Big Interview: The mobile opportunities that lie in wait for TripAdvisor

By Travolution
By Travolution
June 27, 2014 11:41 AM GMT

Joost Schreve, who joined TripAdvisor as vice-president of mobile in the buyout of EveryTrail, spoke to Lee Hayhurst about the review giant’s approach to mobile

TripAdvisor is working on the roll out of its new mobile web and app service Instant Booking beyond the US as part of a raft of improvements to its mobile offering.

Offline functionality to address the issue of roaming charges, a more enhanced ‘near me now’ service to highlight local attractions to travellers and cross-platform consistency are in the pipeline.

Joost Schreve, vice-president for mobile, gave Travolution an update on the review site’s mobile strategy during a recent visit to London.

He said TripAdvisor was constantly looking for ways to make the mobile experience more simple for users, with Instant Booking seen as solving the problem of booking hand-off to partner sites.

The development was the first TripAdvisor has undertaken that was “truly mobile”, said Shreve. “Which is a sign of the times,” he added.

The service was launched in the US in June initially to a limited user base and with three partners; Tingo, Getaroom.com and Choice Hotels.

A batch of European markets is likely to get it next, although the task outside the US is complicated by local laws around data compliance.

Schreve said discussions were ongoing with all of the site’s meta-search partners about them benefitting from Instant Booking including Expedia, the OTA it became independent from in 2011.

“We are essentially talking to all partners. We have on-going conversations with Expedia, we’ve not launched with them yet, but Expedia is one of them and is obviously important.

“Our goal is to expand [Instant Booking], which takes a bit of time because there is a lot of integration going on there. We are trying to move as fast as we can with that.”

Schreve said there is a virtue in the simplicity of partnering with hotel operators direct for bookings, but he added:

“OTAs are very strong, and offer great loyalty and customer service. We like to work with partners that our users like to book with.”

Schreve said the addition of bookability to TripAdvisor, like the previous move to offer meta-search, was something that was partly driven by the user experience on mobile.

“Meta was a huge positive change for our users because before you had to open tonnes of windows to figure out availability.

“It was a pain, so we were looking at ourselves saying we got away with a pretty poor user experience there. We even did a mock press release saying sorry for all the pain we inflicted.”

Although still early days, the reaction to Instant Booking has been favourable, added Schreve, with TripAdvisor looking at various metrics, including the key one of conversions.

“The goal is to make it easier and that should lead to higher conversions. We are happy - conversions are looking pretty good,” he said.

Although mobile booking has prompted consumers to leave it later to book hotels, Schreve said many still want to take their time.

So TripAdvisor has no plans to emulate other specialist last minute booking apps and curate results to offer a small number of options as its users expect to be able to see everything available.

On average TripAdvisor is seeing 100 million unique users on mobile, accounting for not quite half of the site’s total traffic but this is growing at around 100% annually.

Bookings on mobile are important but not the be all and end all, TripAdvisor seeing use cases that suggest it can be the travel advice service of choice for users during their trip.

“It’s very exciting. Mobile opens up a whole area of opportunity  for us to offer travellers new experiences which we were not able to offer before,” said Schreve.

This will include restaurant bookings – TripAdvisor bought French booking platform La Frouchette in May, and is developing a seamless interface.

And TripAdvisor also sees the opportunity for its mobile offering to provide a lot more detailed local information to its users.

“I see people with their phones in their hands all the time. People on the move use their mobile constantly. Frequency of use is more intense.

“They may open their app 20, 30, 40 times a day to look at direction or look at all the things you want to know. We definitely see mobile as an opportunity to provide a tonne of user content.”

This leads naturally to a much enhanced ‘near me now’ type functionality which will require a lot more content about local attractions and sights but also an offline mode.

“We know from our own data and user feedback people do not like to enable data when abroad, it could be very expensive although it’s getting better.

“Over the course of a trip people do spend money but it’s a lot more fragmented than the purchase of the flight and hotel.

“So it’s a lot harder for any one company to really drive revenues from that in any meaningful way. We are getting there.”

As well as revenue streams, increased mobile use also potentially offers TripAdvisor a more instant and more voluminous source of customer feedback via a snap ratings, photos or even video.

Schreve said this was something TripAdvisor had not really cracked but it was something it was working on to really exploit the functionality in modern smartphones.

He said a balance needed to be struck between often lower quality user-generated images and video and more expensive professional content and highlighted Oyster.com as offering a middle ground.

Shreve also admitted TripAdvisor “had not done a great job in cross-platform consistency” to date with the only reason users have for logging in to leave a review, which only a small percentage do.

He said the site had seen success in using the Facebook integrated login button which he said was a lot more popular than logging in directly to TripAdvisor.

Despite Facebook’s own bid to be people’s in-pocket live tour guide with its ‘Nearby’ application, Schreve does not see it as a competitor.

“I certainly don’t see Facebook as a competitor. I see them as a great partner. People are using Facebook more for their social connections rather than looking up places.”

With 100 million app downloads globally, TripAdvisor is enjoying the sort of loyalty and increase in direct traffic associated with app users.

But Schreve said the site wants to make sure people find it whatever route they choose and that the UK is one of the markets it is most well known in.

“It’s always an ongoing effort to make sure people come to us and make them so happy they want to come back.

“Our traffic is very international and non-US traffic is in the majority overall. The UK is definitely among our top markets. We are relatively well known here. I see a lot of TripAdvisor stickers on hotels and restaurants.

“TripAdvisor strives to make travel a better experience and eventually everyone in the travel industry should benefit from that.”

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