Most vacations start with planning: booking tickets, accommodation, etc. For that, experienced travelers use aggregators to search the best deals on trips, hotels, and flights…
It turns out that the second most important factor that people consider after the price is online reviews. Other things travelers pay attention to are the proximity to attractions, photos, and location. That’s why it’s no wonder that 93% of hoteliers regard online reviews as one of the most influential factors for the future of their business.
Today, there are many travel review directories, one of the favorites of which is TripAdvisor. This world-renowned website accommodates more than 600 million reviews in 28 languages. And for that, we picked it as a standout business for our technical overview to find out if it is possible to replicate their service to reach the same success. Let’s find out how to make a review website like TripAdvisor in 3 steps!
Before we jump into learning how to build a website like TripAdvisor, let’s take a look at their business model.
The essence of TripAdvisor’s business is to match individuals who are searching for the best travel experience with travel service suppliers (hotels, restaurants, airlines, OTAs). The value for both sides is evident:
On the one hand, TripAdvisor allows travel entrepreneurs to increase traffic and sales while saving time and costs. It takes only several minutes to register a business and start promoting. Thus, according to the 2017 TripAdvisor Restaurant Marketing Report, TripAdvisor allows restaurant owners to spend less than 10% of their time on marketing activities.
On the other hand, it gives travelers from all over the globe easy and comfortable access to the greatest pool of reviews on travel and hospitality services. 74% of travelers willingly write reviews to help other travelers.
The database consists of approximately 7.5 million places to stay, places to eat, and things to do. Among them are:
2 million hotels, inns, B&Bs, and specialty lodging
750,000 vacation rentals
4.6 million restaurants
915,000 activities and attractions worldwide
2. Users and Reviews
more than 600 million reviews in total
115 million submitted photos of travelers
around 455 million monthly unique visitors per month
270 contributions per minute
TripAdvisor receives most of their revenue from hotels, but they also get money from advertising and selling fights, restaurants, activities, and attractions, which nets them:
$1.5 billion in total
$1.2 billion from the hotel segment
$360 million from non-hotel segment
Their business model consists of the following ways of monetization:
TripAdvisor allows brands to display their banners and sponsored ads in the top-viewed placements on the website, taking fees on cost-per-click or cost-per-impression (display) schemes. TripAdvisor doesn’t show ads to everyone as on other platforms. They have their own targeting mechanism that identifies the most qualified potential users who may be interested in this particular ad. Businesses can always view the statistics on their campaigns in their Analytics page.
TripAdvisor provides their clients with a Premium Subscription that allows them to promote their services and enhance their business profiles with:
a storyboard of videos and presentations
a favorite review highlighted
top three reasons to choose their restaurant
the ability to post special offers
TripAdvisor allows instantly booking travel services from their website and takes the commissions from a partner (OTA, restaurant, hotel, etc) for paid booking.
Here is how the revenue divided among the monetization sources:
Besides their main website, TripAdvisor operates 20 other travel media brands:
Challenges of Making a Website Like TripAdvisor
When creating a site like TripAdvisor, you should be aware of the known challenges that can be found in this industry:
Protection of user personal information and transactions is the first priority of any web service that deals with personal and financial data storage. Travel review websites are not the exception. Shoppers should be confident that the information they enter on the site fields is safe and sound. This mostly refers to the platforms that provide instant reservations and transactions.
Even on account that all security measures are provided from a website development team (like encryption and tokenization of sensitive data and best practices for our users’ passwords), there is no guarantee that the affiliates and third parties that are connected with your system use appropriate security practices to protect the users’ information. So, any security breaches from the partner site may be regarded by the users as your fault and can lead to penalties.
Recently, a curious test of password and account security was performed on 55 travel-related websites. It appears that 89% of travel websites do not properly protect their users’ passwords and accounts. Among them were TripAdvisor, Expedia, Hotels.com, Trivago, etc.
Do not ignore security questions, and even if you are sure of the security of your website and servers, pay attention to security policies that are compiled by your partners.
Modern travelers are explorers and seekers for exclusive experiences. That’s why general recommendations do not give them much satisfaction. Websites that can provide a more personal attitude are going to win.
83% of Millennials said are willing to allow travel brands to track their behavior on the internet if this would give them a more personalized experience. TripAdvisor understands this and is actively working on making their services more personalized by taking into account users’ interests.
New features include the creation of more social, inspirational, and individualized trip itineraries. Users can follow friends and travel experts they like, pin restaurants and hotels they like to visit, get alerts on their smartphone when they pass near some of their pinned objects, share their impressions with friends, and many other things. Their “travel feed” is like a Facebook feed but travel-oriented.
