz and HotelPlanner.com?
The reason for this treasure trove of Detroit travel information is because a day earlier I had done a bunch of Detroit hotel and restaurant searches on TripAdvisor in researching a story about a Detroit restaurant suing TripAdvisor and getting nowhere.
I have no plans to visit Detroit, haven't been there for about seven years, but TripAdvisor's customer relationship management system thinks a Detroit visit is high on my agenda.
Does TripAdvisor know its customer?
In this case, no.
In the email, TripAdvisor asks whether I'd like weekly updates on Detroit, and I clicked "no thanks."
So online travel companies like TripAdvisor monitor consumer behavior on their websites and try to surmise traveler intent.
TripAdvisor isn't a transaction site so perhaps another site, such as Expedia.com, would have had a better idea about my intent if I had purchased a vacation package to Detroit.
And some airlines, including American Airlines, claim they have sophisticated tools to merchandise to travelers because they have all sorts of information about them.
But, regarding TripAdvisor, I was just rummaging around the site, conducting some Detroit hotel searches.
So, Harold has a point: My travel agent -- if I had one -- likely would have had a much better idea about my intent than TripAdvisor did.
On the other hand, for a point to point leisure trip, I would probably do the booking myself and wouldn't bother with a travel agent. For a business trip, if my company used a travel agent, I would gladly call up the travel agent and have him or her handle the whole thing.
And, now that TripAdvisor thinks I'm ready to visit Detroit, I wouldn't be surprised if I get served up Detroit hotel ads the next time I visit CNN.com or USA Today.com.
In this era of contextual and behavioral display advertising, that's how travel marketers roll.