TripAdvisor announced on Monday that they are updating their platform to position themselves as a travel expert while also being more interactive and social. Innkeepers have a love-hate relationship with all third-party online sales agents and social media. On one hand, the online travel agent giants have marketing power to get your property seen by millions of potential guests, on the other hand, you need to be able to navigate all the minutiae of social media to be presented correctly and be at the top of the list, not to mention pay a pretty penny in commissions. Regardless of how you feel, it is important to see why online platforms are changing and how you can stay on top.
TripAdvisor is used as a modern travel guide. 20 years ago, Bed and Breakfasts and Inns, as part of their marketing, would invite guidebook creators to their properties so they could be considered for placement in a travel book. Karen Brown, Lonely Planet, Frommers and Fodors, are just a few of the travel books that properties would try to woo. In the year 2000, the platform of TripAdvisor was different than it is today. TripAdvisor was an aggregate of the expert travel books. There was one feature on the original 2000 TripAdvisor platform that took off, it was the “add your review here” button. You know the story from there. The idea that everyone’s opinion mattered and that it could be shared next to the experts’ opinion was a brilliant idea. With TripAdvisor’s move back to including expert content, they are coming full circle – but with more substance. The new platform will combine the feed design, similar to Twitter, the social experience of friends, similar to Facebook and expert guidance of the original travel guides. So what does this mean for Innkeepers? It means you should revisit your current marketing plan and focus on branding.
The reason I say branding is important now more than ever is that you need to have your name on everyone’s social tongue. You need people to “like” your social platforms and review you so that you are seen when people search in the new TripAdvisor. The travel feed of TripAdvisor is going to put friend’s likes and suggestions up front. This is similar to the change Facebook went through recently. If your content on Facebook is not engaging, Facebook doesn’t show it. If you cannot create your own content or corral an online community, you can hire experts to do this. You can also once again try to lure the travel guidebooks to your property to write about you. Monthly press releases, great pictures, and video items need to be added to your marketing agenda. Find your niche and what you excel in. Is it your breakfasts? Is it your location? Or is it your hospitality? Find that angle and nail it (or in social terms “pin it”) to the social wall.
The other important item here is to understand why TripAdvisor is changing. Platforms adjust because of online demands and to increase revenue. Selling travel as a third party vendor is not easy. Expedia and Booking.com have mastered it, but TripAdvisor is not as successful. The reason here is the concept of the funnel. There are sales funnels and Expedia and Booking.com are at the end of the funnel. People go to Expedia and Booking.com when they are ready to book, not look. TripAdvisor is at the start of the funnel. People go to Trip Advisor when they are beginning their travel search. When you are marketing your property you want to be in every part of the funnel. It is important that your name is known at the beginning of the funnel – TripAdvisor – so that you can go down the funnel to the actual booking phase. If you are lucky, the booking will be on your own website, but most likely it will be on the OTAs. TripAdvisor would like to be at every part of the funnel and wants you to book through them, but that remains to be seen if they can keep visitors attention that long.
When the slow season sets in, take the time to read up on the changing online travel sales environment and adjust your marketing. It might take a while to understand the dynamics of the online world, but the more you know, the better you will be at putting heads in beds.