A trusted digital travel advisor

I recently returned from a very relaxing three week holiday in Greece and Italy. The groups that provided services and tours concluded the experiences with a request for a review on TripAdvisor.com or a mention on travel forums.

While much of my holiday involved lazing about the beaches of Leros, and meandering about the shops and streets of Rome, Florence and Venice, I took some amazing tours, two of which stand out:
1. A tour of the Vatican with Grant from Eden Walks. Grant is an extremely knowledgeable and very entertaining tour guide – someone who can discuss the intricacies of the Catholic Church and link it to a contemporary reference such as “Batman: The Dark Knight”. At the end of his tour, he asked us all to provide the tour with an honest “hopefully positive” review on TripAdvisor.com, or any other travel forums we happened to be visiting.

2. 500 Touring Club – A wonderful day driving old Fiat 500s around the streets of Florence and the hills of Tuscany. Again, Sophie and Alex, our excellent and friendly guides suggested posting about our experiences on TripAdvisor.

The request for reviews on these sites is necessary due to them being service providers. The difference between services and any other products of course is that services are:
Simultaneously produced and consumed
Cannot be transported
Intangible
Perishable
Somewhat unique or different with each turn or person

As a result, TripAdvisor and other user generated travel sites are providing these small service providers the most efficient way of communicating their good reputation to people all over the world. Without a good reputation that is easily accessible, they have nothing. They can’t send their services via the post, they can’t produce more. They must rely on the experience to tell the story – and the users to communicate that story. Advertising isn’t the best option; it’s more important that they are discovered at the right time, right place, on the right channel.

The only way these businesses can build awareness and trust is via the referrals of their users. In the old days, the primary means would have been travel media – a “pray for space”, rare option. Now, it seems to be TripAdvisor – a democratised, awareness building information source where anyone can review and rank their travel experiences, and anyone can find the reviews easily.

The network effect of such sites provides their greatest strength – people seek user generated votes and reviews via TripAdvisor, then contribute themselves, thus enhancing the experience for the next person, making the content far more discoverable, and so on.