Q&A with Tripadvisor’s Head of Industry Relations, Brian Payea

TA

A bit over a month ago, I got to visit Tripadvisor’s new Headquarters in Needham, MA, with our Fidelco Guide Dog Puppy in tow. (off topic for a minute, my husband and myself are volunteer puppy raisers for the Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation, my apologies for the shameless plug for Fidelco, but it’s a great organization that trains dogs for a great cause. 🙂

Their new headquarters is cool, and I think it interesting that anytime a article has come out in the past month with snarky comments about, “My business listing money increase put to a great cause, etc. etc.” and “oh so THATS why they raised my biz listing fee.” I can understand the unhappyness and frustration that having raised fees causes, but if I could point out, and this is not in Tripadvisors defense, but just an external observation, the new HQ is geared (from what I could observe) in making their employees happy and productive. I personally would much rather call a company with someone happy and helpful on the other end of the phone to deal with my problem, then a grumpy, unhappy and fed up with life customer service rep, IMHO.

I spent more then a hour talking with Tripadvisor’s Head of Industry Relations, Brian Payea, and we talked about the state of the industry and where Tripadvisor was headed.

I had been collecting questions for some time from inn’s that I had been talking to and gave Brian a laundry list of questions. I hadn’t priorly published them, as I was still waiting on some of the statistics that took some time for them to put together. There is a comment regarding reviews and claimed listings (from me) at the bottom that I think the B&B industry needs to address.

General Questions from more than one property:

A comment: A ton of inns said they would continue or start to list on TA if they kept rates affordable. But every time the rates are raised more small properties are dropping. When their marketing budget is $3000 for the year and their TA listing is more than ½ of that, they just can’t afford it.

Just to be sure everyone’s using the same terminology, every business has a free listing on TripAdvisor.  The Business Listings product, which provides contact info, links, special offers and announcements, is a distinct product that is available for purchase.  So, whether or not a property decides to purchase the Business Listing, they always have the free listing.

Business Listings has evolved from the first iteration, where we had flat pricing regardless of the property’s business specifics, to a product where each property has an individually calculated price.  Each property now sees property-specific pricing, based on a calculation using the following elements:

  • Number of rooms
  • Geographic area
  • Total page views for the property in the last 12 months
  • Click-through rates for the property
  • Estimates of conversion rates based on industry standards
  • Average daily rate and average length of stay

The pricing is higher than it was when we first introduced it.   The factors used in any property’s pricing are available for consideration, and if the property owner disagrees with any of the individual elements of the calculation, he or she should contact their sales person and explain which elements are incorrect, and then work with the sales person to determine the price that reflects the accurate elements.

Why is Tripadvisor so hard to contact and get answers from? Especially support?

With more than five million businesses on TripAdvisor, we constantly re-examine how best to provide support sustainably.   We have recently made significant changes in our support structure, and have seen a measured improvement in the time to respond.   Our management center is still the place to begin all dialogs regarding most areas that require answers.    Our Help Center has also been rebuilt, and almost every question of policy is answered there.  Where properties most frequently want additional help is when there’s a desire for escalation of the discussion after an answer has been delivered through the management center.   In those cases, they are able to reply to the email, or call the toll free numbers and follow the path to customer support.  The wait times on those calls have gone down, but I can’t guarantee there will not a hold time.  

My experience with customer support issues when I’ve been drawn into the discussion is that frequently the request, for instance a review dispute, has not been framed with the TripAdvisor guidelines in mind.   I recommend that before submitting the request, take a look at the guidelines and consider whether the request has been described in a way that the violation of the guidelines is clear.    Also, it’s important to include details that will help the investigators come to the same conclusions.  

Why do do B&Bs continuously get promises to follow up on issues once they get ahold of support and many don’t get followed up on?

 Unfortunately it’s not possible to speak to specific instances without the details of the case. I’ve investigated claims like this after conversations with innkeepers and sometimes find that there is a difference of opinion about whether the inquiry has been addressed.  It’s good to check the spam filters on emails in case the email response got caught there. Second requests can be entered in the management center as well, or the phone support can be used to see if the case is closed on our side, and to discuss the outcome.   The innkeeper may decide to begin a new case with additional evidence that wasn’t provided the first time as well.

If site traffic from Trip Advisor is down, why do you think a rate increase is justified?

Site traffic to the site is up overall.  If a particular property is seeing less traffic than previously, they might want to check their figures against what is provided in the management center, and discuss any differences with their sales person.

