Why we should all remember that TripAdvisor is run for profit

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TripAdvisor has become so synonymous with travel it’s now difficult to remember life without it. Not only do we seek its advice on where to travel, who to travel with, where to eat and stay, we do so trusting that what we read is the truth, and what the site recommends to us is based on user experience. 

Today we have an incredibly insightful article written by, Kate Moxhay, who is an English travel writer currently living in the murky depths of Manila, Philippines. Despite being based in Asia, she spent a year in Australia and loved it so much she’s planning on coming back permanently next summer! Kate has travelled all over Asia, the Middle East, the US and the Pacific and is a great supporter of locally run, small tour operators, and always values local knowledge over anything else. This is her first guest post for Drop Bear.

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Written by Kate Moxhay at katemoxhay.com

Here is why we should all remember that TripAdvisor is run for profit by Kate Moxhay

The travel realm is a complex one, with myriad options for every element of the experience from transfers to hotels, tours to top sights and everything in between. It pays to research ahead of time in many respects, after all who wants to be stuck on a badly organised, over priced tour when there is a far better option just over the horizon, had we bothered to check. But when it comes to our most trusted ally amongst this dizzying array of choice and potential bad decision, it’s worth remembering that TripAdvisor is, above all, a profit making enterprise. In fact, some would argue it is slowly morphing into more of an online travel agency than a review site. So, what does that mean for us?

 

Top results will not always show the best options as voted for by real travellers

TripAdvisor remains a place to look to for real, honest reviews. This is its bread and butter and it rightly takes fake reviews extremely seriously. They know that the reason we look to the site for advice is because we trust that, on the whole, the reviews we read are truthful and honest. And they generally are. But this kind of blind trust in reviews can blinker us into believing that every search we do will provide us with results based purely on user experience, which it definitely does not.

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TripAdvisor bought tour company Viator back in 2014 and is very savvy at promoting Viator tours through the site. The companies that advertise tours and activities through the Viator platform pay around 20-30% in commission, which means it is in TripAdvisor’s interest to promote these tours and activities above all else, including smaller independent operators and, sadly, other tours that often have more positive reviews provided by people who actually experienced them. This sort of self promotion on TripAdvisor’s part makes sense from a business perspective, but the result is a list of seemingly popular tours that may not necessarily be the top tours as voted for by real, independent users. 

 

Booking through TripAdvisor means being on your own when problems occur

There is a decent amount of pressure by TripAdvisor for users to use their own booking system for things such as tours and hotels. They are often cheap, good deals which makes sense when faced with many options from various sites. But its worth remembering that you’re pretty much on your own if anything goes wrong. This is especially true when booking tours, as the booking is first run through TripAdvisor’s booking system, and then through Viator before it gets to the actual tour company, so if anything were to go wrong with the tour or the booking, TripAdvisor is just a long distant memory.

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The vast majority of bookings go  without a hitch, but whenever a tour booking is that far removed from the tour operator, getting compensated when things go wrong can be very difficult. Whereas booking directly with the tour operator themselves leaves no doubt as to who is responsible when things don’t go according to plan. It’s also far easier to get a feel for what to really expect on a tour when communicating directly with operators, not to mention a far more personal experience. 

 

Use it for the reviews, above all else!

This mighty behemoth has so far managed to turn itself from an Expedia spin off into a $7billion (and counting) business, and it has done so by intelligent marketing and a lucrative business model based on advertising and revenues from tour operators, hotels and more. It is not purely a repository for authentic reviews, there is now much more to the modus operandi to be aware of. 

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But authentic reviews are still very much there, more than ever. The thing to remember is that finding them can be more difficult than it used to be. The smaller, independent tour operators who struggle against the giants like Viator deserve to be recognised. 

Trust the reviews, and not necessarily the search results. Check that you’re not looking at just a business or hotel that has paid to be up there at the top, rather than one organically grown from user experience. Because it is the reviewers that made this site so popular and useful, not the ads or revenue boosting tactics. 

Look to the reviews above all else, delve a little deeper beyond the initial search results, because that is where you’ll find the best of the bunch.

Written by Kate Moxhay at katemoxhay.com