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  • Chloe Riley

TripAdvisor goes social: What does that mean for hotels?

In September, travel giant TripAdvisor announced that it would be rebranding itself by year’s end into a social platform that builds upon its almost 20-year success capitalizing on peer reviews of hotels, geographical areas and experiences.

The idea behind the new iteration – both desktop and mobile-friendly which still keeps the company’s signature reviews – was to marry those reviews with a more photo and video-driven dynamic user experience that allows for a far greater degree of personalization than has existed since the site’s initial debut in 2000. Users will have the option to follow friends and family in addition to brands and influencers in the travel and foodie industries.

“Our research shows that a high intent travel audience is looking for review content, photos, videos and other relevant content to make their decisions on where to go and what to eat or do...and no one has more content than TripAdvisor, a spokeswoman for the company told HOTELS. “We are in a unique position for success because of our content, our existing user behavior and believe our community will more naturally evolve to embrace this new experience than other sites that try to build communities of users.”

But what about the effect it will have on hotels? Or, for that matter, do users even want yet another social media platform to manage?

Chris Paul is the director of marketing for Tulemar Resort, an independently owned property which sits on a 33-acre gated community in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica that also includes residential and commercial properties. The resort also happens to be globally ranked at number two on TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice 2018.

“From a chain's perspective, I don't think that it'll have a lot of change for any of the hotels in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica. Or maybe in Costa Rica in general,” Paul says. “Folks aren't going (to TripAdvisor) to look at pictures, to have an experience and then hit the booking button. That's not what TripAdvisor's for.”

Paul says he finds in general a lack of consistent communication between TripAdvisor and hoteliers. His property, despite its status, was not invited to beta test the new platform, with testing reserved for select social media influencers and larger companies like CNN Travel and National Geographic.

“If we could figure out a way to have Trip Advisor actually listen to the hotelier, I would love that,” Paul adds.

According to a TripAdvisor spokesperson, beta testing was limited to “select travel experts, publishers, brands and social media influencers,” adding that hotels and owners can currently continue to use the company’s management center to manage their presence on the site and that the company is in the process of “developing additional ways for businesses to take full advantage of the new TripAdvisor and will update business owners accordingly as they become available.”

As to whether users are ready or willing for another social media platform, TripAdvisor maintains it’s done its homework.

“We have conducted research with thousands of travelers across demographic groups that revealed reviews still remain important in travel planning,” says a TripAdvisor spokesperson. “However, our research also indicated that travelers are increasingly turning to highly visual content such as photos and videos for travel inspiration. The new TripAdvisor experience is different from other social media sites in that we make this inspirational content actionable. Each piece of content submitted to the travel feed is linked to a business currently listed on TripAdvisor, including hotel properties.”

But not everyone’s a skeptic. The general manager at India’s Umaid Bhawan Palace Jodhpur, a Taj Hotels property that has TripAdvisor’s number three Travelers’ Choice 2018 global ranking, says she sees the shift as a positive.

“The transition to becoming a social platform is a welcome change and we at Umaid Bhawan Palace are extremely excited to see how it unfolds,” says GM Mehrnavaz Avari. “Changing TripAdvisor from a feedback aggregator to a social platform would not only amplify the reach of TripAdvisor but would also help us at Umaid Bhawan Palace to reach out to more aspirational travelers who haven’t been to India.”

Though her property was also not invited to beta test the new site, Avari says Umaid Bhawan Palace is already planning out its social strategy based on the information released to date.

“We envisage higher level of engagement not restricted to prompt responses to guest reviews and exploring opportunities to integrate with our website and existing social media platforms for Taj and Umaid Bhawan Palace,” Avari says. “We intend to make it a more interactive, informative and impactful means of communication with our guests and travel influencer communities.”

And as to how involved hotels were (and are) in its processes, a TripAdvisor spokesperson says the company “consulted with and previewed the experience to a number of travel business and brands, including our top hotel partners,” during the development and testing process of the new site.

“This is the first version of an experience we’re bringing to travelers. Based on feedback from our business partners, we are in the process of developing additional ways for businesses to take full advantage of the new TripAdvisor.”

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