This Spotlight interview has been translated from the original Spanish by María Eugenia Coppola.
Every month, 390 million users log on to TripAdvisor all over the world. Can you visualise how big that community is? It's more than eight times the total population of Spain or Argentina! Without a doubt, the platform offers something that consumers are looking for.
But what value does TripAdvisor offer companies in the tourism sector? How can you improve the positioning of your business? How much time should you devote to the platform? Discover the answers to these questions and more in this interview with Blanca Zayas, Associate Director of Communications for TripAdvisor Spain and Brazil.
What do you most enjoy about being a part of TripAdvisor?
The most interesting part of working for a company like TripAdvisor is the international, multicultural environment. I currently manage the communications department for Spain and Brazil, which allows me to work with journalists and tourism professionals from both countries. But I also work with some excellent TripAdvisor companions from all over the world. You learn a lot from other cultures. It's given me a lot of different points of view that are really valuable to me.
What do you consider the most important contribution that TripAdvisor has made to the tourism industry?
I think most important is the way it has democratised the tourism sector. Before, when we wanted to organise a trip, we would go to the travel agency with some sort of idea of where we wanted to go. The travel agent would show us brochures of hotels and accommodation options, and on the basis of that we had to make a purchase decision... and this decision was not always the best for us.
Now, thanks to TripAdvisor and the millions of reviews from travellers, we can make a more accurate decision based on recommendations from those who have been in those places before, who have information more in tune with our needs. For example, someone visiting a destination on business is not going to be looking for the same thing as someone travelling as a couple or with young children.
With the 435 million traveller reviews and comments on TripAdvisor, we will always find information that's personalised and adapted for the type of traveller we are. Every type of traveller can now meet their expectations better than ever before.
On the other hand, TripAdvisor has also benefitted tourism companies, currently offering them global visibility through 49 markets and 28 languages. Every month, 390 million users consult our information and plan their trips. And because any company can be on TripAdvisor for free, every single one – whether small, medium or large – can gain equal visibility in front of these millions of travellers, no matter if they have an advertising budget to make themselves known around the world.
TripAdvisor has already published the trends it predicts will shape travel in 2017. Which do you think are most relevant to the sector and why?
We are already seeing the huge importance of mobile, not only for the traveller but also for the businessperson: it's now an additional marketing platform for businesses. The mobile and the selfie stick have become essential travel companions. This is an important clue for the industry – businesses should really take it into consideration in their Marketing Mix.
The internet has already become the primary source of information for planning a trip, so those tourism companies that haven't taken their business online should really do so. Online opinions of other travellers are already more powerful than information shared on social networks or advice from friends and family.
Another interesting trend that keeps developing is solo travel. For 2017, almost half of Spanish travellers have indicated that they have travelled alone at least once in their life. It is important that tourism companies take steps to attract the growing number of travellers choosing to go solo.
Do you have any advice for business owners wanting to improve their position on TripAdvisor in 2017?
It's very simple. We always recommend tourism companies to claim their business for free on www.tripadvisor.com/owners. After setting up your profile as a business owner, you can access the Management Panel and see and analyse what is being said about your brand.
You will know which aspects of your business are getting better ratings from users, which need improvement... This is important because it allows business owners to improve user experience and the quality of future comments; in turn increasing their ability to attract more clients.
With TripAdvisor, business owners can also compare themselves to the competition and easily respond to user opinions. The latter is particularly important. In fact, a study carried out in 2014 (but which is still very valid) shows that there is a 24% greater chance of booking among hotel establishments where the manager has responded to at least 50% of comments received.
Imagine how you would feel if you approached the hotel manager to complain about the service and, instead of listening to you, he turns his back on you and leaves. The same thing happens on the internet. Only there are other users watching how you deal with your customers.
Therefore, you should appreciate the time that a customer has taken to share their opinion. If the comment you receive is negative, an apology is recommended. We're all human and we all make mistakes. You don't need to take it personally. And, of course, it's also important to learn from feedback and take the steps required to keep perfecting your business. Many years ago we invested in customer surveys – now we have a free tool at our fingertips.
Lastly, another recommendation is to always keep your TripAdvisor profile updated with your latest photos, contact information, etc. In the study I mentioned before, it's shown how businesses that upload photos have 225% greater chance of bookings compared to those without photos. The more information you give the user, the better you can support them in making the decision that best fits their needs.
Are you expecting to make any changes to the TripAdvisor ranking algorithm in 2017?
Our algorithm will continue to be based on the quality, quantity and recency of reviews. The ranking is updated every week and changes according to the reviews that each company is receiving.
As a business owner, it's important to show your customers that you value their opinions, but you need to do this without offering incentives. In fact, at TripAdvisor we penalise actions such as offering discounts to those who leave a comment, or even placing a computer for customers to leave a review when they check out.
How much time per week should a business owner dedicate to managing their TripAdvisor profile?
It depends on how much involvement the owner wants and their strategy. They could have someone working specifically on online marketing and community management, or just devote a few hours a day to reading reviews and responding to them.
To get the best results from TripAdvisor, we recommend that you set aside time for it. We know examples of managers who read through user reviews, meet with their team to look for improvements, and give bonuses to employees mentioned positively in comments. There are also hotel chains now linking their managers' salaries to traveller ratings on TripAdvisor. It's clear that reputation keeps getting more important...