Why must business listing members choose between a Special Offer & Announcement? Why not both?

Business listings customers do get both the Special Offer and Announcement.   I’d suggest checking out the resources in TripAdvisor Insights, www.tripadvisor.com/tripadvisorinsights to read some of the case studies and best practices documents about maximizing the impact of both of these features

Why not remove the most commonly used terms algorithm? It’s clearly not being updated.

We constantly reevaluate every feature on the pages.  If something isn’t benefiting the traveler, it’s tweaked or removed to make way for something that helps the traveler more.   You’ll see many new tests in the area of personalization that should improve navigation, and help travelers discover B&Bs as well.

What’s the process for merging small towns that only have 1 or 2 listings each?

We don’t merge towns unless the local government merges.  We keep properties in the towns in which they are built.   One option that you might be considering is when it makes sense to create a larger entity that includes multiple destinations.   One example is Cape Cod.   While a property in Chatham stays in Chatham, there is a larger area destination of Cape Cod, which includes Chatham, Brewster, etc.   You will see those across the top of the page, with the final destination on the right, and working back left, you’ll see Cape Cod, Massachusetts, United States, etc.   If you believe your area would be well served by adding that additional layer of structure, please let us know.   Maybe best to contact Heather (heather @ forfengdesigns.com) and she can forward to me.

TA has been telling B&Bs this week that ALL lodging business listings start at $899/year and that is for a property with a $70/ADR. Is that true?

Our Business Listings are priced individually and the pricing changes.   Best to contact your sales person for your specifics.

Why don’t they charge restaurants for listings?

Every business gets a free listing on TripAdvisor.  The commerce opportunities vary by segment.  As you’ve probably noticed, we now feature booking options on restaurant listings, often through Open Table in the US.   We’ve also recently purchased companies in this space, and you’ll see The Fork, as one of our restaurant initiatives.   The different businesses have different ways to engage in commerce, and can choose to or not.  But all businesses have a basic free listing.

Why can’t they tell B&Bs unique visitors vs. total visitors when given their stats.

When the management center was built we worked with business owners to determine which pieces of information would be most useful, since we had to prioritize.  We will add your suggestion to the list of possible changes for the next version.

I’ve had a bunch of inns say they had a top listing in a town, with 5 star reviews and more then double the reviews of the competition, when they stopped paying for a premium listing their ranking dropped to #2

The ranking of properties has absolutely nothing to do with a property’s decision of whether or not to purchase any commerce opportunities on TripAdvisor.  Everyone’s heard us say that the popularity algorithm is confidential, and it will remain as such, so I won’t disclose any additional details here.  But the total number of reviews is not as important as the number of recent reviews.   Use the resources in the management center to compare yourself to your competition and pay particular attention to how many and how good the reviews are from recent months.

Why aren’t the analytics that are being provided anywhere close to the numbers that Google Analytics and other tracking programs return with. In terms of clickthroughs and visits.

We provide information from our servers, based on the clicks travelers make from our site.   Our data regarding what travelers do on TripAdvisor should be more accurate than another party’s data about our site.   Your sales rep should be able to walk through this particular data with you. 

Why do they favor hotels (e.g.; asking travelers to “choose a hotel” and totally leaving out B&Bs).

TripAdvisor is delivered in 28 languages and is used by people literally all over the world.   Hotel is a universally known term, while the B&B experience varies language to language.  The overall question is how best to get travelers who are looking for, or would enjoy, a B&B experience to those property listings.   Our ongoing testing of personalized navigation should be a big step in this direction.    While many ask for B&B tabs, we know from experimenting with them that that isn’t the answer, and we continue to innovate to help find your ideal customers and help them find you. **This also came up in conversation, about TA trying to best word B&Bs, as in other countries B&Bs are also known as guest house, holiday lets, country house, gites, etc.

Why are they now making it impossible to stop subscribing to Trip Connect until the end of an annual agreement?

TripConnect can be turned on and off as you wish.   You choose when it appears on the page.

Why doesn’t TA automatically “reset” the review count to zero when a business is purchased by a new owner?

If you notify us of the purchase, using the management center, the reviews from the previous owner can be removed and you start over.  Keep in mind you also start over in your popularity calculation and the reviews cannot be replaced after having been removed.   It’s your call.  We don’t automatically reset it without a request, as many purchasers consider the history of reviews as a goodwill asset of the property.

