TripAdvisor, the largest online travel agency (OTA) for tours, activities and attractions, has begun testing a “Booking unavailable” message on the listing pages of tour companies that do not sign up to be bookable with the site.
The message sits prominently on the left side of the tour’s listing page, and provides a button to view alternative options that are bookable. Checks by Arival found several examples when looking on a laptop computer. The message was not visible on the mobile website or mobile app of TripAdvisor for the listings Arival checked. It seems to appear only for some tours and excursions, but not for all types of activities.
When reached for comment, a TripAdvisor spokesperson explained the change in the context of helping the overall customer experience: “We recently released a new feature that makes it easier for travelers to book experiences. If a traveler lands on a page where a direct booking is not available, we’re now giving them the option to view other pages where they can book similar experiences. This feature is part of a test aimed at improving the shopping experience on our site.”
Jason Hackett, president of marketing strategy firm Brier Katama serving tour, activity and attraction operators, may have been one of the first to notice the altered listing. He posted this observation on LinkedIn and received numerous comments from operators about this change.
“There’s a general frustration among many operators that I’ve spoken with. That they’ve played by the rules, and invested a tremendous amount of time, effort, and money, and now the rules have been completely changed,” Hackett says.
“I’m saddened by this new approach, which seems to go counter to the foundation TripAdvisor was built upon,” said Jonathan Elkoubi – Senior Director of Business Development, VR World NYC. “Long gone are the days of ‘TripAdvisor: Reviews You Can Trust.’ But I can’t say I’m really surprised either… this latest evolution of TripAdvisor was to be expected.”
When asked how he sees this affecting the industry, Hackett is blunt in his assessment. “They are killing the goose that laid the golden egg. The whole site is predicated on real reviews by real people, and this really alters that dynamic. I’m already hearing from people in the industry that they want to get away from TripAdvisor.”
This move is another example of steps TripAdvisor has taken to drive more bookings through their own website and apps. In 2017, the company began removing the links to operators’ websites on some listing pages. TripAdvisor began restoring those links earlier this year.
TRIP’s Position: The Consumer Comes First
This effort comes on the heels of the interview with TripAdvisor Experiences President Dermot Halpin at the Arival Conference in September at Las Vegas. When pressed on the removal of the URLs and the reasons for doing it, he made it clear that the company was focused on making activities bookable, because that’s what consumers want.
“We run a marketplace business,” Halpin said. “You have the needs of the consumer, the needs of the suppliers, and the needs of TripAdvisor as a business. We’re always trying to balance those things with an emphasis on the consumer.”
Watch the complete interview with Halpin at Arival here.
What Should Operators Do?
Whether this is simply another test performed by the company or a policy that is here to stay remains to be seen, but the move will certainly put more pressure on operators to become bookable on the site.
Operators who choose not to be bookable on TripAdvisor but rely on referrals from the site should consider some key questions: if this message appears on their listing page, will it significantly affect user behavior? Will it keep users on TripAdvisor and reduce both traffic to their website and inbound calls?
As the debate continues within our industry, the answer to these questions for each operator, and what to do, will be different.