Attracting 390 million monthly average unique visitors and 465 million reviews and opinions, TripAdvisor has become the largest online platform for travel forum in the world (TripAdvisor, 2017a). Its success indicates the explosive development of user generated content (UGC) related to travel. Consumers have shown greater reliance on user generated contents when they are making decisions about travelling. Almost half of travelers visiting different parts of the world tend to browse ratings in hotel review websites before confirming their accommodation regardless of their travel purposes (Banerjee & Chua, 2016).
For review websites, like TripAdvisor, consumers are the keys for their businesses. They are not only generating profit, but also creating and building the core part for these sites – the rankings and reviews. Therefore, it is meaningful for the review-oriented sites to understand why consumers would prefer to use the UGC (i. e. reviews) as their main information source in making decision, and on the other hand, what motivate consumers to produce contents. So, this essay will put the focus on analyzing the reasons behind the success of TripAdvisor in appealing consumers and the motivations that drive its online consumers to generate reviews.
User-generated Content and TripAdvisor As a fast-growing information search method, user generated content (UGC) is gradually becoming a main information source in consumer decision making process (Liu et al. , 2011). Meanwhile, seeking travel-related information has been recognized as one of the main on-line behaviors (Yoo & Gretzel, 2008). More than 80% travelers would book their travels on the basis of recommendations from customer reviews (Chua & Banerjee, 2013).
The large target customer base has laid the foundation of the success of TripAdvisor. Apart from this, there are another three important features that support TripAdvisor in attracting massive visitors. Built in 2010, TripAdvisor aims at providing a platform for customers to view comments from previous travelers or consumers about traveling to a specific location (Gupta & Herman, 2011). After years of development, TripAdvisor becomes one of the most important sites in attracting consumers to grab travel-related reviews.
The first key reason is that it is able to provide relatively reliable and unbiased reviews to help consumers make the right choice. As a type of independent information, reviews from other visitors are more considered as unbiased, trustworthy and practical advice from real consumers of hotel, restaurants and travel destinations, not the same as the marketing information from the hotel websites (Gupta & Herman, 2011). However, under such situation, the reliability of reviewers becomes the major concern of the credibility of sites.
To ensure the reality of reviews and the reliability of reviewers, TripAdvisor has built its own censorship system, with automated tools to flag questionable content for reviews and a moderator team to scan these reviews to filter out fraud information (TripAdvisor, 2017b). and prevent hoteliers or businesses from writing commercial reviews (Gupta & Herman, 2011). Therefore, comparing to most of the travel-related UGC sites, the majority of reviews in TripAdvisor could be reliable as they have a relatively good inter-reviewer and intra-reviewer reliability (Chua & Banerjee, 2013).
The next appealing point is that TripAdvisor is able to reduce information search costs for consumers (Liu et al. , 2011). As information search is not a free process, it can be both time and money consuming. Due to the different standards of individual visitors or the different conditions of the experience, different opinions regarding one place would be given. Therefore, it is convenient for consumers to view all the personal experience in one place without searching through multiple websites to gain a more justice overview and then make a better decision (Gupta & Herman, 2011).
TripAdvisor has done a great job in providing consumers a convenient searching and consuming process. It bought hundreds of millions of keywords from search engines, which helps visitors to get to the website and gain the desired information in an easier way (Gupta & Herman, 2011). It also allows visitors to complete the whole process of reviewing, comparing and booking in real-time in one site, and its Instant Booking ability is predicted to take up 30% of its overall hotel revenue by 2016, comparing to 9% in 2015 (Travel Perspective, 2015).
Furthermore, TripAdvisor has introduced the new personalization feature, which would provide recommendations for registered users on the basis of their preferences written in profile and also their past search and review records (Travel Perspective, 2015). Apart from these, positive user experience is another important attribute to increase the usability of websites. And online advertising is a main factor in affecting the user experience, because it may enlarge the impact of such feedback loop in Figure 1 (Brajnik & Gabrielli, 2010).
In this respect, TripAdvisor has tried its best to maximum the user experience of its site by displaying less ads in its site, and most of them are travel-related, which can reduce intrusiveness and increase clicking intentions (Brajnik & Gabrielli, 2010). [pic 1] Figure 1 The feedback loop increasing the negative impact (Brajnik & Gabrielli, 2010) Motivations of Generating Reviews The review from visitors is the core part of a review site, which means that visitors are not only consumers but also producers. However, the process of generating reviews is mainly voluntary and maybe time-consuming.
Then, why are customers willing to produce content as their own ads for the hotels, restaurants or other products onto online platforms like TripAdvisor? There are four main incentives behind it. Self-enhancement For consumers, the process of writing reviews can be rewarding because it lets them receive recognition for their contributions. It can come from inner feelings or the creative impulse (Yoo & Gretzel, 2008). The TripAdvisor is the great place for visitors to show off their work with great photos and beautiful words based on their experiences, like a successful travel experience.
On the other hand, it may also be derived from satisfaction feeling for helping other visitors to solve problems and gain a perfect travel (Yoo & Gretzel, 2008). In TripAdvisor, below every review visitors generate, there will be a ‘vote’ button. And, once other travelers give helpful votes to the review, the reviewer can receive an email from TripAdvisor to thank for his/her attribution with points attached to the vote. With the points, reviewers are able to reach higher level for their TripAdvisor account and collect badges to show their unique knowledge.
Emotion-sharing When visitors feel grateful or terrible about one trip, they will want to share their satisfaction, or outlet the frustration about the travel experiences (Yoo & Gretzel, 2008). On the one hand, successful travel experience will give visitors motivation to speak out their joy with others. On the other hand, disappointed or anger experience will eager consumers to complain and reduce their intensive anxiety, which can help them to ease the bad feelings (Yoo & Gretzel, 2008).
Therefore, travel review site is a good channel to consumers to express both of these feelings, like TripAdvisor. Unlike travel service providing companies, who will delete negative reviews for the reputation, TripAdvisor will show justice for every hotel without deleting any reviews as long as they meet the guideline. And, owners are not allowed to use inner-message to ask reviewers to delete reviews in TripAdvisor (TripAdvisor, 2017b). Altruistic concerns for others Also, travelers will write reviews for hotels out of altruistic impulse to show concerns for other travelers.
Just as contributing to Wikipedia, people are found to show a sense of unselfish in sharing their knowledge just for other’s sake, which is regarded as altruistic impulse (Yoo & Gretzel, 2008; Li & Bernoff, 2011). Therefore, sharing these experiences, either positive or negative can be out of the purpose to give helpful hints for other visitors to gain a better travel experience. Helping the service providers At last, although most travelers are writing reviews to show their attitude toward hotels or restaurants, some are also keen on helping these properties to improve their product/service quality (Yoo & Gretzel, 2008).
Conclusion This paper investigated the motivations for travelers to use TripAdvisor in two ways: seeking information for travel choices and creating reviews for different properties related to travel, especially hotels. On the one hand, consumers prefer to read a reviews site because of its quality of information credibility, time-saving and high quality of user experience. On the other hand, consumers will be motivated to create reviews because of self-enhancement, emotion-sharing, altruistic concerns for others and helping the service providers.
By knowing these attributes, sites of travel reviews or any other products can improve the web design and functions to stay reliable and useable among visitors. And, it is also important for travel service providers (i. e. hotels, restaurants) to understand these behaviors, which enables them to improve their services to meet expectation or enhance what are considered as strengths of themselves to attract more visitors. Review site is a great platform for them to listen to customers and make improvement.