TripAdvisor has recently unveiled their direct booking feature, which offers users the option to book hotels within its site. Officially called TripConnect Instant Booking, this function has already created a lot of buzz in the industry.
I attended a session at WTM, where TripAdvsior gave a rough sketch on how the model works. This will allow users to research, compare, choose and now book hotels, in other words, complete the buying journey while staying within TripAdvisor user experience.
This is a major shift in TripAdvisor’s revenue model, which earlier relied on advertising. Only last year, the travel giant had revealed its meta-search service, where a supplier uses TripConnect CPC (cost-per-click) to place bids to appear in the price and availability search results. With the new model, TripAdvisor has introduced a commission based ‘bidding model’, where suppliers like OTAs, hotels, GDSs bid on a commission percentage they are willing to pay.
The basic difference between the CPC and Instant Booking model is that for the former, partners bid via cost-per-click for the top positions, and pay when users click on that link, whereas in the new model, they pay TripAdvisor a commission once the user completes their stay. In the earlier model, suppliers required bid management strategy to be on top position, and directing traffic would not necessarily lead to conversion. The Instant Booking gives them 100% return on investment; in addition they will own the data, can view traveller profile and be the pointof sale collecting the payments.
If it reminds you of the traditional OTA model, you are absolutely right. But does that mean TripAdvisor is aspiring to be an OTA? According to analysts, this is an extremely smart move by TripAdvisor to improve monetization of its mobile channel. The site gets around 110 million monthly unique visitors, about 40% of its total traffic, but accounts for less than 20% of desktop when it comes to monetization.
With mobile booking rapidly growing in US, Europe and APAC, Instant Booking, which allows users to book a hotel room while staying on the TripAdvisor user-shell will encourage more people to book, and therefore improve conversion rates. To make it more attractive for partners, TripAdvisor is using the Top Position of it search result and extending Premium Certification to enjoy benefits like tradeshow and online promotion to those signing up for this programme.
For independent hotels struggling to improve position in a channel where big OTAs with larger marketing spends typically dominate, this can be a golden opportunity to get direct bookings at a lower cost per acquisition, and to increase distribution on distressed inventory or increase direct bookings in low periods through improved mobile booking experience.
Choice Hotels International, Best Western, GetaRoom.com, Amoma, Tingo and GDS operator Travelport have already signed up for this programme. In fact for TripAdvisor, Travelport’s listings for 580,000 hotels worldwide, including 480,000 non-branded properties and 150,000 e-commerce enabled listed properties can be the biggest coup for this program.
Presently pilot testing on global Mobile and certain US desktop IP addresses, the program is expected to be globally rolled out early 2015. With Google Hotel Finder also testing Buy Now in the UK market, does this indicate a new trend to look out for in 2015? It certainly looks so!