David vs two Goliaths
TripAdvisor could challenge the big two providers of online travel services
Service poor, view disappointing
“BREAKFAST is nasty, the rooms are nasty.” So complained a reviewer of anOregonguesthouse earlier this year. There is nothing unusual in that: all hotels must deal with the odd disgruntled guest. This critique, though, appeared on TripAdvisor, a travel-review website. When the correspondent went on to document drunken housekeepers and licentious receptionists, the owners sued him. It was more than a point of pride. What customers say on TripAdvisor can make or break hotels. Around 260m people visit the site each month to read some of the 125m reviews.
The firm makes money by displaying prices from online travel-agents (OTAs) alongside its reviews, and then charging those agents each time a customer clicks through. It is such a good example of a network effect that it is the subject of a Harvard Business School (HBS) case study. The more users post reviews, the more useful the site is to those about to book a holiday. This makes it more important to hotels and travel agents, who offer better deals. This results in more traffic—and more reviews—closing the virtuous circle. Last year TripAdvisor reported revenue of $944.7m. Because users post reviews free of charge, in 2012, Jeffrey Bussgang, an HBS lecturer, calculated that its gross margin was an astounding 98%.
该公司通过显示网上旅游社的报价以及顾客的相关评论来盈利。每个用户每次点击进入该网站，它都会向相关旅行社收取费用。对于哈佛商学院一个以网络效应为主题的案例研究来说，这是一个很好的例子。对于那些正打算预订假期的人，越多的用户发布评论，就越有帮助。对于酒店和旅行社，这也使得“哪家更划算？”的问题更加重要。这会导致更多的浏览量—更多的评论—逐渐打破良性循环。旅行顾问网站去年营收9.447亿美元。由于用户发布评论是免费的，据哈佛商学院的讲师Jeffrey Bussgang 计算，该公司2012年毛利率惊人的高达98%。
For these reasons, some think TripAdvisor may be able to take on the “big two” OTAs, Expedia and Priceline, which on August 6th bought up to 10% of Ctrip, a large travel website in China. These firms sell flights and hotel rooms directly, rather than pass booking requests on to others, as TripAdvisor does. But, says Blake Harper of Wunderlich Securities, a stockbroker, the two ways of doing business are converging. Sites owned by the big two, such as Hotels.com and Booking.com, now encourage user reviews. At the same time, TripAdvisor has launched Instant Booking, which lets smartphone users complete their bookings without leaving the TripAdvisor site.
出于这些原因，有些人认为旅行顾问公司也许能够取代两大网上旅行社：Expedia以及Priceline，其在8月6日买进了中国大型旅行网站—携程10%的股票。和旅行顾问公司一样，这些公司直接提供机票和酒店房间预订，而不是将预订请求转给他人。但是，美国德奇证券的一个股票经纪人Blake Harper表示，这两种商业模式正在融合。如今，这两大网站的诸多子网站如Hotels.com 和 Booking.com正鼓励用户添加评论。同时，旅行顾问网站发布了即时预订功能，即智能手机用户可直接在旅行顾问网站上完成他们的预订。
Instant Booking serves another purpose. Half of TripAdvisor's traffic comes through mobile devices. Being able to book in a single place will make its app slicker. Moreover, smartphones are creating firms which cater to travellers when they arrive at their destination—and TripAdvisor is getting into that business. In May it paid a reported $140m for La Fourchette, an online restaurant-booking service. On 24th July it said it was paying $200m for Viator, a firm that sells guided tours and other touristy activities.
TripAdvisor's boss, Stephen Kaufer, denies he wants to take on the big two. “We are a media site,” he says. “I want Expedia and Priceline to thrive because they are my clients.” But soon, holidaymakers will be able to book their entire trips without leaving the TripAdvisor app. Rivals beware.