When travel influencers and Tripadvisor collide

“Influenzas.”

This is what travel ‘influencers’ are occasionally referred to as in the hallowed halls of Tripadvisor forums. I have to say it made me laugh the first time I saw it, but I have an aversion to the self important title in the first place. It’s also wittier than another term that was being bandied about – parasites.

Following last year’s launch of ‘New Tripadvisor’ as a more social platform there are disgruntled rumblings amongst the voluntary ‘workers’ up at Tripadvisor mill.

Back in September 2018, New Tripadvisor was revealed to the world, with announcements such as “While in beta, more than 500 social media influencers, well-known consumer brands, publishers and travel partners have joined the new TripAdvisor…” and “These partners have already started to create hundreds of pieces of inspiring and helpful travel content, grow their followers, and provide valuable feedback to improve the experience.”

Rothesay, Bute
Photos on Scotland’s Isle of Bute stream were of Glasgow.

For the most powerful source of travel advice there is, it was a prudent step which made good common and business sense. It was also a step which did something quite radical; although, I don’t think many involved realised it was radical. And that was to bring some travel influencers into direct contact with holidaymakers. That might seem an odd thing to say. Surely all travel bloggers/influencers interact with holidaymakers all the time? Nope, they don’t. There are lots of enclosed bubbles within the travel blogging world. It can be an environment which looks snootily down its nose at people who travel for R&R purposes (far too many travel blogs are aimed at other bloggers, long term travellers, or continually advise people to give up their jobs to travel). Tripadvisor has traditionally been aimed at the holiday-making market. It was never going to be an easy marriage.

But it could have worked better than it has so far. However, a couple of strategic missteps set the marriage off on a rocky road. One was not to show its voluntary Destination Experts the same level of respect it showed the newcomer influencers. I’m no fan of the forums, but they do provide useful advice for hundreds of thousands (probably more) ordinary travellers. Suddenly DEs, who had invested years in dishing out destination advice based on accrued knowledge of specific destinations, found that people who had contributed little or nothing previously had been given access to far more features in the new Tripadvisor than they had.

As one DE put it, “all of the DEs were time served, bloggers just waltzed in like it was their right.”

Zermatt and the Matterhorn, Switzerland.
First up on the Zermatt page was a photo of a bikini-clad instagrammer.

You don’t have to be an expert in people management to foresee a step like this would lead to unrest in the ranks. By automatically giving DEs the same access to features they showered on the newbie bloggers and travel influencers, TA might have helped alleviate resistance to the marriage.

Instead, they’ve fuelled a collective feeling of a lack of appreciation combined with resentment. This has led to forum threads and threads about the changes, with comments such as “TripAdvisor is now about bloggers and for bloggers…”, “TA has now turned into “Bloggersville”, and “Not a nice way to treat people… it all leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.”

However, as well as alienating loyal and trusted contributors, there are other problems. These concern the quality of the content provided by some of the new influencers. It’s not very good. Even worse is the level of misinformation in some.

Nope, there aren't only black sand beaches in the Canary Islands
Nope, there aren’t only black sand beaches in the Canary Islands.

TA wouldn’t be the first to confuse a foundation of impressive social media numbers with quality. And they wouldn’t be the first to not seriously consider the implications of creating a social media platform which brings the writer into direct contact with an end user they might not have previously reached. In travel terms, and especially where Tripadvisor is concerned, an end user who often knows a lot more about a destination than someone who has parachuted into a city/resort for a couple of days who then tries to pass themselves off as an expert. In enclosed travel blogging bubbles, ‘influencers’ might get away with only having superficial knowledge. Allowing them free reign of a social media platform populated by holidaymakers who have a better knowledge of destinations is like taking lambs to the slaughter.

Travel articles penned by influencers and travel brands are now elevated to prime positioning on destination pages, possibly being viewed by thousands and thousands of people, making being involved a damn attractive prospect. But, unless the writer knows their stuff, it also puts them directly in front of a firing line consisting of a lot of snipers armed with location knowledge gained from first hand experience.

Venice, getting around by boat
The only way to get around Venice is by boat. Maybe that’s why the pavements in this part are so quiet, people read that advice and didn’t bother trying to walk.

Part of the reason there’s disgruntlement in forums is there’s a significant amount of poor information on parade. It was always thus on travel forums, but when it comes from those being touted as top travel influencers, folk are less likely to let it pass.

