What hotels need to know about TripAdvisor’s latest updates

The influence of TripAdvisor shows no sign of slowing. According to TripAdvisor’s recent research, the company was responsible for over 10% of global tourism spending in 2017, which equates to a huge $546 billion. Over the past decade, the influence of TripAdvisor sites has also outpaced growth in overall travel and tourism.

Far from resting on its laurels, TripAdvisor has spent the past few years releasing a flurry of new products to attract more users and advertisers to the platform. As we’ll describe in more detail below, the latest update could be a real game-changer that transforms how users interact with the site.

How are TripAdvisor’s most recent product pivots affecting hotels? In the following post, we’ll look at five features and updates that every hotelier needs to know about.

1. Personalized recommendation feed

The latest big announcement from TripAdvisor is the launch of its new “travel feed”. Currently in beta, this bold platform-wide shakeup will involve a social media-style feed that feature personalized recommendations from friends, publishers, brands, and influencers.

Once a member logs in to the new-look TripAdvisor, their homepage becomes a personalized newsfeed based on the destination that the member is looking at.

A preview of how TripAdvisor’s new interface will look when it goes live.

In the promotional video below, we see a traveler planning a trip to Nashville that demonstrates how this updated interface looks and works:

While scrolling through their feed, our Nashville traveler sees a TripAdvisor restaurant review from a friend, suggestions on where to eat from National Geographic, and a video promoting Nashville’s music scene by Travel Channel.

The new interface also lets users connect with their friends thanks to Facebook integrations, and follow other brands, publishers, and influencers to receive additional tips and inspiration. The travel feed even sends a notification when a user is physically close to an attraction that’s been reviewed by a friend.

During a recent interview with Skift, TripAdvisor CEO Steve Kaufer referred to the redesign as “very up-funnel”, implying that users will likely use TripAdvisor as an inspiration tool, perhaps before they start planning their trip. For hotels, this could present an opportunity to build awareness and influence decisions much earlier in the travel journey.

As such, gaining prominence in TripAdvisor’s rankings may soon take on added importance in the battle for early attention. The all-new travel feed interface is expected to go live by the end of 2018.

2. Sponsored Placements

At the end of 2017, TripAdvisor rolled out it’s new Sponsored Placements feature for hotels. Rather than simply relying on the quality of their reviews, this was the first time hotels could bid to reach the top spot in the search results page for a given destination.

Sponsored Placements work on a pay-per-click model, and they’re targeted at highly qualified customers who are actively looking for accommodation in a specific location.

As with all TripAdvisor listings, links to the hotel website sit alongside links to third-party sites (predominantly the top OTAs). This means that there’s a good chance a user will click on the OTA link, and the hotel will miss out on the direct booking.

It’s worth noting that TripAdvisor do let hotels remove the OTA links, but this option is only available to bigger hotel groups and brands. At present, it’s unlikely that smaller hotels will be able to negotiate for OTA links to be removed. In addition, hotels need to have a direct connect from their CRS to TripAdvisor to deliver their rates and availability to them (which involves an additional connectivity cost).

As a smaller hotel, we recommend speaking with your digital marketing agency to determine if Sponsored Ads will bring the ROI you’re expecting.

3. Expanded range of experiences

Since acquiring Viator for $200 million back in 2014, TripAdvisor has spent a lot of time investing in its bookable experiences, tours, and activities. This April, the company acquired tours and activities provider Bokun, which came just one day after Booking Holdings acquired activities and experiences booking-software provider FareHarbor.

TripAdvisor’s non-hotel revenue has increased 36% year-over-year (driven by growth in Experiences and Restaurants), so it’s clear that the company sees huge potential in this booming part of its business.

So how might this impact hotels? As TripAdvisor turns itself into an end-to-end travel platform, more users will flock to the platform earlier to research experiences and find inspiration. While they might not be ready to book accommodation, those same users may be tempted to carry out some light research on hotel options during the same browsing session.

With the ability to reach a wider audience earlier in the travel journey, hotels will have another huge reason to improve their hotel’s TripAdvisor rating.

On the other hand, as TripAdvisor (and the likes of Booking.com and Expedia) begin to focus more on providing bookable experiences, hotels should also consider selling and promote locally-led experiences on their own websites to attract more travelers to book direct.

4. Storyboard

To help hotels make the best possible first impression with their listing, TripAdvisor launched a new tool called Storyboard in June 2017. This tool gives hotels more control over how their listings look in order to capture attention and stand out from competing properties.

One of the main features of Storyboard is a ‘promotional preview’ that combines a hotel’s favorite photos and top reviews. Here’s an example of how it looks:

In addition, hotels can add video content, pick ‘Cover Photos’ that best showcase their property, and prioritize favorite photos on the listing page.

Storyboard is exclusively available to TripAdvisor Business Advantage subscribers. This subscription product (an upgraded version of Business Listings) also includes an enhanced Analytics Suite, and the ability to add contact details, special offers, and integrate a mobile click-to-call function.

Being able to personalize your hotel’s TripAdvisor listing offers a useful (if not necessarily groundbreaking) way to engage more guests. But the biggest benefit of the Business Advantage product is arguably having access to a dashboard of data and trends.

5. Updated algorithm

As we discussed in a recent article, TripAdvisor updated its popularity algorithm back in March 2018. The exact details of what TripAdvisor actually changed haven’t been made abundantly clear, much to the frustration of hoteliers on TripAdvisor’s forums.

According to one of the company’s spokespersons, “the aim was to do a better job of measuring consistency so that all types of properties – large or small, independent or centrally managed – have the same opportunities to succeed on TripAdvisor.”

In actual terms, the update is intended to reflect the current experience that travelers should expect. So a hotel with consistently good reviews will achieve a higher ranking than a property that has just started getting five-star reviews, despite a history of less favorable feedback.

The takeaway message from the update is that consistency is key, while gaining plenty of quality, up-to-date reviews remains as important as ever.

Making the most of TripAdvisor

TripAdvisor has announced some pretty dramatic changes in recent years. Updates to its algorithm, premium listings tools, and the launch of Sponsored Placements have each presented hotels with new opportunities to reach a wider audience.

TripAdvisor’s upcoming personalized newsfeed will certainly be one to watch, not least because it could transform the way travelers explore and shop on the site. The power of a great review will only gain importance as TripAdvisor prioritizes reviews from friends, respected travel brands, and social influencers.

Yet among the raft of updates, providing a great guest experience, responding to feedback, and actively encouraging quality reviews still remains at the heart of what constitutes a great TripAdvisor strategy.

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