To Help Speed Recovery, Tripadvisor Hires Its Own Travel Agents

Reco concierge service is among a suite of new products and changes at the travel site

tripadvisor billboard in times square
The out-of-home campaign to launch Reco and Tripadvisor's other new features goes on despite the pandemic. Tripadvisor

Key insights:

Tripadvisor is hiring, well, trip advisers.

The travel and recommendation site quietly launched what it’s calling Reco, a platform that matches travelers who’d rather not flip through Tripadvisor’s entire portfolio of hospitality brands, restaurants and destinations with a personalized “trip designer.”

This comes during an obviously tough time for the travel industry, which has been decimated due to Covid-19 lockdowns. But Tripadvisor, now in its 20th year, is still rolling out new updates and products, as well as a new campaign—all planned before the pandemic—that will be crucial in helping to capitalize on the recovery cycle.

For a $199 fee, travelers on Reco (which is still in beta testing mode) can search a destination, offer their budget, and list any activities and interests. They’re then matched with a travel adviser (the platform has hired “a few hundred”) who will begin planning the trip with the traveler accordingly.

“Their role is to be there for the traveler from start to finish. That’s a really important aspect for what they’ll do for the traveler when there’s so much uncertainty out in the world,” said Brad Soroca, who joined Tripadvisor this April as vp of marketing and business development, and is overseeing the Reco brand.

When asked why Tripadvisor opted to create a service like Reco, a spokesperson said the two were “different travel planning experiences.” The main site is for individual planners, and Reco for the concierge service.

2020 was set to be a transformative year for Tripadvisor

This was supposed to be a big year for Tripadvisor, set for a brand relaunch it had been planning since 2019. Squeezed by Google’s own suite of travel services (including a planning product, hotel search feature and ads for travel suppliers), many online travel agencies and metasearch sites have tried to lessen their reliance on the search engine behemoth.

“Google has gotten more aggressive. We’ve been predicting this, of course, for the past many years,” Tripadvisor CEO and president Stephen Kaufer told investors after earnings dipped in 2019. “Our focus around the whole Tripadvisor brand is enabling folks and offering many more reasons why they want to come back to Tripadvisor.”

In November, as Tripadvisor opened its advertising platform to small and medium-sized businesses, vp of global advertising revenue Christine Maguire told Adweek that diversifying revenue was critical for the brand.

Despite the hurdles, in 2019, Tripadvisor still brought in site traffic of roughly 460 million users. If it can convert just a sliver of those users to Reco, it could become a major moneymaker for Tripadvisor during a crucial time.

“This is their way to strategically shift away or diversify away from their click revenue stream,” said Charuta Fadnis, an svp of research and product strategy at global travel market research firm Phocuswright. “As a consumer, you go to [Tripadvisor] when you had a deep intent to travel. When you have that consumer that’s exhibiting deep intent, you need to find a way to monetize it.”

How the pandemic affected Tripadvisor’s plans

Then the pandemic happened, virtually halting the travel industry in its tracks. The company laid off nearly 900 employees and saw revenue drop 26% year-over-year, with the worst expected to come. In a financial update to investors delivered at the end of June, the brand announced that although monthly unique users were up in April and May, year-over-year revenue performance was roughly 10% of 2019, with June approaching roughly 20%.

Still, Tripadvisor has soldiered on. Without any advertising, the brand is debuting that relaunch, updating and redesigning its website—a sleek, Airbnb-lite look unveiled in May—with features to help travelers plan their trip, such as updated tourism pages for cities with fact sheets and curated content pulled from travel publisher Thrillist. It even added a purchase option for travel insurance. An app update is expected to follow.

Soroca declined to provide a timeline for Reco’s complete launch—unsurprising given the uncertainty in the travel space.

Also planned before the pandemic is a nationwide out-of-home advertising campaign, which the brand is beginning to launch starting in New York this week and following up in Boston and Los Angeles, as well as Chicago’s O’Hare Airport and Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. The spots feature the brand’s new tagline: “There’s Good Out There.”

The campaign was created alongside the creative agency Mother New York.

@RyanBarwick Ryan is a brand reporter covering travel, mobility and sports marketing.