TripAdvisor Jeff Chow

TripAdvisor is planning a major design change this year to make its website look and act more like a social media site. Managing editor Rebecca Tobin spoke with Jeff Chow, TripAdvisor’s vice president of product and consumer experience, about the approach.

Q: How did this idea come about?

A: Most travel sites are places-first. You have a question, you get a list of places, be it hotels, restaurants, attractions, and then you go into it, and then you see some of the great content. Just talking to all our travelers, they’re saying, “We actually get excited and discover information — be it an article, photo or video — first. And then we want to try to figure out how we can actually experience that. … I turn to people that I trust, I consume content first, and it’s a huge part of my travel-planning process.” We took that as the kernel about a year ago.

Q: Someone has to be logged in as a member to see the personalized display, so if you’re not logged in, will it look like a feed?

A: Yep. You’re going to come to, even if you’re logged out, and we’re going to show easy entry to all the great offerings that we have — hotel, restaurants, things to do — but if you start scrolling, we’re going to showcase the amazing content, even if you’re logged out.

Q: How about your partners? Do they pay for the privilege of doing this; do you pay them?

A: In all great partnerships, when the value exchange is very crisp, everyone wins. We’re not looking for a business model out of this. … A lot of our media partners are playing with the new Trips product. They’re saying, “Hey, I get it. If I created a curated list with annotations on a Trip, and that person was in-destination and gets a push notification of one of my tips, I’ve really made my brand connect with the traveler when they needed it. I helped them out. And what wonders could that do for both my brand as well as engagement with a new audience?”

Q: How do you persuade consumers to use this over a more established site like Facebook or Instagram?

A: We think this offering complements Facebook and Instagram. Facebook and Instagram is a truly passive experience. You go in, you don’t really have any intent in mind, and you get a lot of great content all across the board. My Instagram feed has some great travel content from backpackers and street photographers I follow, but it’s also a lot of kid photos. That same travel content is actually useful to me on TripAdvisor. We’re not looking to be competitive, we just want to make sure we can surface content to the traveler when they need it.

Q: You use this term “surface” a lot. Can you explain what that means?

A: The old-school way of doing things is filter, list, filter down further, list. In the world of personalization and discovery, it’s more presenting information when you didn’t realize you were looking for it. Surfacing just means bubbling something to the top and with very little effort.

Q: The idea of trying to give users what they want is something travel has struggled with for years.

A: Nothing will scare you more straight in the travel industry than to have young, mobile-first, digital-native travelers use your product. Their expectations are one-hand mobile experiences. And they expect way more value back than the effort they put in. And it’s not just quote-unquote millennials. It’s increasingly more of a mainstream expectation. So discovery, assistance, surfacing that information. On one hand it’s, interestingly in the travel space, innovation, but on the other hand, in the global consumer expectation, it’s kind of table stakes at this point. So we’re excited by the bounds that we’re pushing, but we’re honest with ourselves that we’re not changing user behavior. This is now user expectation.

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