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Getting at What Travelers Are Talking About: Barbara Messing, CMO, TripAdvisor

  • April 06 2014

Illustration by Alex Fine

TripAdvisor CMO Barbara Messing calls the review-based site “the most disruptive travel brand in history.” While traveler reviews may seem ubiquitous these days, just over a decade ago if you planned a trip, you didn’t have much to go on besides outdated guidebooks or travel agency brochures.

“We created this entire category of real reviews,” says Messing, who joined TripAdvisor in 2011. “Now there are over 150 million user-generated reviews that are the lifeblood of the brand and offer instant answers to people planning a trip anywhere in the world.”

Messing likes to say she’s in the “happiness business,” a brand that spreads the joy of travel around the world (70 percent of TripAdvisor traffic comes from outside the U.S. and the site can be read in 21 languages). But one of the reasons the number of reviews and opinions has skyrocketed in recent years is the complete revamp of the site’s content collection efforts to include a rewards and recognition infrastructure of badges, levels, top contributor gifts and “helpful” votes.

“We had so much growth in the early years based on the value of the product, but I really wanted to understand more about what motivates and drives our consumers, to tap into why people write reviews,” she explains. It turns out there is a psychology of ‘paying it forward,’ as well as a strong desire for acknowledgement.

Messing is an unabashed travel fan. Her favorite locations combine “a great beach, culture and a city,” and include Spain, Zanzibar and Tanzania. But she never pauses when it comes to thinking about what’s next for TripAdvisor. “We’re always keeping a finger on the pulse of what’s going on, thinking about how we test, what other interesting brands are doing,” she says. — Sharon Goldman


Barbara Messing is honored in the category Paradigm Shift: Changing the way a customer segment or target audience is approached.