TripAdvisor.com is growing at an incredible rate. I primarily use the site for hotel reviews. There are also travel forums for discussion, restaurant reviews and recommendations, and destination guides.
In July when I was “mile-high” in Denver I wrote a post, Online Hotel Reviews, comparing TripAdvisor.com to other hotel review sites and its dominance for online hotel reviews. Looking at the post again today I noticed it was littered with inaccurate assumptions which led to incorrect mathematical analysis of the data. I had made the assumption that the 1% of site visitors making consumer-generated comments were all hotel reviews when they actually include all types of comments from bulletin board forums to restaurant and sight-seeing recommendations. I’ll blame my inaccurate analysis on oxygen-deprivation for this California coastal kid writing on the high plains of Colorado.
The main point I made then and now is TripAdvisor.com is way ahead of the pack for sheer numbers of consumer-generated online hotel reviews.
TripAdvisor’s media network includes www.Airfarewatchdog.com, www.BookingBuddy.com, www.CruiseCritic.com, www.holidaywatchdog.com, www.theindependenttraveler.com, www.seatguru.com, www.smartertravel.com, www.travel-library.com, www.travelpod.com, and www.tripadvisor.com. Expedia.com is the parent corporate entity of this online travel site empire.
And with the financial backing of Expedia, TripAdvisor’s parent company, the social media website acquisitions of TripAdvisor makes this travel conglomerate the Bank of America of online travel research and search sites. 24 million unique monthly visitors and over 6 million registered members is an incredible database for the TripAdvisor-branded websites.
TripAdvisor does not actually sell hotel rooms. Revenue is generated from pay-per-click sponsored ads on the webpage. For example, looking at the Omni San Francisco Hotel webpage on TripAdvisor, there were 12 sponsored links for booking the Omni San Francisco Hotel through 8 different websites: hotels.com (an Expedia family website), Expedia.com, Orbitz.com, Omni Hotels, HotelClub.com (Orbitz owned), CheapTickets.com (Orbitz owned), Priceline.com, and Otel.com.
From the top of the page the first booking option for the Omni Hotel is a toll-free telephone ad for hotels.com (Expedia owned). The box below that has four sponsored links: Expedia.com, Orbitz.com, Omni Hotels, and Hotels.com. Two of these links are Expedia booking sites.
Further down the page were four more sponsored links: HotelClub.com (Orbitz owned); CheapTickets.com (Orbitz owned); Priceline.com, and Otel.com. The bottom of the webpage showed the same sponsored links as the top box.
While there were 12 sponsored links and one telephone toll-free number for actually booking the hotel from the main TripAdvisor webpage for the Omni San Francisco, the fact of the matter is five of these options are Expedia-owned websites and four are Orbitz-owned websites. Omni Hotels has its own sponsored link appearing twice. The other two sponsored link options were Priceline.com and Otel.com.
This analysis doesn’t help the consumer in determining which website link will have the lowest room price. I am just looking at the webpage options provided to the consumer for this hotel property and the fact that most links from TripAdvisor go to Expedia or Orbitz companies.
Share of Online Travel Agency referrals from TripAdvisor for April 2008
Compete.com is a website analytics company that analyzes consumer behavior. A Compete.com travel research report from July looked at the actual percentage of TripAdvisor referrals going to the different online travel agencies for the month of April 2008.
· Expedia 48%
· Travelocity 19%
· Orbitz 16%
· Hotels.com 11% (Expedia)
· Priceline 5%
· Cheaptickets 1% (Orbitz)
· Hotwire <1% (Expedia)
The interesting aspect of this data is the large percentage of referrals going to Travelocity.com who had no sponsored links on the TripAdvisor webpage I studied for the Omni San Francisco hotel and few sponsored links on several other TripAdvisor hotel review pages I searched. A few years ago (2005?) there was a Cornell Center for Hospitality Research report showing Travelocity.com most frequently had the lowest hotel rates of the Online Travel Agencies. I have no idea if that would have any validity now in 2008. I always book through the hotel owned websites for the best deal or seek the Best Rate Guarantee from the hotel company when I occasionally find a better rate with an online travel agency.
Compete.com had another interesting report posted September 11, 2008 analyzing the search traffic share for seven major online travel agencies. The data reflects all travel search, not just hotels. Expedia is the online search leader.
Online Travel Agency search share for July 07-July 08 (Expedia at 26% is referenced in the article and the other numbers are my estimates based on the Compete.com chart shown here)
· Expedia 26%
· Travelocity 17%
· Orbitz 16%
· Hotels.com 10%
· Priceline 13%
· Cheaptickets 10%
· Hotwire 7%
Another chart in this report shows the percentage of paid search traffic to Online Travel Agencies (OTA). 36% of all search traffic comes through sponsored links. The discussion at the beginning of this post regarding sponsored links on the hotel review webpages of TripAdvisor.com seems to correlate somewhat with this data. Hotels.com has the highest percentage of visitors accessing the site through sponsored links (44%) and Hotels.com is also the most prominent OTA present on TripAdvisor webpages.
Travelocity is the second highest in percentage of paid search referrals (about 40%) and this may account for the high proportion of referrals from TripAdvisor although I did not see many Travelocity sponsored links on the TripAdvisor hotel review pages I checked.
Orbitz and its other company, CheapTickets.com, show about 35% of traffic is from paid search referrals. Their sponsored links are highly visible on TripAdvisor. Expedia and Hotwire are around 34% paid search traffic.
Interestingly, Priceline.com has the lowest percentage of paid search traffic (about 27%), yet Priceline is showing strong growth in market share. And I would expect them to gain even more market share in these tough economic times.
TripAdvisor.com “Take this job and shove it”
A former TripAdvisor web content editor, Diedre Kiely, filed a complaint in July claiming TripAdvisor violated Massachusetts law by classifying her and other content editors as independent contractors. The suit is pending class-action certification in the U.S. District Court of Boston. The independent contractors edit reviews of hotels and restaurants according to the complaint.