The world’s largest travel website has rolled out its ‘Sponsored Placements’ system allowing Hotels to buy their way to the top of search results.
TripAdvisor states it is the largest travel site in the world, with 315 million members and nearly 280 million unique monthly visitors. It was one of the first websites to feature user-generated content, with everyday travellers posting comments and ratings on places and accommodation they have visited.
The site boasts more than 500 million reviews and opinions on hotels, restaurants and other attractions.
Founded in 2000, it achieved phenomenal growth, and after being acquired by IAC in 2004, was spun off from other aspects of the original company in an initial public offering, in 2011.
Its immense popularity has seen it rise to a position of great influence – ratings becoming existential for some hospitality businesses relying on recommendations. Unwarranted or abusive reviews have at times become the subject of media attention and pleas for the company to mediate.
At the beginning of this year TripAdvisor launched trials of a new aspect to its business services called Sponsored Placements, allowing Hotels with a Business Advantage subscription that share rates and availability with the site to pay to be at the top of rankings. Previously this was only possible with volumes of great reviews and competitive rates.
Sponsored Placements work on a pay-per-click model the same as Google and Facebook, and operators set a monthly budget as a maximum threshold for their promotional spend.
Ads are then targeted to people searching for accommodation options in the hotel’s area, and the businesses are only charged when a person clicks on their ad. Over 10,000 properties across 5,500 markets have used the service since it launched, and venues involved report increases in direct contacts and bookings.
The new system follows TripAdvisor’s similar program for restaurants, launched in 2017, and the company plans to expand the concept to other relevant industries.
While the sponsored ads are marked as such and this practise has become endemic in search engine results, the cash-for-results aspect may in time detract from TripAdvisor’s enviable reputation* as a source that users trust to be accurate. But it may also see an end to the virtual ransom being experienced by hapless recipients of troll reviews.
*In 2014 a survey conducted by STR (formerly LR Research) found TripAdvisor was the most widely recognised, used, and trusted travel website.