Tripadvisor has begun speaking to a select group of travel agents about their interest in receiving sales leads from the online travel review platform.
Several travel advisors told Travel Market Report that representatives from Tripadvisor recently approached them about a program where Tripadvisor would charge clients a $200 planning fee to pass that client on to a qualified travel advisor to curate their vacation.
According to these advisors, Tripadvisor would funnel up to 25% of that $200 fee to the travel advisor. Several important details about the program could not be determined by press time, like what Tripadvisor would require of an agent to be qualified for the referral program.
In an email response to requests for comment, a Tripadvisor spokesman said the company is “always testing new ideas and offerings for consumers, but nothing new has launched to the public or is in ‘beta,’ and we have nothing to share at this time.”
Most travel advisors told about the plan expressed that they would be disinclined to work with Tripadvisor for sales leads. Most cited a sense that Tripadvisor caters to bargain-hunting clients, while others expressed a simple disdain for the impact that Tripadvisor has had on the travel industry through reviews that turned out to be fake.
“It’s an interesting concept, but I am not sure my ideal client is on Tripadvisor,” said Beth Eibler Johnston, of Orenda Travel. “I don't believe everything posted [on the site], but it does give me a starting point. On a webinar I just did with a local financial advisor, I recommended that people use them as a starting point when vacation planning.”
Jay Dill, owner at The Travel Junkie, in Wichita, Kansas, believes “Tripadvisor's base are mostly DIY travelers that are dispositioned to want to read reviews, blogs and research on their own to plan a trip. In my experience, it is hard to get a DIY planner to see our value.”
“I don’t trust Tripadvisor’s messaging about agents at all,” said Denise Kubica, owner & travel advisor at Mindset Travel. “I'm suspicious of them.”
“Because of the high level of distrust in this industry, stemming in part from fake reviews on sites such as Tripadvisor and from disappointing experiences from those who plan their trips based only on biased information on Tripadvisor, Expedia and the like, I can't see Tripadvisor being successful in charging folks a fee in the first place,” said Stef Katz, owner at The Travel Superhero, in Lake Mary, Florida.
“Smart people who are my ideal clients know to take these sites with a grain of salt and I just can't see them choosing such an important partner as their travel agent through Tripadvisor,” said Katz.
Some agents are willing to listen
Other travel advisors were intrigued enough to think about the concept.
“If they were guaranteed bookings and no drama, it might work, but only if we only shared the referral fee,” said Sonya Toole Little, Sandcastle Wishes Travel, in Kimberly, Alabama. “I might consider it if that was the end of the relationship, but would never agree to split a commission or be told what we could and couldn't book.”
Based on what advisors told Travel Market Report, agents would be able to keep the clients referred to them by Tripadvisor, and they would not have to share commissions. It was not clear at press time whether Tripadvisor would have a say in the suppliers and destinations a travel advisor participating in the program would be open to book.
Shona Burton, from Travelogue Travel, might be interested in hearing more about the program “because for domestic trips, it’s more of an e-commerce play than anything, and this could mean sales for me.”
Matthew Exline, owner of Matthew Exline Cruise Planners, in Ormond Beach, Florida, thinks the concept of Tripadvisor charging a fee above $100 “would eliminate most of the tire kickers.” Conversely, he feels that fee would “reduce the volume of leads” coming from Tripadvisor “to almost nothing,” making the program less valuable for him.
“But I haven't done any market research so maybe I'm wrong on that,” Exline said.
Still other agents remained adamantly against working with Tripadvisor. “I want nothing to do with Tripadvisor,” said Donna Manz, owner at Dream Vacations by Donna.