New media services : ratings and recommendations websites in the travel and tourism industry
The travel and hospitality industry is one which relies especially crucially on word of mouth, both at the level of overall destinations (Australia, Queensland, Brisbane) and at the level of travellers’ individual choices of hotels, restaurants, sights during their trips. The provision of such word-of-mouth information has been revolutionised over the past decade by the rise of community-based Websites which allow their users to share information about their past and future trips and advise one another on what to do or what to avoid during their travels. Indeed, the impact of such user-generated reviews, ratings, and recommendations sites has been such that established commercial travel advisory publishers such as Lonely Planet have experienced a pronounced downturn in sales ¬– unless they have managed to develop their own ways of incorporating user feedback and contributions into their publications.
This report examines the overall significance of ratings and recommendation sites to the travel industry, and explores the community, structural, and business models of a selection of relevant ratings and recommendations sites. We identify a range of approaches which are appropriate to the respective target markets and business aims of these organisations, and conclude that there remain significant opportunities for further operators especially if they aim to cater for communities which are not yet appropriately served by specific existing sites. Additionally, we also point to the increasing importance of connecting stand-alone ratings and recommendations sites with general social media spaces like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and of providing mobile interfaces which enable users to provide updates and ratings directly from the locations they happen to be visiting.
In this report, we profile the following sites:
- TripAdvisor, the international market leader for travel ratings and recommendations sites, with a membership of some 11 million users;
- IgoUgo, the other leading site in this field, which aims to distinguish itself from the market leader by emphasising the quality of its content;
- Zagat, a long-established publisher of restaurant guides which has translated its crowdsourcing model from the offline to the online world;
- Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree site, which attempts to respond to the rise of these travel communities by similarly harnessing user-generated content;
- Stayz, which attempts to enhance its accommodation search and booking services by incorporating ratings and reviews functionality; and
- BigVillage, an Australian-based site attempting to cater for a particularly discerning niche of travellers;
- Dopplr, which connects travel and social networking in a bid to pursue the lucrative market of frequent and business travellers;
- Foursquare, which builds on its mobile application to generate a steady stream of ‘check-ins’ and recommendations for hospitality and other services around the world;
- Suite 101, which uses a revenue-sharing model to encourage freelance writers to contribute travel writing (amongst other genres of writing);
- Yelp, the global leader in general user-generated product review and recommendation services.
In combination, these profiles provide an overview of current developments in the travel ratings and recommendations space (and beyond), and offer an outlook for further possibilities. While no doubt affected by the global financial downturn and the reduction in travel that it has caused, travel ratings and recommendations remain important – perhaps even more so if a reduction in disposable income has resulted in consumers becoming more critical and discerning.
The aggregated word of mouth from many tens of thousands of travellers which these sites provide certainly has a substantial influence on their users. Using these sites to research travel options has now become an activity which has spread well beyond the digirati. The same is true also for many other consumer industries, especially where there is a significant variety of different products available – and so, this report may also be read as a case study whose findings are able to be translated, mutatis mutandis, to purchasing decisions from household goods through consumer electronics to automobiles.
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