As the world’s largest travel site, TripAdvisor is the go-to source for people planning their travel arrangements. With this in mind, it is clear that the glorious moment all independent hoteliers have been hoping for is finally here – the ability to bid against OTAs for placement in TripAdvisor hotel price comparison search through the new TripAdvisor Connect A.K.A. “TripConnect”. Previously, this opportunity was only available to OTAs and large hotel brands. So, is TripConnect worth the investment? And with the constraints of a limited budget, is there any way for independent hotels to actually beat out OTAs which typically have much larger budgets to allocate to paid-advertising initiatives like TripConnect? In this article, I will explain the requirements for participating in TripConnect and weigh the pros and cons for independent hoteliers bidding on placement.
I need a TripAdvisor Business Listing to participate in TripConnect – What is this?
As an independent hotelier interested in TripConnect, your first step is to verify that you currently have a TripAdvisor Business Listing, a prerequisite for participation in the TripConnect self-service bidding platform. TripAdvisor Business Listings launched in 2010 and allow businesses to add key property information to standard listings. With a Business Listing, hotels can optimize their property listing with unique special offers and contact information. With such a monumental shift to mobile in recent years, TripAdvisor has also been encouraging hoteliers to opt into “Business Listings + Mobile”, which allows hoteliers to include a mobile-only special offer on their hotel’s listing.
The pros for independent hoteliers
The features included in Business Listings allow independent properties to standout and compete against branded hotels, most of which have Business Listings. These listings include a link to your hotel website, contact information including phone number, special offers link, a special offers tag, photo slideshow, and an announcement. A link and phone number on your listing may not sound significant, but this is a simple way to drive relevant and interested traffic to your website or reservations center to increase non-commissioned bookings.
The cons for independent hoteliers
Most major hotel brands pay for Business Listings for all of the properties within the brand family as a means to increase traffic and open up new marketing opportunities. (The brands typically return on this investment by charging each hotel a commission for all bookings made on TripAdvisor.) However, TripAdvisor Business Listings can be extremely expensive for independent hotels that are not backed by a brand and are already investing their marketing dollars on other online channels. Pricing is tiered according to the location and number of rooms at the property. I ran a search for similar-sized properties in different markets and received the quotes below.
|184 Room Hotel in El Paso, TX Business District||143 Room Hotel in Downtown Chicago Loop|
There is a vast difference in cost for a hotel in El Paso, TX and a hotel in downtown Chicago. You can find the price to upgrade your hotel’s profile to a Business Listing online here.
What is TripAdvisor’s TripConnect?
Still in its initial phases, TripConnect rolled out in October 2013 and allows independent hotels to compete for placement in the TripAdvisor price comparison search. In the past, only OTAs and large hotel brands were able to bid for placement in the pricing search results that appear on individual property listings, city hotel search results, and on the mobile app. Now, independent hotels that use a certified internet booking engine and are paying for a TripAdvisor Business Listing can also participate in this pay-per-click program. This bidding model allows the hotel marketer to control the ad spend. There is no additional commission to TripAdvisor, rather you are paying each time the ad is clicked and the annual fee for the Business Listing. This is important to keep in mind as you compare ROI with other paid-search advertising outlets that are both pay-per-click and commission-based, like Expedia TravelAds.
How does the bidding process work?
As an independent hotelier, you are able to completely control bids and budget on the TripConnect platform, including the ability to adjust bids for mobile and desktop searches. You are also able to view a forecasted number of clicks and click-through rates based on the market, position, and other circumstances. Your branded competitors do not have this control on a hotel-level as brands generally bid on behalf of hotels and charge commission for bookings.
Here’s what the results look like for an independent hotel bidding for desktop and ranking 2nd for designated date in the TripAdvior price comparison search.
Because TripConnect is still new, it is difficult to gauge the ROI for independent properties and determine how they will be able to compete against OTAs. I ran some test searches on TripAdvisor to see how independent hotels, branded hotels, and OTAs were ranking comparatively in the hotel price comparison results. First, I chose four markets to run my experiment – Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, and New Orleans. Then, for the top ten hotels in each market, I ran a search for the exact same date to determine which independent and branded hotels had Business Listings, which hotels were bidding on those dates, and how the hotel’s ad placement was ranking compared to those of OTAs. My findings were as follows:
Side Note: TripAdvisor’s Jetsetter (members-only private sale site for hotel bookings) also bids on placement within the search results, but I did not notice any preferential treatment.
It will certainly take some time to assess the value of TripConnect for independent hoteliers and their ability to bid against OTAs. From my casual experiment, it appears that at the time being OTAs are still monopolizing the top 3 results on the booking search results page for desktop and mobile, consistently ranking above branded or independent hotels. It also appears that a majority of independent hoteliers have not opted in to TripConnect and if they have, they do not have someone actively managing their bidding strategies as OTAs and brands do. It is also possible that the brands are adjusting their strategy by running select experiments in various markets rather than for all properties, thus not ranking against OTAs for the cities tested above.
Considering investing in a Business Listing and bidding with TripConnect?
- Take advantage of the special offer space. If you’re an independent hotelier already investing in a Business Listing, you can highlight your lowest prices, or a “discount at hotel website”, in the Special Offers feature of the listing. By taking this route, your best price is featured at the top of the page, encouraging users to book with you rather than looking down the page at OTA prices. This can also eliminate the need to spend time with the PPC campaign. However, you will need to monitor this pricing to make sure it is actually more appealing than the OTAs which may be difficult if you have a dynamic pricing strategy.
- How are people are using the mobile app? If your location is in the city center, you may not be ranking #1 in TripAdvisor, but your listing could appear prominently based on how people are searching within the app. This can mean that investing in a Business Listing is worthwhile even if only to get your phone number at the tips of a nearby searcher’s fingers.
I’m a TripAdvisor user searching for hotels nearby…
|Business Listing provides compelling call-to-actions and contact information.||Regular TripAdvisor listing provides very little information or incentive to book.|
- What kind of partner is your booking engine? There are three tiers of TripConnect partnership – Premium, Plus, and Partner. It may not be worth investing in a Business Listing for the purpose of running a TripConnect PPC campaign if you can’t take advantage of the premium features.
- TripConnect Premium Partners are able to bid for traffic, use automated review collection services, and take advantage of enhanced tracking features. Close to 90% of partners are signed up at the Premium level.
- TripConnect Plus Partners are able to bid for traffic and take advantage of automated review collection services.
- TripConnect Partners are only able to bid for search traffic.
See what level of partnership with TripConnect, if any, your reservation system has agreed to here.
Next Steps for Independent Hoteliers
Now that you are more familiar with TripAdvisor Business Listings and the new TripConnect program available to independent hoteliers, I suggest first assessing your ability to make a monetary investment and time commitment to the program. There unfortunately isn’t enough data yet to determine the ability to surpass OTAs’ price listings, but if you’re able to take risks and try something new in your online marketing strategy, it is an interesting new opportunity for independent hoteliers to explore. If you do not yet have a Business Listing, you will want to consider your hotel’s TripAdvisor ranking, your booking engine’s partnership with TripConnect, and the number of OTAs currently bidding on your property. Find more information, check out the TripAdvisor Business Listing website, or reach out to your hotel’s online marketing expert for their insight on your website traffic trends and booking engine details.