HOTELS Interview: TripAdvisor talks future plans

The power of hotel review website TripAdvisor in determining which hotels travelers choose to spend the night at only continues to grow.

The statistics speak for themselves — TripAdvisor gets over 40 million unique visitors a month across its brands and operates in 30 countries worldwide. It has tallied more than 50 million reviews since its launch in 2000, up from 10 million reviews in 2007. An average of 26 new reviews and opinions about hotels are posted every minute.

Lately the company has been reaching out to hoteliers with a new profile management interface and free seminars on how to best utilize the website as a marketing tool with customers. After attending one of these “Master Class” seminars, HOTELS Magazine spoke with Christine Petersen, president of the company’s TripAdvisor for Business division, about what’s happening at TripAdvisor and where it plans on going.

HOTELS Magazine: Are there any new developments at TripAdvisor you would like to share?

Christine Petersen: The biggest thing is the overhaul of the Management Center. We launched a new division, TripAdvisor for Business, and that is focused on helping the hospitality industry around the world connect with customers. That was launched 18 months ago. We started the Master Classes in the fall of 2010. We had never done that before. I think we started with a couple of them in the U.S. In just the past quarter we started running them in Asia and have had hundreds to date.

In May we launched our Certificate of Excellence program. I’ve received love letters from hoteliers on that. It helps showcase their business, it really gives them a boost. It shows the world what the customers on TripAdvisor think about them.

HOTELS: How is TripAdvisor performing as a company?

Petersen: In general, well. You probably know we’re in the process of spinning off from Expedia into a publically traded company. In general the business continues to do very well.

HOTELS: How is the still-precarious state of the U.S. economy affecting TripAdvisor’s business? It’s true that advertising is your primary revenue source, correct?

Petersen: Advertising is our primary revenue source. Since 2008, we have done very well despite the fact that the economy has not. Consumers are still looking for good deals on where they’re spending their money. They want to make sure they’re spending their money in the right place. We’re still bringing the eyeballs to them and that’s what’s most important to them.

HOTELS: How resilient does TripAdvisor believe the appeal of travel review websites is? Will people tire of participating with the site? Will it still be here say, 50 years from now?

Petersen: I think it will be. In 1999 I was working on a travel review website for Travelocity. Hotel reviews were around before TripAdvisor. The most effective way to advertise is word of mouth.

We are moving away from the wisdom of the crowd to the wisdom of the friend. We are integrating further with Facebook. We have a Facebook application, and we have got over a billion pings on the map. If you look at our site right now, we can give you the Facebook experience integrated in it. You can log into our website with Facebook.

HOTELS: What is TripAdvisor’s take on the Google Hotel Finder? Is this something we may see featured on your website in the future?

Petersen: Anything Google does is interesting. They’re constantly trying to look out for new innovative features.

However, I think they’re missing the interaction with the community, but that’s where I think TripAdvisor has cornered the market.

We already have mapping features today as maps are a critical part of any travel experience. Maps are what Columbus sailed around the world with. We will continue to innovate on maps.

HOTELS: Give the amount of attention it is getting, particularly the Office of Fair Trade investigation in the U.K., does TripAdvisor have any new initiatives on combatting fake reviews? Have you considered requiring something like a reservation number to post a review?

Petersen: No, because we fully believe in what we do. We’re not a booking site, and I don’t care how someone books. Think about road trips in the U.S. If someone is driving along and notices, “Oh, there’s a Holiday Inn here.” They may pay in cash and not have any reservation number and then not be able to post a review.

If you look at the values and contributions people are making to the site, it’s a staggering number. More importantly, what our ultimate validation of what we do is the growing audience we have. The audience grows every year with happier and happier customers and happier and happier hoteliers. We know we’re doing things right. The most important thing is to have a happy customer.

Christine Petersen
Christine Petersen