Big picture, Big Data and big ideas: TripAdvisor on where mobile …

Big picture, Big Data and big ideas: TripAdvisor on where mobile …

Joost Schreve, vice president of mobile at TripAdvisor, probably has one of the best jobs in the travel industry.

The former-CEO of Everytrail (the company was bought by TripAdvisor in February 2011) doesn’t really have to get involved in sales or the direct commercial activities of TripAdvisor’s products – instead, he oversees the company’s development of mobile products and gets to think about where it all fits in.

It’s a somewhat flippant description, of course – clearly Schreve has targets to meet and commercial activities to consider, but having the responsibility of working out what one of the biggest travel brands on the planet does to meet the demands of the mobile consumer is arguably at the “That’s A Cool Job” end of the employment spectrum.

One of his current projects has been to oversee the roll-out of direct booking functionality to TripAdvisor’s mobile services, meaning consumers can make a reservation for a property direct from within a TripAdvisor-branded product (app or mobile web) without being sent off to the online travel agency or hotel’s own mobile product.

Schreve says the basis for the product was primarily inspired by the often awkward hand-over of customers between mobile brands.

In other words: TripAdvisor does all metasearch elements, as customers would expect, but frequently the experience the user gets when transferring to the booking website would be poor.

Still only available for US users (but with hotels dotted around the world, via partners such as GetARoom, Choice Hotels and TripAdvisor sister company Tingo), Schreve says mobile booking will naturally expand to other users over time.

Another recent development on his watch has been the introduction of offline services for its Apple and Android-based applications.

Users can download reviews, photos and city maps to a device before they leave for a trip and not worry about scrambling around the find a connection when they to a resort in order to use some of the core functionality associated with the apps.

Yeah, but what about the REALLY cool stuff?

It’s where all this mobile travel stuff has the potential to go next that clearly gets Schreve more animated (not that he is lukewarm about the current developments), especially when it is easy to see that TripAdvisor is finally living up to its name, rather than just being a platform for people to leave hotel reviews.

Mobile connectivity is “revolutionising” the consumer’s experience of a trip, Schreve says. He, like many others, believes devices now allow consumers to interact with brands, one another and obtain the information that they really need when they are actually in a destination (roaming costs notwithstanding).

That’s, well, a bit obvious – but when you’re a brand such as TripAdvisor, which already plays such an influential role at the early part of the “travel cycle”, what can it do to lend a helping hand to consumers beyond what it does already.

Providing maps, reviews and details about hotels, restaurants and things to do is really “only scratching the surface” of what mobile travel should be about, Schreve argues.

Allowing consumers to book some of the services they would discover only when actually in a destination is an important part of this opportunity, one of the reasons why TripAdvisor bought restaurant reservation service La Fourchette in May this year.

How activities might enter that world of booking in-destination through TripAdvisor is unclear at moment (Schreve will only say the company is “happy” with its existing arrangements with third party booking partners such as Expedia, Viator and GetYourGuide), but there is clearly an opportunity there to go down the same route as either its hotel booking tool or something more fundamental (build or buy).

The picture above of the now-axed augmented reality feature on its iPad hints at one of the more interesting elements to the in-destination guide of the future.

TripAdvisor sits on an “enormous amount of data”, Schreve says, meaning that it has the potential to do a lot more with the reviews, factual points of reference about a city and the tourist-related services being used by travellers.

Schreve describes how there could be a way of collecting user data from previous use of the TripAdvisor application so that intelligent recommendations can be made further down the line.

For example, Schreve has a favourite coffee shop where he is based in Palo Alto in California.

There should be a process, he says, where the platform understands why he likes that particular establishment (range of coffee, availability of wifi, accessibility, languages used by staff) so that when he is in another destination the service can immediately recommend as close a match as possible, based on what it knows about his likes and dislikes.

Such capability obviously removes the element of surprise some desire when visiting a destination and trying out new things, but equally it helps the millions of travellers who are essentially creatures of habit – especially those travelling for business.

Being able to provide useful recommendations, based on existing reviews and knowledge of the actual user would be a “powerful mechanism” to have, Schreve says.

Yes, some of this activity is already coming to the fore, but TripAdvisor’s advantage for many years now has been its scale, both in terms of the user base and breadth of product on the system.

The geo-location element of it all could come about by way of a “check-in” system and “insta-review”-type tool, where key elements of a product can be evaluated quickly (tick-boxes rather than open field-type reviews) and fed back into the database.

Schreve says TripAdvisor has learned a lot about the check-in model from its experience developing the Cities I’ve Visited service which became a hit a few years back.

But to evolve the wider TripAdvisor system into one that utilises location, reviews, mobile connectivity, services, booking capability and community is not a task to be taken lightly, especially given the company’s size (in terms of product and geographic scale).

“It’s not a trivial problem to solve,” Schreve suggests, “but we are good, so we will get there.”

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Big picture, Big Data and big ideas: TripAdvisor on where mobile …

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