Tourism Malaysia

Travel apps the way to go

TripAdvisor, now the world’s second most downloaded travel
app after Google Earth, plans to push more
free mobile resources
to travellers.

Already, 31 million people have downloaded its suite of TripAdvisor, City Guides and SeatGuru apps on their smartphone or other mobile devices, to help them plot journeys on a little screen.

TripAdvisor founder and chief executive Stephen Kaufer says: “We think mobile has the opportunity to revolutionise the way folks interact with information at the destination.�

Its City Guides, for instance, may be used offline at the destination without incurring roaming fees. Each guide presents itineraries curated by experts, maps, reviews of attractions, a “Point Me There� feature that guides travellers to places using the GPS in the phone, and a journal that can be shared with Facebook friends.

“From our perspective, that’s just the beginning. I would love to ask my phone a ton more questions about what I should do, buy tickets on the phone, make reservations for dinner or use it to meet friends who are also in the same city or who live there,� he says.

TripAdvisor is not wholly there yet, but is banking on mobile and social-media technologies to open up horizons.

After all, travellers, enamoured with mobile devices, have voted with their fingertips. Last year, mobile and tablet each accounted for 10-15% of total sessions on TripAdvisor. The number of unique visitors using mobile devices has doubled from 2011.

“There is plenty of opportunity for some really innovative growth in that category,� Kaufer predicts.

TripAdvisor founder Stephen Kaufer himself explores the world using the travel website he built. He is a prolific reviewer, too. He recently spent a week in Istanbul and Cappadocia, and distils tips from that Turkey trip and other adventures. He travels about once a month.

Here’s his modus operandi:

Hotel: Check its ranking, then hit a filter button, such as family or business to narrow down the choice. For decent-sized cities, any hotel on the first page of results will appeal. Decide on the price range.

Attractions: Skim reviews. Seek something new.

Queries: Use the travel forum. A response from someone with local knowledge usually pops up within 24 hours.

He debunks the idea that TripAdvisor quashes spontaneous travel, saying it pointed him to a new experience: hot-air ballooning.

“Cappadocia has underground cities 10 storeys deep. I thought that was fascinating.�

Ballooning was not on his to-do list there, but the reviews were all spectacular, so he tried it for the first time.

“It was very early in the morning and incredibly beautiful. If not for TripAdvisor, I wouldn’t have known about it. I thought I was there to explore history.�

Kaufer publishes reviews often under a pseudonym. “TripAdvisor offers badges for how often you review. I am one of the top reviewers,� he says.

It is fine for a property owner to ask a guest to post reviews on TripAdvisor, he thinks. “But if you give a discount or a free bottle of wine, that’s clearly violating our rules. It’s fine to ask but not to reward.