June 22, 2021
Reviews are an oh-so-popular topic in the tourism and hospitality industry. While there is a lot of talk about “how” to get them, that may only be one part of turning those reviews into bookings. Many successful tour and activity operators understand what works to gain reviews and which channels are most beneficial for collecting them.
A recent poll of tour and activity operators found 89% of respondents chose the big two - Google and TripAdvisor. About 11% of tour operators decided to send their guests to Facebook, their website, Yelp, or Airbnb. Some operators point out a difference in where guests leave reviews based on their region - the English choosing differently than the Swedes. Nonetheless, the main argument that had tour operators talking: which brings the most profit?
Years ago, the answer may have been TripAdvisor, hands down. It was a place of unfiltered, honest reviews. Travelers learned to trust the platform as a source of reliable information, and it quickly became a must-use tool for trip-planning. That was how reviews started to matter for the tourism business. Guests began recognizing the Certificate of Excellence and Traveller’s Choice awards as beacons of trust. But, as business blew up, so did the pursuit of additional revenue. Thus, TripAdvisor Experiences was born as a way to offer direct tour bookings from their website - facilitating a breezy guest experience and making them a nice commission in return. As of January 2021, tripadvisor.com was the most visited travel and tourism website worldwide, with roughly 98 million visits on its web page (Statista), meaning a steady stream of potential clients with eyes on the site. Still, with ever-increasing commission prices for tours sold via TripAdvisor, is it worth it?
How much is too much before operators point their reviewers elsewhere to gain more direct bookings, side-stepping commission altogether?
Thus, the rise in popularity of Google Reviews. Have Google listings ever really been super eye-catching? Not particularly. But a big heap of 5-star reviews sure do add appeal, and your website link is right above those stars. Hence, an increase in direct bookings. Google Reviews are also easy to input for anyone with a Gmail account. As such, guests do not need to create an account on another website. Google reviews can help boost your tour business in the search pages, and Google users are reportedly the most active, contributing to 57.5% of all reviews online.
Right now, most operators agree that a blend of both TripAdvisor and Google is best. Google matters - it can increase direct bookings and online visibility, essential to any healthy tour business. However, TripAdvisor is the place travelers go to research, plan, and seek traveler advice. 95% of respondents read reviews before booking travel experiences (PhocusWire), with leisure travelers spending an average of 30 minutes reading reviews before booking. In the tourism world, a lot of that happens on TripAdvisor.
Tour operators are getting creative. Some choose to only list one less-expensive or less-popular tour on TripAdvisor and direct the rest of the traffic towards their website. The bottom line is: the bottom line matters most. OTA’s (online travel agencies), like TripAdvisor, are making it harder for operators to justify their commissions when other solutions exist, even though they are essential resources to tour-seeking travelers. In the end, it is the willingness to experiment with and adapt to the ever-changing landscape of online travel booking by the tour operator that will bring about a solution that works - for now, anyway.
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