TripAdvisor has moved quickly to reassure quite possibly the entire hospitality sector and world of intermediaries that it has no intention of becoming an online travel agency.
CEO Stephen Kaufer made the clarification in a call with investors following its Q3 earnings when he confirmed the user review (and perhaps soon, metasearch) giant would allow users to make reservations for hotels on its mobile applications.
Kaufer says the company is not becoming an OTA, remaining a fan of the media model and continuing to be happy to facilitate a reservation while partners fulfill the request.
This is not surprising.
A recent study by WIHP reveals TripAdvisor has overtaken OTAs and all other sources to become the number one source of traffic for bookings made on a hotel’s website.
Here are key observations from the earnings call:
Hotel shopper traffic grew 37% during Q3. Traffic to restaurant and attraction pages is also growing fast. The site has averaged 260 million monthly unique visitors in Q3, an increase of 59%.
Four new domains were launched in localized Spanish language: Peru, Colombia, Chile and Venezuela.
The company is also working on a desktop site revamp that focuses on its huge travel community and user-generated content across all points of sale.
TripAdvisor's 57+ million email subscribers are generating content at more than 80 contributions per minute, totalling reviews and opinions to more than 125 million.
More than 17 million photos have been uploaded by travellers, a 70% increase year-on-year.
A week ago, TripAdvisor acquired Oyster, a service that has hotel reviews and photos in more than 150 cities. This acquisition complements the company's existing database of reviews and photos.
TripAdvisor started testing its TV ad campaign in Q2 and it is experiencing positive signs from this campaign. This campaign highlighted the user-generated content and the site's ratings mechanism.
The company recently tied up with American Express in a partnership where card members are recognized for posting a review. There are other benefits for card members as long as they link their Amex cards with their TripAdvisor profiles.
The company also partnered with Axel Springer, a European publishing company, to create a new German digital travel magazine.
These two partnerships will increase brand awareness and drive user stickiness.
Mobile - growth, pain point, strategy
40% of TripAdvisor's total traffic comes from mobile and tablet, this averages more than 108 million monthly users on tablet and phone. The company recently launched a new native app for Android and iPhone platform. The cumulative app downloads have crossed more than 69 million.
The refreshed tablet app is estimated to deliver 20% increase on tablet app revenue. This plan is to extend the design refresh tablet users.
TripAdvisor partnered with Samsung and pre-installed its app in all of Samsung Galaxy S4 devices. This pre-load included a travel widget, lock screen slideshow and city information in Samsung story album. This partnership has resulted in seven million monthly unique app visitors on Samsung S4 in Q3.
The company says its roadmap with respect to mobile apps is to help travellers find exactly what they need to make an informed travel decision faster. The mobile roadmap has four phases:
- Phase 1: Adding meta hotel price comparison late last year.
- Phase 2: Refreshing the user interface and writing native apps on iOS and Android for speed and design (rolled out recently).
- Phase 3: Translating the app design components to the phone.
- Phase 4: Starting sometime in 2014, will aim to remove friction from the booking process, allowing travellers to make a reservation while staying on TripAdvisor.
Interestingly, TripAdvisor says the current process of directing users to partners site on the phone is painful, because users want to go back and forth as they explore different partners' booking options. The company wants to reduce this pain for travellers by allowing travellers to select a hotel, choose room type and finish the reservation without leaving TripAdvisor (bookings will still be fulfilled by partners).
TripAdvisor wants to create a win-win scenario, as it expects to deliver an enjoyable user experience on mobile, better conversion for its partners and improved smartphone monetization.
Metasearch tool rollout
TripAdvisor rolled out meta to 100% of its traffic in early June, since then it has noticed more clicks per meta session and better downstream partner conversion, however the pricing remains choppy, the company says.
TripAdvisor is working on improving on-site and partner conversion, running multiple tests every week and it expects more gains in this area.
Majority of its top partners are bidding at least weekly and many of them as frequent as 2x or 3x per week. The company is working to make the bid recommendations more actionable, which will give partners additional insight and flexibility in their campaigns.
In addition, it provides a suite of reports, including a report to help partners bid for its mobile traffic, which continues to grow at a fast pace.
TripConnect platform launch
Recently, TripAdvisor launched TripConnect enabling independent hoteliers to advertise their rates and availability on the site. TripAdvisor has partnered with 260+ internet booking engines (IBEs), representing approximately 200,000 independent properties. So far, more than 70 IBEs have completed the integration allowing some 40,000 hoteliers to sign up and start bidding for leads.
The company sees this as a win-win scenario, in which travellers get a wider choice of hotels, a new segment of hoteliers get access to that traveler and TripAdvisor gets better commerce coverage.
TripConnect's Review Express product for hoteliers allows them to engage guests by automatically generating post-stay review solicitation emails.
Related reading: Five reasons TripConnect will rob Google of hotel ad spend - here, and 12 questions about TripConnect you were too embarrassed to ask - here.
TripAdvisor has more than 400,000 vacation rental properties listed, in addition to its 758,000 hotels and B&Bs.
The company has accelerated this growth in vacation rental properties by its 'free to list, pay only for booking' model.
Vacation rental properties from Spain-based Niumba will also be added to TripAdvisor taking the total rental listings on the site to 500,000. The company is also looking at further expansion.
Related reading: Expedia announced plans to add vacation rentals from HomeAway.