Tour reviews – has TripAdvisor won already?

November 20th, 2017

Alex Bainbridge

Why isn’t there a stand out day tour review site? Or is TripAdvisor already that site?

Ultimately the reason may simply be that curated (hand picked) online travel agents didn’t initially need reviews to achieve significant consumer success. That model doesn’t require it.

This is not to say that you can’t add customer reviews to a curated tour service, but they just don’t add as much value to the consumer on this model, and confuse the customer – should they trust the professional curator or previous customers?

Perhaps now the market has shifted to whole market we will see new customer review sites flourish. This model needs consumer reviews because by listing every tour that exists the online travel agents have absolved themselves of any involvement in the tour selection decision apart from ranking. Mostly their mindset is to provide the tools (e.g. search filters) and let the customer book what they wish.

Why are tour reviews so hard to do effectively?

Any bad tours?

Tours are not like hotels. A poorly designed hotel can’t be changed quickly but tours can (at least within a few months and if not too many future clients booked already). You can pretty much assume that a professionally run tour that has been operating for 12 or more months will be a sufficiently well run tour to meet most people’s expectation as previous feedback will have been incorporated.

Negative reviews can happen because the customer is on the wrong tour, not always because its a bad tour

One reason people don’t like their tour is because they have made the wrong selection. Bad selection problems can come from:

  • Poorly written description / itinerary
  • Travel agent not showing the complete description or perhaps showing too much and overloading the customer with data and choice
  • Customer being unaware that alternative tours exist that may be more appropriate (e.g. a tour aimed at their age group or source market culture)

Only one category of issue above is fixable by the supplier. Makes you wonder that if an OTA has mis-sold a tour why is it the supplier who always gets the negative review? Thats not fair is it?

Tour reviews don’t review the tour

Another challenge is that customers, when asked to review a tour, tend to review everything else as well.

e.g. they will review the destination, the attraction (if included), the food (if available), the accommodation (if multi-day tour) and sometimes even the weather

Text reviews end up as mini-stories of the customer’s trip. Quite impossible to read many of them as part of a tour selection process, and difficult to summarise positively or negatively overall as there will be parts the customer likes and parts the customer doesn’t.

AI enabled sentiment analysis is not easy if the customer is talking about many other things apart from the tour in their tour review…..

Tour churn

A company that has e.g. twenty tours will every year aim to add two new tours and perhaps remove two poor performers.

This is not like hotels where the review websites will only scrub your reviews if the hotel is under new management – a tour company faced with bad reviews will simply stop operating that specific tour and create a new one featuring the same attraction or location, starting again with zero reviews.

The tour review websites should not penalise this behaviour as this is good supplier practice.

Not every tour is the same

A tour in the morning that ends with lunch can feel quite different to a tour with the same itinerary that starts in the afternoon. Is that the same tour?

Tour guides deliver personalised tours – how do you review that? This is not like book reviews where everyone has read the same book – or hotel reviews where the product is fairly homogenous.

Review websites have tried to address this by making the review about the supplier, not about the tour. However if the supplier (or tour guide) offers a variety of tours then supplier level reviews are not very useful to the customer. (Apart from being able to see they have been trading for a while).

Quality vs quantity?

e.g. take a destination that has two boat tour providers.

One may be more expensive because it is a small boat and the tour is more personal. The other may be higher volume, less expensive and more mainstream.

TripAdvisor currently (Arival conference 2017) ranks by quantity ahead of quality. This means the small boat tour company that may have very happy customers will struggle against their higher volume neighbours with more reviews. Not sure this is fair.

Who is going to provide the review technology?

Online travel agents?

Potentially yes (as they currently do). However as mentioned, many of the problems of negative tour reviews stem from the customer being mis-sold in the first place by that online travel agent. That doesn’t position the online travel agent’s reviews to be independent and therefore useful to consumers.

Online travel agent review rankings just become who have they mis-sold the least.

Reservation systems?

Res systems will not police their own customers.

e.g. take the example of a supplier asking their booking technology provider to remove a troublesome customer review.

Either the tech provider does (in which case the online travel agents won’t use these reviews as they are not independent), or the tech provider does not (in which case the supplier has one more thing to be upset with their tech provider about).

Simplest for reservation system providers to not have this functionality at all so avoiding the issue.

What next in reviews?

Change in focus to actionable feedback

Suppliers should focus more on feedback functionality than only thinking about reviews.

The difference between feedback and reviews is that feedback is private. There is no expectation that feedback will be used in public marketing.

Feedback is written privately from the customer to the supplier
A review is written publicly by the customer to future potential customers

A supplier should be able to achieve a higher percentage of customers giving feedback in private than reviews in public.

New entrants?

Possibly. TripAdvisor has some long term challenges remaining independent in the consumers mind, one of which is owning Viator that becomes more integrated every day.

The opportunity is there to come at tour reviews from a new perspective. As with all things in this sector, the challenge is not finding a consumer need but in creating a commercial model that would work at scale.


I have also been experimenting with different style of tour review / feedback – more about this in future DestinationCTO posts – right now this post is long enough 😉 Do subscribe (email) to be the first to know

Photo credit: Flickr – Bureau of Land Management Oregon

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2 responses to “Tour reviews – has TripAdvisor won already?”

  1. steven says:

    Definitely interested to read more about this as I have also thought about this issue without coming up with an answer involving reviews. Decided to handpick tours.

  2. It’s hard to find educated people about this subject, however, you seem like you
    know what you’re talking about! Thanks