Starting today, the travel content site TripAdvisor will help people book hotels directly from their phones. That the company has been working on this capability isn’t a great secret; it has been pre-announced and publicly tested.
But it’s an important move for TripAdvisor, which is trying to move beyond its strongholds of pre-and post-vacation interaction, when people read and write reviews.
Instant booking will be offered through partnerships with Choice Hotels and GetaRoom.com in a format that doesn’t have users lose their places on TripAdvisor.
With just those two outside partners, the new instant booking feature is available for 150,000 properties, or about a third of the properties on TripAdvisor that accept online bookings.
However, the CEO of Priceline has spoken publicly about how his company elected not to participate in TripAdvisor’s instant booking in advance of the feature even launching.
As TripAdvisor makes its move beyond planning, it also recently bought European restaurant booking site Lafourchette last month for a reported $140 million.
It’s not like TripAdvisor is used only at home from desktop computers — at least not any more. Some 40 percent of the travel planning service’s usage is already from mobile. And TripAdvisor likes to brag about how its apps have been downloaded more than 100 million times.
But mobile is a trend the company is looking to push. “It’s about what we can do to get in the moment,” said CEO Steve Kaufer, who will readily admit that TripAdvisor doesn’t currently monetize well on mobile.
To that end, the new instant booking feature is available for mobile first. That includes Android, iOS and mobile Web. It’s also only available for travelers based in the U.S. at first, though should expand on both fronts soon, according to Kaufer.
Why mobile first? Because TripAdvisor wants to grab people looking for a hotel reservation on the go. It surveyed 50,000 TripAdvisor travelers and found that 90 percent of them use their mobile phones on vacation, and 27 percent of them use their phones to look for hotels.
It doesn’t hurt that mobile is also where people tend to get the most lost when clicking between different sites that are often poorly optimized for the experience.
What’s next for TripAdvisor is more about filling in these travel gaps, especially on mobile. Kaufer spoke of personalization efforts, as well as longer-term ideas around ways to connect travelers to other travelers and locals, and a marketplace for travel content like tours and curated lists.
“One of the things a good guide does, frankly better than TripAdvisor, is give you a day of stuff, or the history buff version, or the version for foodies,” Kaufer said. “That’s not currently a product under way, but I would like it to be one.”