This request from many many B&Bs

Why is TA requesting auto renewal as one of the renewal conditions, considering the fact that the prices are increasing every single year drastically? Why they are not giving people the opportunity to go on on a year to year basis? People cannot just let Auto Renewal On and agree to have the money taken out their accounts when prices are increasing hundreds of dollars every year.

 Auto renewal is the standard contractual language, but you are notified in advance and given the opportunity to end your subscription.

This from one of my innkeepers. (and it was a question I had from some of my clients as well)

Our rate was going to go up by $339 this year to a total of over $1100 for 3 rooms. That is higher than I pay for B&B.com and they are our highest referrer and responsible for highest booking rate. I use http://intellakeeper.com and proved them wrong with the actual bookings TripAdvisor was responsible for. (we also have Google Analytics and Awstats on this account and neither match even close what Tripadvisor is reporting for stats)

Any time you have data that contradicts what is being used to calculate your new pricing, you should present that information to your sales contact. **Brian specifically said when we talked about this, TA is willing to negotiate, but you need to present them with facts about reservations, etc. 

How many B&Bs under 12 rooms in the United States have listings on TripAdvisor.

  • Total B&Bs under 12 rooms: 17,309

How many B&Bs under 12 rooms in the United Kingdom have listings on TripAdvisor.

  • Total B&Bs under 12 rooms: 26,221

How many B&Bs under 5 rooms in the United States have listings on TripAdvisor.

  • Total B&Bs under 5 rooms: 11,633

How many B&Bs under 5 rooms in the United Kingdom have listings on TripAdvisor

  • Total B&Bs under 5 rooms: 18,096

How many B&Bs in the United States have registered owners? (i.e claimed their listings)

  • Of the 23,471 B&B properties in the United States, 12,563 have at least one registered owner at them (46%)

How many B&Bs in the United Kingdom have registered owners?

  • Of the 29,288 B&B properties in the United Kingdom, 19,856 have at least one registered owner at them (68%)

How many B&Bs in the United States are writing management responses?

  • Of the 23,471 B&B properties in the United States, 19,140 have reviews (82%). Of the properties that have a review, 7,036 have written a management response (37%).

How many B&Bs in the United Kingdom are writing management responses?

  • Of the 29,288 B&B properties in the United Kingdom , 27,631 properties have reviews (94%). Of the properties that have a review, 11,405 have written a management response (41%).

————————————————————————————-

Of concern to me is in the US, how many B&Bs have not claimed their business listings (the free listings) as well as how few (37%) have written management responses.

Considering that guests are booking lodging with a very heavy review bias behind them before they book, I think it’s of the utmost importance that B&Bs claim their listings so they can respond. If your B&B has nothing but great reviews, that’s terrific, but my feeling is you should still respond to the reviews. People have taken the time out of the day to write a positive review, responding lets them know you have acknowledged that, as well as for the thousands of other people looking at those reviews after the fact.

About Chef Forfeng

Innkeeping Tip and Tricks: Please check out some marketing ideas for Inns and B&Bs, Blogging ideas, Facebook Tips and Social Media Tutorials https://chefforfeng.wordpress.com/marketing-for-lodging-resources/
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One Response to Q&A with Tripadvisor’s Head of Industry Relations, Brian Payea

  1. Martin Page says:

    Thanks for the interview.

    We had a business listing for about 5 years but every year the price went up significantly and at the same time the traffic went down. Last year I queried it with them and even gave them a chart that showed the cost per click for each year. They were not really interested, just claiming that traffic to their site has gone up and that their figures are more accurate than ours. They also suggested that if our figures were lower we should take it up with Google!

    As most people use Google Analytics, dismissing our figures as irrelevant is not very helpful. They need to address why owners are seeing lower figures rather than just claiming that they are right.

    The auto renewal is also poor customer relations. After last year’s price increase quote, I told them that we would not renew and could they please make sure that the money was not taken automatically. They gave me several assurances that it would not happen, but of course it did and I had to demand a refund.

    We have not renewed our Business Listing as we can no longer afford it.

    Every so often a message pops up asking if we would like a Business Listing. I have followed it through to get a quote. I have also been phoned by Tripadvisor asking me to renew. However the price now quoted is more than double the already unafordable quote of last year.

    Looking through the TA listings for other B&Bs, almost no-one has a Business Listing. It seems to me that they are really less and less interested in B&Bs. I would assume that they can make a lot more money from bigger hotels for the same or less effort. Like a lot of businesses they are now so big that they don’t have to worry about losing a few B&Bs.

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