11 Jul 2011

Understanding how TripAdvisor is making the travel planning experience more social

Adam Medros, VP of Product, TripAdvisor says the travel site’s vision is: “travel planning that is increasingly socially relevant, mobile and delivered in real-time”.

Over the past four years, TripAdvisor has been working on ways to make the travel planning experience more social.

Back in 2007, the company built its first app on the Facebook platform and it also explored building a social network into TripAdvisor called “Traveler’s Network”. In 2009, it integrated Facebook Connect and in 2010 TripAdvisor launched its Trip Friends product where it uses the data from its Cities I’ve Visited app to help users see where their friends had travelled and allows them to ask for advice. In December 2010, TripAdvisor partnered again with Facebook to launch Instant Personalization on TripAdvisor - giving users immediate insight into the places their friends have been, places they recommend, and highlighting reviews written by friends.

Reflecting upon the efforts and the current status, Adam Medros, VP of Product, TripAdvisor believes travel personalisation is still very much in its infancy.

Our vision of the future is travel planning that is increasingly socially relevant, mobile and delivered in real-time,” Medros told EyeforTravel’s Ritesh Gupta.

For years, people have been able to access the “wisdom of the crowds” via TripAdvisor user reviews, but now they can also benefit from the “wisdom of friends” via their unique social networks. We continue to develop ways to expand the coverage of this functionality and make it even easier to get advice from both the TripAdvisor community of travellers and friends,” added Medros.

Medros spoke in detail about initiatives pertaining to making it easier for its users to find the most relevant and social content, letting travellers tap into their network of friends and other issues. Excerpts:

How is TripAdvisor making it easier for its users to find the most relevant and social content quickly and share their experiences with their friends?
Social media is playing an increasingly important role in the way consumer access travel information and share their experiences online. According to a 2010 PhoCusWright study of online travellers, 60 percent of respondents say that they have participated in a social network. The study also suggests that travel is inherently social, as 80 percent of U.S. travellers report that they enjoy sharing travel experiences.

Our instant personalisation functionality lets a user immediately see content from their Facebook friends on TripAdvisor. The content is presented contextually to a traveler planning a trip- if I’m planning a trip to Tokyo, I can see which of my friends have been there and which hotels, restaurants, and attractions they liked or reviewed. Their experiences along with the experiences of millions of other travelers help me plan a better trip.

How is TripAdvisor letting travellers tap into their network of friends for details. How are you enhancing the exchange of trusted referrals, travel do's and don'ts, and making the travel experience more relevant and social to each person who interacts with the site?
Our original implementation of TripAdvisor Trip Friends let a user see which of their friends had been to a city they were researching and message them (either privately or via their Facebook wall) to get advice and recommendations. We’ve since evolved the functionality to show friend’s content and are in the midst of reworking the messaging functionality to expand the functionality.

In general, we’ve found that what travellers really want to do is be able to consume their friend’s recommendations without asking, so we’ve focused on ways to collect information that can be shared with friends.

For long, it has been pointed out that Facebook poses a new creative challenge and opportunity for marketers. Can you elaborate on how TripAdvisor’s approach towards Facebook, right from pre-trip stage to post-trip stage has evolved over the years?
Facebook presents an incredible opportunity for marketers and TripAdvisor in particular — it’s a large, global, growing community of users (like TripAdvisor) who want to share their experiences with their friends. We’ve spent most of our efforts looking at how to leverage the social network you’ve already built on Facebook with TripAdvisor’s leading collection of traveler content.

Our early investment in the Facebook platform let us build one of the most popular travel applications – Cities I’ve Visited. More than 20 million travelers added more than 1.5 billion pins of the places they had been to. We were then able to leverage that investment in the Facebook platform and integrate it into the TripAdvisor website.

Pre-trip, as you research where to go, you can get inspired by the places your friends have been to or by reading their reviews. Post trip- travellers want to give back to the community that helped them plan and have a great trip- even more so when that community consists of their friends.

Can you elaborate on how data from Cities I've Visited is augmented with Facebook information users have opted to share publicly?
In addition to Cities I’ve Visited data, TripAdvisor utilises profile information such as hometown and current city as well as any ‘Likes’ that are available and are relevant to travel. Our access to this information is always governed by the user’s privacy settings.

How do you foresee the combination of mobility and getting advice from friends growing?
Along with social media, mobile is another technology development that will play a critical role in the future of travel planning. TripAdvisor apps and mobile web content is available in 20 languages and are accessed by more than 10 million users a month. Our highly rated iPhone and iPad apps have been ranked #1 in more than 80 countries. We also have leading apps for the Android, Nokia, and Windows mobile platforms.

In a recent survey of mobile users, nearly 40 percent of respondents said they have planned trips using mobile devices, and 60 percent have downloaded travel apps. 23 percent have reviewed a hotel, restaurant or attraction they’ve visited using a mobile device while on a trip and 38 percent post status updates to social networking sites to keep friends updated on their travels.

We plan on integrating social features into our mobile apps in the coming months enabling travelers to access and share travel recommendations with friends while they are on their trips.

TripAdvisor also acquired mobile developer Everytrail in early 2011. Everytrail has built a mobile platform and app that allows users to record a walk or trip around a city and share it with their friends and other travelers. In the future, we envision travelers being able to get real time recommendations, follow a guided walking tour, and enhance their trip on-the-spot via their mobile devices.

Hotels acknowledge that they need to be aware of the impact that the convergence of data from sites like TripAdvisor and Facebook will have on consumers’ travel decisions moving forward. How do you expect the prowess of TripAdvisor-Facebook to shape in the time to come?
For years, people have been able to access the “wisdom of the crowds” via TripAdvisor user reviews. Over the past 10 years, TripAdvisor has collected 50 million reviews and opinions on more than 85,000 destinations, 474,000 hotels, 100,000 vacation rentals, 675,000 restaurants, and 130,000 attractions. This timely, up-to-date information has helped millions of travelers every month plan the perfect trip.

But now we’re also enabling their ability to benefit from the “wisdom of friends” via their unique social networks. By leveraging the advice of the people you trust the most- your friends- we believe travellers will get advice that is more personal and more tailored to their own likes and dislikes.

NB This article was written by Ritesh Gupta for Eyefor Travel and published on 11th July 2011