No need to begin this post with an intro to the battle between OTAs and content based sites. You, dear reader, are smart enough and well informed enough to know that we are in a stage of online travel where the content/media/review/meta-search sites are challenging the old/newish online retailers for dominance in viewership, unique Us and traffic rankings. In looking into this area I published a post a number of months ago looking into the price that Sabre Inc paid for review site IgoUgo as part of Travelocity's bid to join the battle against Expedia's TripAdvisor. At the time I was eager to know more about how IgoUgo would fare in this fight.
After this post I was approached by a PR firm linked to IgoUgo to organise a follow up interview. I was looking forward to a good chance to discuss how to balance a retail business and a content/UGC business in one of the largest leisure travel companies in the world. Was also hopeful of a bit of insight into how IgoUgo would fight it out with the leader TripAdvisor.
I received recently a reply to my questions from Peter Campion, the General Manager of IgoUgo. You will see from the answers that IgoUgo is pitching itself as being a deeper travel experience than TripAdvisor. Peter talks about "inspiring travellers" rather than simply offering reviews. He also touts a greater depth of photos and experience based content as the big differentiators. On the relationship with Travelocity he tells us that IgoUgo is operated very independently. On strategic plans he says there are no current plans to either launch non-English versions or to follow TripAdvisor's site roll-up acquisition strategy.
I was hoping for more fighting words from Peter in his responses about TripAdvisor but he did not want to be drawn into a commentary around a battle against competitors. That often happens in an interview driven by a PR company. It is a hallmark of media training to work on how to tone down the fighting words or anti-competitor rhetoric and instead focus the message on your activities, not that of your competitors. However this a blog not BusinessWeek so we all would have preferred to read something from IgoUgo that had a little more vigour, passion and spice. There is some nice insight in the full text of the interview below but at times the comments stray a little too much into press release speak. This pitch reveals the areas of product differentiation with TripAdvisor but IgoUgo is going to need more than that to be competitive and own the online traveller eyeball market. Everyone involved in traveller content space - IgoUgo included - need to fire up their product, marketing and sales teams with a hunger to take on and beat the big and niche competitors coming at them from all angles.
Here is the full text of the email Q&A.
The BOOT Asks: What do you think is the best thing about IgoUgo?
Peter Campion Answers: The best thing about IgoUgo is that we offer travelers a variety of different ways to share information and experiences. Our members can contribute anything from a single travel photo to a full trip summary, complete with multiple reviews of hotels, restaurants, activities, and numerous photos. We then present the content in such a way that it is useful to the person looking for reviews and aggregated ratings or more in-depth travel stories and photo galleries. It's important to us to be about the whole travel experience. Our members are more interested in sharing three-dimensional travel stories and journals than in complaining about their hotel rooms.
The BOOT Asks: Is there any common theme around why consumers come to the site and use it?
Peter Campion Answers: Consumers come to IgoUgo to find useful, inspiring content contributed by other travelers. There are so many amazing travel experiences out there, and most people don't have more than a few weeks per year to enjoy them, so they want to make sure that the destination, hotel, or activity they choose is going to offer the best experience possible. IgoUgo serves as an invaluable resource for making the right choice.
We also have lots of visitors who aren't in the midst of planning a trip, but continue to return to the site to share their travel experiences and connect with others who have had similar experiences (or experiences they hope to have!). IgoUgo taps into the aspirational element of travel, as well as its ability to bring people together from all over the world. Our members come back to connect through a shared passion and keep up with each other’s latest travel experiences.
The BOOT Asks: What has it been like being part of the Travelocity group especially when attracting advertising from outside the group?
Peter Campion Answers: IgoUgo operates as a fairly independent part of the Travelocity group, but we are certainly able to leverage their expertise. Travelocity’s advertising team has done a great job with connecting IgoUgo to the many endemic and non-endemic advertisers that want to partner with us. IgoUgo is also a great addition to the Travelocity portfolio: as a content-based site, we can link directly to endemic advertisers' sites, which is a nice complement to Travelocity's practice of working with travel suppliers in promoting their products through Travelocity.com.
The BOOT Asks: In the "battle" against TripAdvisor what do you think are the two or three things that you have that will help you to catch up?
Peter Campion Answers: I definitely wouldn't use the word "battle." Although there is certainly some overlap between what the two sites offer, I think IgoUgo.com is more entrenched in travel inspiration. Yes, we make sure to organize our content so that someone who is searching for reviews can learn more about the top-rated hotels or activities in a destination. However, we also support the person who wants to share his or her entire trip story, because a hotel room is only part of a vacation. If you are reading reviews of a particular hotel on IgoUgo.com, you are only a click away from reading more about the reviewers' entire trips in more fully fledged travel journals. Our IgoUgo members take a lot of pride in sharing their whole travel experiences, and we take a lot of pride in being able to support them. We want to inspire travelers, not just offer them one-off reviews.
Another thing IgoUgo offers that makes us a great resource for travel inspiration is our robust photo library. In addition to supporting individual reviews, our photo gallery is a great place to browse through pictures from destinations around the world-all taken by real travelers. It's a great first stop for the traveler looking for ideas and inspiration or just the person sitting at his or her desk and wanting to do a little virtual traveling.
Finally, we wouldn’t have all this rich, experience-based content if it weren’t for our extremely loyal member base. IgoUgo members are passionate about travel in a way that goes beyond churning out hotel reviews. These people love travel, love going above and beyond popular destinations and trips, and love sharing their experiences with each other, and many of them have been around since IgoUgo started 7 years ago. We’re fortunate to have such excellent writers and photographers contributing to our site and making our content what it is.
The BOOT Asks: How about the two or three things that you need to catch up?
Peter Campion Answers: We have a fairly intense product roadmap at IgoUgo over the next twelve months that includes enhancements such as maps and an enhanced site search. In general, our key goal is to make it easier for our members to share their travel content and much easier for others to find it. In that vain, one of our top priorities in the coming months is to update the content submission process. We also plan to leverage our community’s enthusiasm with the use of know-how in rating and organizing content.
The last few years of UGC in travel online has been about reviews and community. Destination focused information where people exchange information and can build up common trust and interests. What do you think will be next and how will IgoUgo take advantage?
One of the next challenges in the industry is to improve the relevance of the content that is presented to a user. Today, sites leverage user profiles and filters to help their users find reviews written by travelers like them. I think there is a lot more that can be done to provide a user with content and recommendations that are tailored to their travel needs.
There are different factors that make an experience great for each traveler. For example, I may think a vacation is great if my hotel offers unlimited access to a bicycle or a heated pool, but those things may mean nothing to the next traveler. These are factors that aren't usually considered in rating content, and so the challenge is to help people use content to discover the best matches for them. IgoUgo can take advantage by leveraging its existing profiles, and by involving the community in rating content and tracking those ratings to determine specific preferences.
The BOOT Asks: What are the thoughts on international expansion and non-English versions?
Peter Campion Answers: A significant percentage of our visitors come to us from outside the U.S., so we certainly understand and appreciate the value of the international audience. I'd love for us to be able to provide better support for non-English-speaking travelers, and I expect that here at IgoUgo, we will focus more on that area in 2008.
The BOOT Asks: TripAdvisor has expanded through acquisition into targeted verticals (i.e. SeatGuru). What do you think about this strategy and do you have any acquisition plans and thoughts?
Peter Campion Answers:It's an interesting approach, and one that I'm sure they can leverage for an SEO advantage. We are always open to pursuing various options, but our current focus right now is on enhancing the IgoUgo.com site.