The travel industry is highly competitive. The competition is represented by a great amount of large global OTAs (Expedia, The Priceline Group), small local travel agencies, hotels and restaurants directly, business directories (Yelp, OpenTable), social media and marketplaces (Facebook, Google), meta searches (Kayak, RoomGuru), and peer-to-peer accommodation sharing (Airbnb, HomeAway).
Moreover, as a travel review website, you may both compete and at the same time make partners with the same players. For example, TripAdvisor competes with Expedia for traffic and at the same time advertises Expedia’s best deals for booking.
The tourism industry is highly dependant on seasonality. So, you should also be ready for your revenue to vary depending on seasonal trends. As a rule, the biggest performance is noticed from April to October when people travel more, also during global events (like Olympic games, Championships) and holidays (Christmas, New Year, school holidays).
Some travel services take into account seasonality to propose users the best deals on the decline periods to compensate for losses. If your travel review website is going to sell travel services, take home the seasonality strategies: discounts, special low-season offers, email marketing, etc.
The main purpose of reviews is to describe a personal experience with all cons and pros to prove if the benefits and photos provided by the business on the site are true to reality. That’s why paid and false reviews can frustrate users and cast a slur on the travel directory website.
Fighting spam and fake reviews is one of the biggest challenges of any type of review website. Usually, developers take measures to identify and flag repeated patterns and suspicious activity, blacklist the fake emails, and check the identity of registered users.
TripAdvisor uses special algorithms to check reviews for suspicious patterns, comparing those to the historical patterns for the businesses and individuals and identifying any anomalies. The system is able to identify ‘biased positive reviews’ (written to boost up the rating of the company), ‘biased negative reviews’ (malicious reviews written by competitors to deliberately lower the rating), or ‘paid reviews’ (which are usually positive but characterized with unusual increased review activity).
As one of the measures, TripAdvisor penalizes the users whose reviews seem suspicious by lowering their reputation. Recently, there were reports of the first case in history where a reviewer was sentenced for imprisonment for writing and selling fake reviews on the TripAdvisor.
How to Create a Review Website Like TripAdvisor
Now let’s pass to the development part that will allow you to make a plan of further steps to go through.
Step 1: Determine your unique selling proposition
Before starting any development process, you should decide who is your target audience and what you are going to propose to them that they cannot get from other services. You do not want to build a website like TripAdvisor exactly, you want your own product.
TripAdvisor has a lot of unique features that we’ll talk about later, but first of all, people come to their website for a big database of travel listings that covers almost all corners of the world. It is hardly possible to compete with such a monster. But you still can create your unique selling proposition. For some ideas:
You may focus on a locality that is poorly represented at the big aggregators. For example, our client NoCowboys works exclusively for New Zealand.
23% of TripAdvisor’s revenue in 2017 came from the Non-Hotel segment. You may find a narrow niche that will interest some groups of people (for example, renting caravans, ski resorts, wedding venues, local food, street food, motels, hotels for travelers with pets, campings, yacht freight, expeditions, traveling with bloggers, etc.). To find this narrow area, ask yourself what you are interested in and what service you would personally use.
Propose an exclusive set of features. For example, when people travel, they may not exactly want to always go outside to have meals but hotel food may lack local character. Today it is quite ordinary to have food delivered. Why not make a service that will tell people which are the best local restaurants with delivery service by reviews and ratings. For example, TripAdvisor’s partnerships with food delivery companies Deliveroo (for Europe) and GrubHub (for the US) gives travelers this opportunity. Have you used food delivery abroad?
But as you read this article we may suppose that you get the idea of what will provide you with real and unprecedented value, so let’s move on!
Step 2: Define the Basic Features
Time does not wait for anyone. All fresh ideas should be delivered to the market while they are hot, as what sounds awesome today may lose its magic in a year. So, it is always a good idea to start with a minimum viable product to see how it is met with the audience before you spend too much time and money on development of something that nobody needs.
In our previous articles about review websites and business directories, we have already described basic features of such websites. Now let us quickly pass through this list and pay more attention to unique features that will allow you to stand out from your competitors when creating a website similar to TripAdvisor.
Basic features of travel review websites:
1. Smart Search and Filters
Without a quick and smart search engine, it would be absolutely impossible to find necessary information among TripAdvisor’s 7.5 million listings. Filters help specify the request to retrieve more precise results.
TripAdvisor provides more than 100 filters for different categories of listings.
Searching for a restaurant, users may define their preferences in price (“cheap eats”, “fine dining”, “mid-range”), taste (“vegetarian-friendly”, “gluten-free”), location, atmosphere (“romantic”, “business meeting”, “for families with children”), restaurant features (“free Wi-Fi”, “parking available”, “accepts credit cards”), etc. All this information is collected with the help of users who fill in the survey during each review they write. Users may also switch to the Map mode if they are more comfortable with visual representation.
