Travel: TripAdvisor CMO Barbara Messing

Setting her brand apart—50 million reviews at a time

Headshot of Emma Bazilian

Whether you’re looking for the most secluded B&B in the Adirondacks in New York or the best table in Campobasso, Italy, the Web offers a near-limitless number of user-generated travel review sites—which, of course, makes it nearly impossible for any one of them to be the definitive guide.

Except for TripAdvisor.

Separating this Expedia-owned site from a tangle of competition was the work of CMO Barbara Messing, for whom market differentiation comes down to a pretty basic ethos: Gain users’ trust, and they’ll keep coming back. “Folks who know us,” she says, “know they’re going to get an unvarnished, real look at the property they’re interested in.” And she has the numbers to prove it. TripAdvisor now has 50 million reviews—the dependable kind.

How? Messing has built up the site’s reputation (and its user count) with an open-book policy. TripAdvisor encourages its reviewers to use their real names and back up their accounts by posting vacation photos. Unlike other sites, TripAdvisor has worked hard to win the trust of property owners too. If a guest posts a critical review of a hotel, the site immediately alerts its owner or manager, who can submit a response that gets posted directly beneath the review. “Hotels love the process,” Messing says, “because it also lets them hone their customer service.”

TripAdvisor has become so much the travel advisor that, under Messing, it’s also taken an instructional role, partnering with destinations to offer “Master Classes” on improving online reputations and guest relations. “It’s all part of the feedback cycle,” Messing says. “The more transparency, the better.”

Those benefits have also extended to Expedia. Thanks in part to the ad rates TripAdvisor can now command, the company’s top line has grown 35 percent in Q2 2011 alone, with its stock price jumping 18 percent year over year.

Maybe it’s finally time for Messing to take a vacation.

Editor's Note: This is just one of ten Brand Genius winners being introduced by Adweek this week. Click here for more of this weeks Brand Genius winners!

@adweekemma Emma Bazilian is Adweek's features editor.