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TripAdvisor’s Fate

by sanmigueltimes
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You probably haven’t noticed TripAdvisor’s latest user interface what with everyone staying home and not travelling but the folks at TripAdvisor have been busy.

Not long ago TripAdvisor bought a booking software company and changed their interface to only feature service providers that allowed booking a hotel, museum, visit to the Eiffel Tower and such through TripAdvisor.  At that point TripAdvisor was then keeping 40% of the ticket price and made finding places you couldn’t buy tickets from them extremely difficult.

When the virus started TripAdvisor staff obviously had time on their hands with no one traveling and tried different user interfaces.  The first totally eliminated all service providers and sites the company couldn’t sell tickets to.  I was stunned!  That meant my 500 plus 5 star reviews were now inaccessible.

So I chatted with TripAdvisor to see if I could do tours through them one day a week just to get back onto their lists.

Sidebar:  Beside the financial constraints, I didn’t want a middle man between my guests and I.  Often the tour a visitor inquires about isn’t the tour they really want and it’s good to chat some which would no longer be an option.

I learned some interesting stuff from TripAdvisor like:

  • You, as a hotel, museum or a like’s owner, agrees to a price TripAdvisor will pay you. TripAdvisor then chooses an advertised price.  So, say I agree to $25 for a tour, TripAdvisor’s price on-line can be $125, or most anything they choose.
  • Then your business has to agree to not offer your hotel rooms, tours, tickets, etc. for any less than TripAdvisor’s advertised price. Today TripAdvisor is advertising itself as “the lowest cost in tourism”.
  • All your booking must be done through TripAdvisor. The problem there is the problems.  Say it rains and a tour is cancelled, or a fire at hotel cancels my lecture, I wasn’t going to get paid for another four months from TripAdvisor regardless so the clients have to go to TripAdvisor for a refund and you can imagine how much fun that is!
  • I’d lose all 500 plus reviews and have to start over garnering them.

Then, a few months into self-quarantine TripAdvisor reversed its decision to hide folks they don’t make money off of directly.  You can find options like me if you’ve the sleuthing skills of an SVU team because it isn’t easy.

The other surprise for me was now there are dozens of tour companies listed in my town and all but 2 or 3 I’ve never heard of.  I don’t know if they are fakes put up by TripAdvisor, or someone’s business model is just to load down TripAdvisor with these companies of their’s and then, if they got a tour, they’ll find a guide.  It’s bizarre.

It’s also too bad.  As a consumer, I used TripAdvisor for years.  Going to a new city it was a great resource to learn the hotel I was considering is next to the on-ramp for a major freeway and really loud at night.  Often, with dancing presentations around Mexico, I’d find myself in some obscure cities only to learn via TripAdvisor Mrs. Rodriguez has an excellent display of burial customs for pre-Hispanic indigenous in her home or of a church with outstanding art.  These places won’t get placed on TripAdvisor anymore as no ticket selling is involved.

When I started giving tours 99% of my guests came from TripAdvisor, a huge help to me those first few years and reviews really did separate amateurs from pros.  When they switched to the ticket selling model I got no tours from TripAdvisor as I couldn’t be found but by then I had enough referrals to offer tours daily.  Still, TripAdvisor was once a godsend to someone starting out.

On a more macroeconomic level I think TripAdvisor made a mistake switching to the ticket buying model.  They reminded of Sears‘ old management.  Back when they had the Sears catalog and its great reputation Sears could have easily put the catalog on line but didn’t, slowing going out of business instead.  I think TripAdvisor also squandered all those years of good will by going to the “buy, buy, buy” interface of today.  Forty five million people aren’t going to leave reviews like they had, you can’t find non-ticket sites (parks, free museums, beaches and such) and like Sears, it will be a thing of the past if the company even survives the virus.

by Joseph Toone

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