For one of our customers, NoCowboys, we built a review website where users can find reviews on local tradesmen before hiring them. The searching algorithm includes the proximity to the client, ratings, and recency of the written reviews. Users can also search by category or different combinations of filters.
2. Reviews and Ratings
TripAdvisor is, first of all, a review website. Users should be able to view others’ reviews, search reviews, and add new ones. Before posting to the site, each review is checked by the system on many aspects (location, type of device from where a review was sent, offensive language, plagiarism, and suspicious patterns). The system either posts the review, blocks it, or sends it for moderation to admins if it suspects it is fake.
68% of customers are more eager to book a room at a hotel that responds to negative reviews over a hotel that keeps silent. Thus, businesses should be able to respond to the users’ reviews to thank them and answer questions or claims.
3. Add Listings
Property owners should be able to register and create their profiles, add contacts, description, photos, videos.
Step 3: Add Extras
Now that we agreed on the basic functionality of making a review website like TripAdvisor, let’s add some peculiar features that will make your website one-of-a-kind.
Besides being a travel review directory website, TripAdvisor strives for a more personalized approach to their customers. For that, they constantly invent new features. Let’s look at some of them.
1. Instant Booking
One of the ways to attract more revenue from your website is to give users the opportunity to book through the website and redirect them to your partners. For this, the website receives ‘Pay for Stay’ commision from the partner in the amount of 12-15% after the traveler visits the destination and completes the payment.
At first, TripAdvisor did not get a lot of revenue from this feature as travelers perceived the directory only as a review website and after viewing the recommendations went to Booking.com and other OTAs for reservations.
To motivate travelers to use their ‘reservation’ feature, TripAdvisor introduced ‘Best Value’ rankings which showed listings that took into account a combination of the best traveler ratings, prices, booking popularity, location, and personal user preferences. Thus, TripAdvisor wants to attract travelers with not only recommendations but also the best prices.
Also, they allow reserving tables in the restaurants and ordering food delivery in partnership with OpenTable and GrubHub.
Every time travelers contribute to TripAdvisor (by writing a review or adding photos), they receive TripCollective points. A definite amount of points promotes users to higher levels and gives them badges. From time to time, the system sends out email reminders that inform users of how they can get new badges. Badges are not redeemed for any goods, they are just recognition marks for users who help others.
Properties also receive their awards as ‘certificate of excellence’ or ‘travelers choice’ stickers on the featured photos of hotels, restaurants, and attractions, meaning they constantly get positive reviews from travelers.
3. Personalized Recommendations
‘Just for You’ feature tailors hotel recommendations based on users’ preferences and previous search history. Users can add tags for their preferences to specific recommendations.
4. Travel Timeline
Try to recall the name of all the restaurants that you dined at a year ago during your vacation trip. Not so easy, right? The ‘Travel Timeline’ feature allows automatically tracking visited places and taken photos in chronological order to save in users profiles and make a good remembrance that can be shared with friends. Using GPS from users devices, the feature shows that users have visited a place to add to their timeline.
5. Trip Planner
Instead of multiple sheets of paper and files on the user’s PC, TripAdvisor proposes to create and keep your travel plans in the account. The feature allows:
creating as many trips as a user needs
adding items by days
adding notes and comments
sharing a trip plan via email or SMS with traveling partner(s)
printing a plan
6. Travel Map
Who does not want to know how many countries s/he has already visited? Real travelers adore statistics! At TripAdvisor, users can view the map of their trips and pin the places they want to visit next. The website also shows how much of the globe they have already visited.
How Much Does It Cost to Build a Website Like TripAdvisor?
Creating a business directory like TripAdvisor takes not months but several years. TripAdvisor has already existed since 2000 and they still continue to enhance their service and create new features.
What we suggest is to define the core functionality and start with MVP to launch quicker and then gradually enlarge. Let’s try to calculate approximately what it may cost.
As we do not know your unique features, we can only estimate a basic feature set of review sites:
Search and filters
Add new listings
Depending on the complexity of tasks, the development may take around 3-6 months and cost from $13,000 to $25,000. This is a ballpark estimate based on our experience and rate at Greenice, of course, as to give you precise numbers we need to study your requirements.
Now that people are used to relying on online reviews when selecting hotels, restaurants, and attractions, the creation of a travel review website is a viable idea. But you should take into account the known challenges of this niche like tough competition, security, fraud, seasonality, and personalization.
There is no sense to compete with large players like TripAdvisor or OpenTable, but you can always come up with a unique selling proposition to attract your specific audience. TripAdvisor started as a review website and now that they are a globally recognized website with more than 600 million reviews on properties, they are transforming their business model, shifting to personalization of user experience (recommendations, social networking, preferences) and monetization through direct bookings from their website.
If you have a startup idea and are ready to make it come true, we will be glad to estimate your requirements and come up with the most efficient technical solution.
We have vast experience in the development of review websites and marketplaces.