Here is a hypothetical calculation which well underlines the strength of the world’s leading travel review site TripAdvisor which has grown exponentially since its formation in 2000 on the basis of user generated content. The time which you might take to finish off your cup of tea (assuming it is five minutes), chances are:
TripAdvisor would have added 1200 fresh reviews on multiple travel and tourism products all across the globe – at the rate of 200 reviews per minute. With 350 million unique visitors traffic monthly, about 320 million reviews of different products in its cumulative data base and around 290 million downloads of TripAdvisor app, the Massachusetts headquartered platform has enviable positioning in the global online travel space and has been aped by scores of platforms in other parts of the world.
But for world’s most admired travel review site, the past few years have seen a decisive shift in its stance primarily centered around its ambition to go beyond the user generated content stronghold. The desire is to add more basic features to serve its millions of users world-over and have a larger presence in the promising geographies. India clearly figures in this list. “Along with China and Japan, India is a key market for us in Asia. And within India, hospitality is going to be a major focus area for us,” Nikhil Ganju, Country Manager, TripAdvisor India recently told TourismFirst in an exclusive conversation.
But before Trip Advisor’s India-specific leanings, here is a quick take on the churnings which is defining TripAdvisor’s character afresh. To begin with, while online reviews continue to remain its major strength and the most defining element of its recall value, TripAdvisor is not just a travel review site any more. In 2013, in a decisive shift in stance, it assumed the character of a meta-search engine – the platforms which are slated to usher in a new revolution owing to their all- encompassing character displaying the price-comparison feature of not only the independent suppliers but also the leading OTAs. “Transition to a meta-search engine was a major milestone for us. Bringing live prices on the portal from multiple sources was a major addition to our portfolio. It helped us in monetization and improved the experience of the visitors as alongwith the quality information on a targeted product, he was also getting price comparison,” Ganju said. Last year, the platform went a step further when it introduced instant booking (visitors can make direct booking too of hotels) facility on its platform for consumers in the US and later in the UK. Early last month, this facility has been rolled out in nine more markets across the world (primarily English-speaking) which also includes India. “With these features, we have got much closer to the ultimate consumer. Earlier we were a site where you could plan a perfect trip. Now we are facilitating travellers not only to plan their trip but also to compare prices and make the final booking. And this is creating a win, win equation for all stakeholders in the value chain. For consumers, they are not only getting the review but also the chance to book a product at the best competitive price point. And our supplier partners – be it an independent hotelier or an OTA- are benefitting due to the high conversion rates of meta-search engines,” underlined Ganju.
TripAdvisor’s growth story in India is also rooted in the changes or additions in the basic character of the platform. That India, a market which TripAdvisor had spotted way back in 2008 as its major future frontier in Asia, figures in the list of the first bunch of nations where instant booking has been launched (the global unveiling is expected later this year) is reflective of TripAdvisor’s intent to scale up its operational base in India. “During the formative years of laying a foundation in India since 2008, our major challenge was to collate original content from Indians to bring in the local flavour. And for that we had deployed several means including getting into a tie-up with Jet Airways (the partnership still exists) wherein its frequent flyer customers were encouraged to leave reviews on our site and earn extra mile. And we have quite a significant base of quality content on Indian travel and tourism products now and we now figure in the list of top three travel sites in India,” Ganju explained. He, however, refused to divulge the details on the Indian traffic generation on TripAdvisor including the volume of downloads of the platform’s app by Indians.
However, with the addition of new features (price comparison and booking) in the recent years, TripAdvisor claims to have created a comprehensive profile of Indian tourism products and here the hospitality segment has been a major concentration. “Hospitality online booking, an under-penetrated segment, is now getting its due attention and this is going to be major growth area in the Indian travel space in the future. We too are laying special emphasis on this vertical and as a result of that the volume of Indian hotel enlisting has now gone up to around 50,000 from a much smaller base of 20,000 units three years back. And we have a category agnostic approach wherein any accommodation up for sale can be enlisted on our platform,” Ganju specified. On a global basis, TripAdvisor is estimated to feature around 1.8 million hotels and accommodations – a substantial chunk of which is covered by B&B units (bed and breakfast). According to Ganju, TripAdvisor India will continue to penetrate more in the Indian hospitality vertical in association with its suppliers’ partners. “In the past three years, we have been enlisting 8,000-9,000 hotel and accommodation units in India every year and we are quite confident of maintaining this trajectory. We are also working in association with prominent Indian OTAs like MakeMyTrip, GoIbibo, Yatra, etc. and we believe our Indian hospitality base will significantly expand in the coming years,” Ganju underlined.