Over the last several years, tours, activities, and attractions have been the travel industry’s fastest growing sector. Online sales continue to increase at a rapid pace according to Phocuswright’s definitive study, and as such, there is a visible shift in the marketplace. Big players TripAdvisor acquired Viator and more recently Bókun, Airbnb launched ‘experiences’ and Expedia created ‘Things to do’, plus startups have raised more than $250 million in the last 15 months.
In 2017, guides and operators added 30,000 new experiences on TripAdvisor alone, increasing the number of available tours and attractions by 50%. CEO, Stephen Kaufer, commented at the 2016 Skift Global Forum that they are “looking forward to profitability in the non-hotel segment. And it would be fair to point to attractions as a very big and very interesting growth driver in that non-hotels category.”
With an emphasis on growth and online bookings, here are five things that you should know about TripAdvisor in 2018 as a tour & activity company:
1. Booking Trends
Since business began, trends and what’s ‘trending’ has equaled growth. What do consumers want right now, and what’s next? The TripAdvisor 2018 Travel Trends Report spells it out for us in its entirety. Travelers want the ‘In-destination Experience,’ and they want to be outdoors.
In 2017, historical and heritage experiences may have topped the list of fastest-growing categories for global travelers (+125% in bookings), but aquatic activities dominated the top ten, taking half of the top spots. Sunset cruises (+86% in bookings), snorkeling (+70%), kayaking and canoeing experiences (+67%), sailing trips (+61%), catamaran trips (+60%), and all ranked in the year’s fastest-growing categories.
Within the report, they also promote the success of skip-the-line tours, stating that “two of the three most popular products in 2017 were skip-the-line, and likewise for four of the ten fastest-growing experiences in 2017.” TripAdvisor listed more than 1,200 skip-the-line tickets globally and reported that these were the second-fastest growing category for US travelers by gross booking value in 2017.
These trends can work as a useful guide on how best to package existing tours or what experience options you should consider when adding to your roster. You can view more analytics within the report.
2. Popularity Ranking Algorithm
On the 28th February 2018, tour and activity operators woke to find that their business Popularity Ranking on TripAdvisor had changed overnight. The top 10 recommended tours in cities around the world were dramatically altered, receiving a mixed response on the Community Forum.
TripAdvisor was quick to release a statement to say they have “fine-tuned” the way that the Popularity Ranking for businesses is calculated “as part of their continual efforts to provide users with meaningful, relevant information when making travel decisions.”
A representative said “As always, the rankings still take into account the quality, quantity, and recency of reviews, but we have refined our algorithm in order to account for and better measure the consistency of a business’s performance over time. This will help to ensure that all businesses, large or small, have the same opportunities for exposure on TripAdvisor. These refinements were not undertaken lightly and were carefully designed and tested in order to improve our rankings algorithm.”
These updates should provide a fair and candid scoreboard for all tour and activity companies regardless of size and location. It also adds an incentive for companies to seek new reviews to achieve a higher ranking.
3. Traveler Reviews
In a comparison of 2016 to 2017, TripAdvisor attractions gained 20% additional review content. Building trust is more vital than ever to business growth, and today, consumers are actively looking for real feedback and adding their own. Phocuswright’s study prepared for TripAdvisor revealed that 53% of bookers would not commit to booking until they read reviews, and 80% would read between 6-12 reviews before booking.
TripAdvisor has a robust process for vetting traveler reviews. However, this is so stringent that it had been set to decline reviews with second-hand information automatically. In November 2017, Kaufer announced as part of an interview with NBC News that these reviews will “no longer be instantly rejected.” “We'll encourage the reviewer to come forward, perhaps taking out a sentence or two that we'll highlight for them in order to get that first-hand story reported so that everyone else can see it,” he said. “I really think that in turn will go a long way in presenting a much more complete story for travelers all around the world.”
Take a look at 3 effective strategies to improve your TripAdvisor reviews to find out more useful tips.
4. Sponsored Placements
Previously, the only way to be listed at the top of a TripAdvisor page was to earn the spot through stellar consumer reviews. In 2017, the site launched Sponsored Placements for restaurants, allowing owners to ‘sponsor’ a place at the top of their city search page. These paid for ads automatically target qualified traffic searching options in the area. Due to success, they launched the same package for Hoteliers in 2018 and, according to Skift, more than 10,000 property owners in 5,500 markets have become sponsors in the past three months.
Kaufer told Skift “I think this is going to be really good financially for the company as another revenue stream over the next several years in restaurants and hotels, and hopefully some other categories, too.”
Although not yet available, it’s likely that Sponsored Placements will soon be on offer to tour and activity operators, allowing them to promote their business above their local competitors visibly, and only paying for the clicks their ads receive. If this is something you feel would align well with your marketing strategy it may be worth speaking to TripAdvisor to note your interest prior to launch.
5. Mobile Growth
At the 2017 Skift Global Forum, Kaufer shared his thoughts about ‘the full-trip experience’ TripAdvisor aims to offer its users. “When we look at 2018, we see further penetration in mobile devices, of course, and when we look at our audience, they’re engaging with TripAdvisor on the trip a lot more. That’s a wealth of opportunity for us to not only help them find the thing they want to do, but also cement that full-trip experience.”
Kaufer spoke of the keen interest to enhance engagement on mobile devices, increase focus on tours and activities, and their efforts to show that the site is about more than just reviews.
It isn’t clear yet what TripAdvisor will do to promote mobile ‘in-destination’ experiences, but their marketing team has already shared their substantial investment plans on TV advertising, continuing its efforts from H2 2017. We do know that TripAdvisor can see a wealth of opportunity and revenue to come from tours and activities. The next few years will be instrumental to growth.
5 key takeaways to ensure your reviews continue to rank well on TripAdvisor
- Quality is key - Travellers want to know what they can expect prior to booking a tour or activity. Quality reviews give an accurate perception of the experience, which in-turn will lead to a positive customer experience and hopefully, more quality reviews.
- Quantity is also key - To rank well on TripAdvisor quality and quantity go hand-in-hand. After each tour customers should be asked to post a review. You don’t have to wait to send an automated email after a tour. Get your customers to mention the names of your guides in their reviews. This way, when customers post a review it will be more personal. Bonus: Get customers to take photographs and post it online for others to see.
- Recency of reviews - As part of the TripAdvisor algorithm, recency will also impact your ranking. Reviews and feedback should be part of every customer journey, and be a rewarding experience for your staff. Share positive reviews with your team to celebrate success, and discuss the key points of negative reviews to find a solution.
- Measurable consistency - Encourage your customers to post reviews, add new photographs to your page, and spend time responding to your reviews. With 80% of customers reading 6-12 reviews prior to booking, this is a great opportunity to add your voice and personality in response.
- Size does not matter - The new algorithm “ensures that all businesses, large or small, have the same opportunities for exposure of TripAdvisor.” This is your opportunity to make your company stand-out no matter where your company's at.