Mumbai: TripAdvisor, run by TripAdvisor Llc and a unit of travel company Expedia Inc., reviews hotels, resorts, flights, vacation rentals, vacation packages, travel guides, and more. It entered India in August 2008, just before the collapse of US investment bank Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. that plunged the world into an unprecedented economic crisis, and lifted the lid off the dirtiest hotels in the country. Nikhil Ganju, 36, country manager, TripAdvisor India, says in an interview that his firm is discontinuing the “dirtiest hotels” in India list and replacing it with a “travellers’ choice” list.
Ganju also reveals that a TripAdvisor survey points to the three most-annoying habits of Indian air travellers—reaching for baggage in overhead bins the moment an aircraft lands, abruptly reclining their seats, and conversing loudly on mobile phones annoying other passengers. Edited excerpts:
Facebookis there with friends, reviews, etc. Why would we need a TripAdvisor?
While both TripAdvisor and Facebook sites may fall under the category of user-generated content and, hence, broad social media genre, their content and utility are completely different. However, we recognize the increased use and importance of social media and, hence, we have integrated Facebook users with TripAdvisor, using Facebook instant personalization that instantly personalizes the site for each person who visits when logged in to Facebook, surfacing trusted reviews from friends, most popular destinations among friends, and an interactive social map.
Growth trend: Nikhil Ganju. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
The integration is the next step in making travel planning even more fun, relevant and social for travellers. First, on the homepage, travellers will see their friends’ travel maps, highlighting all the places they’ve been to, their friends’ most-recent travel activities, and their friends’ most-popular travel destinations. Earlier, you used to rely on the wisdom of the crowds, but now by integrating Facebook, this is supplemented by the wisdom of your friends.
Anybody can write bad reviews about a rival company. How do you ensure the legitimacy of reviews?
We have three primary methods to manage the legitimacy of reviews. Firstly, reviews are systematically screened by our proprietary site tools that are frequently upgraded. Additionally, our large and passionate community of more than 50 million monthly visitors helps report suspicious content. Thirdly, an international team of quality assurance specialists investigate suspicious reviews that are flagged by our proprietary tools or community.
How do you make money?
TripAdvisor generates revenue primarily from pay-per-click advertising by delivering qualified and educated traffic to our advertising partners.
We direct the user to various partner sites where he can choose to continue his purchase transaction. Our partners pay us for the traffic we direct to their sites on a per-click basis.
In addition to that, we have display and banner advertising options on our website.
Another new and growing revenue channel for us is business listings, which allow hoteliers to connect directly with the millions of researching travellers by adding their direct contact details and also allows them to create special offers on the site.
Indians largely buy travel online. Do you see them booking hotels online?
Globally, online travel sites enjoy high margins on hotel bookings. In India, while airline bookings were robust, hotels were lagging behind. Indian online travel agents have only recently shifted their focus to hotel bookings. This trend is also gaining traction among consumers as more people have started booking hotels online.
Are you discontinuing your popular Dirtiest Hotels list for India?
We are not running a Dirtiest Hotels campaign in 2012 as we have an expanded and full calendar of Travellers’ Choice awards and campaigns. The Travellers’ Choice lists will provide users with more travel choices and inspiration.
Goa is always a popular destination. Is there any new destination coming up in India?
Popular domestic destinations for Indians have been largely consistent over the years. Goa, Shimla, Manali, Ooty and Mahabaleshwar are some of the domestic destinations Indians continue to flock to year-on-year. However, Indian travellers are opening up to new destinations and some of the domestic destinations which are gaining interest are Almora, Wayanad, Leh, Gangtok and Yercaud. In fact, in our Travellers’ Choice destinations this year, Leh made a huge leap to the top, beating Goa, which witnessed a dramatic fall among the top 25 domestic destinations for Indians.
Where do you see the next big growth coming from?
Mobile telephony is going to be the next wave for us. Globally, TripAdvisor receives more than 10 million unique monthly visitors on mobile and tablet devices. We expect to see the trend mirrored in India in the near future, with an estimated 30 million smartphone users in India in 2012.
Kingfisher Airlines Ltdtopped your favourite airline survey even in troubled times.
Despite its financial challenges, passengers have voted for Kingfisher Airlines for its service. It was a consumer survey and responses were based on how users ranked the experience and service offered by airlines, and Kingfisher Airlines received a thumbs-up from fliers. But at the same time, this year Kingfisher shares the top spot with Jet Airways (India Ltd). Last year, Kingfisher Airlines was the undisputed No. 1 favourite airline.
What are the most annoying habits of Indian airline passengers?
Personally speaking, Indian travellers have two most-annoying habits. Firstly, standing and searching for baggage from overhead bins the moment an aircraft has landed. This is despite repeated requests from airhostesses. Another one I felt was rude seat reclining. You will be eating and the passenger sitting in front of you will go for the rudest recline, leading to food spillage. According to our survey as well, rude seat reclining is the behaviour fliers find most annoying among co-passengers, followed by loud mobile conversations.
How profitable is your Indian operation?
As a policy, we cannot disclose any other specifics including regional data about TripAdvisor financials. However, India, China and Japan are strategic markets for TripAdvisor in Asia, and India’s success will be a strong contributor to our success in Asia.
How did you achieve this?
The steady growth in traffic comes from our efforts to present ourselves contextually when users are searching for relevant travel information online, and we continue to invest aggressively on this medium.
Are you affected by the slowing economy?
TripAdvisor continues to enjoy a significant growth rate even in the current economic environment. Owing to our utility, we have seen tremendous loyalty among our users and are the destination where travellers come to begin their travel planning. We are confident of our value proposition, which we believe will become increasingly relevant as the online travel market grows in India. The outlook for the Indian travel industry is extremely positive. It is experiencing a period of growth, driven by increasing per-capita income and a burgeoning middle class...