TripAdvisor: The Travel Company That’s Really All About Data

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TripAdvisor’s openness. This was still the early 2000s, remember, before blogs and Twitter and Facebook had made the notion of global, instantaneous opinion-sharing commonplace. “A lot of folks in the hospitality industry were not ready for the concept of somebody being able to advertise their complaints to a worldwide audience,” says Kaufer.

In all fairness, Kaufer points out, it’s easy to see why a small-business owner like a bed-and-breakfast manager might be upset to see a 1-star review from a customer who was angry that the registration desk wasn’t open at 3:00 in the morning. “Our policy is, the customer stayed there, so they get a chance to voice their opinion. But that’s why we have always offered the management a response capability, so they can tell their side of the story.”

And over time, says Kaufer, the explosion of online customer reviews has pushed the travel industry to increase quality, and has allowed the best properties to achieve the success they deserve. “I still meet hotel owners who don’t like to shake hands with me because I’ve hurt their business, but far more often I get people thanking me for helping their brand shine,” he says. So a problem that originally had the potential to alienate TripAdvisor’s advertisers—hotels and restaurants themselves—turned into an asset.

Flight to Quality

There’s a hoary old saying from the dot-com days: “Innovate or die.” Whether it’s true or not, it’s unlikely that TripAdvisor could have survived for a decade—much less grown to its current position as the 366th most trafficked site in the world, according to Web traffic reporting service Alexa—if it hadn’t kept adding new services. Not only has the company acquired a long list of other sites that specialize in information about cruises and other vacation opportunities, but in the last year it’s begun to go beyond its traditional listings of restaurants, hotels, and attractions by adding extensive information about flights and vacation rentals.

In August 2008 TripAdvisor acquired a majority stake in Cambridge, MA-based vacation rental listing and review site FlipKey, which had launched only five months earlier; it added FlipKey’s listings to its main site last spring. And that’s just a first taste of the new categories the company is investigating, Kaufer says. “We’ve got the biggest travel marketplace and the biggest travel audience out there, but they know us primarily for hotels,” he says. “I think the opportunity is there to teach everyone that … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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