On Message: Roman holiday reveals limitations of Tripadvisor

On Message: PR Week editor Danny Rogers on marketing and branding

TripAdvisor is lagging behind the likes of eBay and Amazon in targeted marketing and customer relationships, says Danny Rogers

I write to you from Rome, where, unlike Britain, two things are guaranteed. One is sunshine, and the other is free wireless access in your hotel.

The River Palace Hotel, where I’m staying, gives you a free connection in your room, or via two computer terminals next to reception.

But indeed most hotels here seem to offer free wireless to guests. At last, it seems, some hotel brands have recognised that wireless is a marketing advantage against close rivals, rather than an excuse to rip you off. It is still treated as the latter in many British hotels, which often charge outrageous hourly or daily rates.

Why do I need wireless, you may ask? Are Rome’s archaeological treasures and famous Dolce Vita not sufficient?

Well, first it enabled me to file this column on time. Second, it is a vital and cost-effective way of seeking out the best restaurants and bars in the vicinity.

And herein lies another marketing opportunity. When one searches for restaurants in a foreign city, few recognisable endorsement brands emerge in this space. And let’s face it, peer reviews have become the consumer recommendation of choice in 21st Century travel and tourism.

But while one stumbles across some local variations of our Time Out or TopTable, they haven’t yet achieved the critical mass or brand recognition required for true customer loyalty and benefit.

As a result the clear market leader remains TripAdvisor. In recent years this trailblazing brand has developed way beyond just hotel recommendations into restaurants, bars and shops.

TripAdvisor.it may not have the comment volume of the .com or .co.uk incarnations, but it is still a leading player here; testament to owner Expedia’s determination to turn it into a global brand. That said, TripAdvisor is still missing a number of marketing tricks to my mind.

It doesn’t yet seem possible, for example, to search for restaurants by a particular area of Rome. All I could learn was that a particular restaurant was 567th in a list of 1,765 city eateries.

More importantly, despite its market-leading awareness and longevity, TripAdvisor has not yet developed the customer relationship management techniques of, say, Amazon or eBay.

Both of these brands require one to register before use, and if TripAdvisor gathered more customer data, it could, for instance, emulate Amazon in letting you know when an appropriate new hotel opens in a city in which it knows you are interested. If done well and unobtrusively, this is adept ‘one-to-one’ marketing.

Even more usefully, it could emulate eBay in building trusted profiles of people who recommend products via a feedback scoring system.

I say this because there is still this nagging feeling that any glowing recommendation on TripAdvisor could be from a hotel or restaurant’s marketing executive or outside agent. Most are not, of course – and I know TripAdvisor has public profiles and runs checks on these things – but a bit of extra trust is always a benefit.

There is also an emerging challenge from mobile social networking services such as Foursquare, which provide real-time recommendation of venues.

Even in the Eternal City, time waits for no brand.

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