The minimum time to devote to the platform should be one or two hours a day to read and respond to comments and keep photos updated. Although much more can be done.
What do you think is more persuasive: opinions of other travellers or paid advertising campaigns?
At TripAdvisor we're not fans of advertising. We believe that users know when advertising has been paid for and that customer opinions, on the other hand, have not.
As we apply such tight controls, what you read on the platform about a destination is what you will actually find there. This doesn't happen when you're in front of an advertising campaign. Today, most travellers say that they would never book with a company that did not have online reviews from other travellers.
Businesses have the opportunity to integrate TripAdvisor reviews with their own website. How can they benefit from this when a customer is at the purchase decision?
It is very positive. We have a selection of widgets that allow business owners to show user reviews on their website. If you have positive reviews, you should include it. We believe it helps to generate a lot of business.
In 2016, Barcelona was selected as the #1 destination in Spain, #6 in Europe, and #11 in the world. How can this be harnessed to attract visitors to the region?
Barcelona is a vital destination for tourism in Spain, with great touristic excellence. Many companies there win Travelers' Choice Awards (the only awards in the sector based on travellers' reviews) as well as Certificates of Excellence.
Of course, every time we deliver these awards there are press releases and events held to award them, and this additional promotion certainly directs more attention to the region. Also, these destinations are featured in a specific section of our website called "The best of 2016" where they gain even more visibility, thus increasing the chance of attracting visitors.
It should be highlighted that these same advantages are enjoyed by each and every company that receives recognition from TripAdvisor.
Last year the Instant Booking system was introduced in Spain, which allows users to make online bookings without leaving your website. The service had already been introduced in the United States and the United Kingdom. What has been the motivation behind this, and what results have you seen?
It was implemented in Spain after an initial test in the United States. Whenever we want to launch a new product, we first test it in a specific area, see how the public responds, and then, if it works, we release it to the rest of the markets.
It all started when we found out that travellers were coming to TripAdvisor more and more to search for destinations, accommodation, restaurants and points of interest, but when they got to the point of a purchase decision and wanted to book, they had to leave our site and make the transaction with one of our booking partners. This complicated the process for the user, especially if they were on mobile.
With Instant Booking, we want to facilitate the booking process for the traveller. We don't want to be a travel agency, but rather to help the user by making the process simpler. Now you can make a booking with an OTA or hotel simply with one click on our platform.
The feature is receiving very positive feedback. We started last year with a collaboration agreement with Priceline Group and an integration with Booking.com's inventory, among other important chains. Hilton has also just been incorporated, so we are thrilled. The fact that new brands keep joining shows that our partners see great potential in the new product.
What requirements must tour and activity companies meet to receive bookings directly on the TripAdvisor platform?
Any place of interest, tour company, museum or attraction can be on TripAdvisor for free. If you also want to sell tickets or tours, you should contact Viator, which has been part of the TripAdvisor group since 2014.
What goals has the company set for 2017?
We will continue working on Instant Booking to make the product known throughout the world. One goal is to make the mobile experience smooth and easy for the user. Also, we want to make it so that when a traveller is in a destination, they can use us to find activities, restaurants... We want to make it known to travellers that they can also go to TripAdvisor to search for points of interest.
As you know, some time ago we bought Viator, so now the traveller can discover a destination in a different way by booking exclusive tours and tickets in advance. This means the traveller can avoiding queuing and save time in the destination; time that can be used to visit other attractions or to see more things. We want to keep working on this.
On the other hand, more and more travellers are using TripAdvisor in-destination, not just in the planning stages. Before it was more of a platform to organise your trip from a desktop computer. But now, travellers are increasingly carrying TripAdvisor in their pocket (according to TripBarometer, in 2015 67% of travellers were already looking for experiences in-destination and on their mobile phone).
Because of this, and to help our users avoid high roaming fees, our app allows users to download content for a destination and use it offline. That makes it really easy to find places while on-the-go in the destination.
Which parts of the interview did you find most interesting?
Each reader will analyse the content of this interview from a different context. But from my side, I would like to highlight some key points that will be useful no matter what type of tourism company you lead.
- A great experience is worth more than a big budget. Thanks to platforms like TripAdvisor, you can reach a huge market niche without big investments. If you win over travellers with unforgettable experiences, they will make sure to speak highly of you.
- You need to devote time to your online reputation. At a time when consumers browse online before arranging any trip, you can't afford to turn a blind eye to what's being said about you online – especially when there are so many tools at your disposal to monitor this. Keep in mind that every hour you invest is an hour invested in the future of your tourism business.
- Your website needs responsive design. As Blanca points out, mobile devices have become inseparable companions to the consumer. It's crucial for your website to adapt to these devices so you can give users an enjoyable experience from the first touch point.
- Getting positive reviews? Share them on your website to drive sales. There's nothing more persuasive to consumers than another consumer opinion. TripAdvisor review widgets are powerful tools to increase conversions on your site for this reason, and they're simple to implement with TrekkSoft.
Once the user has decided to book with you, make sure they can book there and then – and without leaving the page – by using an online booking engine like TrekkSoft.
Looking to implement these suggestions? Get some help along the way with our free checklist to improve your ranking on TripAdvisor.
Written by Lucy Fuggle
Lucy is Head of Content Marketing at TrekkSoft. She tries to read a book a week, travel solo every month, and share ideas on lucyfuggle.com. You can usually find her in Switzerland's Berner Oberland.