On forum threads there is example after example of inaccurate content, prompting comments like “It was a mess. Clearly the writer passed through for a couple of days, then came home and Googled stuff.”

One look at the first influencer entry for a destination I know well and I gave up reading after notching up three fundamental mistakes a writer would only make if they’d never visited the location. On a platform like TA, location experts can spot charlatan travel articles a mile off.

Lisbon, dominated by copywritten travel articles.
Some destinations, like Lisbon, are dominated by copywritten travel articles.

In fairness to the good travel bloggers involved, the worst offenders as far as I can see aren’t necessarily bloggers/influencers, they’re the travel sites which churn out the travel equivalent of copywritten fast food. Sadly, some once reputable names are as guilty of this as newer travel startups.

Tripadvisor could turn this around and make the new Tripadvisor into a supremely powerful and useful social media platform unlike any other. They already have many of the ingredients to do so, ingredients other platforms don’t possess. They need to show more trust in the commodities they already have and be more selective regarding the quality of those they bring on board – I’m referring to the influenzas… sorry, influencers here. They do already have some excellent new contributors, but the site would benefit from a purge of the flim-flammers.

Only one walking route to the summit of Mount Teide.
There really aren’t lots of hiking trails to the summit of Mount Teide on Tenerife.

However, at the moment, the following comment typifies the current mood.

There’s something slightly crazy when we write travel articles from experience and they aren’t valued, but a blogger with no experience can write stuff that is factually incorrect and they are treasured.




About Jack 651 Articles
Jack is co-editor, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a contributor to online travel sites and travel magazines. Follow Jack on Google+

2 Comments

  1. The new TripAdvisor was an attempt to fix the fundamental flaws with the historical platform: a raft of fake reviews (upwards of 60% in some destinations), a rating system that bears zero resemblance to reality, and a slew of out-dated information that hasn’t been fixed in years. And, after nearly two years of TripAdvisor being fined by the governments around the world for false information, deceptive business practices and other issues, some might say that the new TripAdvisor was nothing more than PR stunt.

    Sadly, the new TripAdvisor also misses the mark. Theoretically, the platform was meant to incentivize true influencers. But that didn’t happen. The real influencers realized that TripAdvisor was “gaming” them. There’s no benefit for bloggers to actually contribute. Links are masked through a code so as to not pass benefit to the blogger (rather than do-follow links which may help the blogger) and promises of sharing never happened (articles are not shared, only content that benefits TripAdvisor is shared: photos and custom created itineraries).

    The result is partly what you’ve identified: forum contributors who have seen their contributions de-valued over the years (first back in the pre-2012 era) and now again, have slowed or stopped their contributions (it’s even more difficult to find the forums now). And then, bloggers who were hopeful that an era of true collaboration had finally arrived, became disillusioned when it became obvious that TripAdvisor was using them for nothing other than free content. Most serious bloggers – those who have hundreds of thousands of real-world followers and drive millions in real-world travel bookings – have turned their backs on the platform (there’s still a handful of folks who were/are paid by the company still engaging, but it’s hardly what it was a few months ago). And the endless badgering by Dheandra Jack to create free content for them hasn’t helped.

    The result – the only people truly engaging are the wannabes, the influenzas, the millennial dreamers, and the hipster narcissists. Looking back 12 months ago, the reviews were a joke and it was hard to imagine a way that the platform would become any less valuable to travelers. But the company has managed to do it.

    • Thanks for that, it’s good to see a view from the opposite side of the coin, so to speak.

      I’ve had a love hate relationship with Tripadvisor for years. I recognise TA’s worth as the biggest travel advisory site going, but am frustrated by the fact they don’t implement changes which would help reduce fake reviews and cut down the amount of trolls on forums. But once you know how to interpret the reviews they can be immensely useful.

      The wooing of influencers was particularly interesting to me as, from discussions in various forums, it highlighted an abyss and a disconnect between a certain element of the travel blogging world and the average holidaymaker; something anyone who inhabits both worlds would probably already have suspected.

      These same discussions also revealed that there is potentially a significant number of internet users who seek travel advice, or actually give travel advice, online who steer clear of social media platforms such as facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. One of the most amusing and illuminating examples of this happened only this week in a discussion among Destination Experts. In New Tripadvisor, as I’m sure you know, there is now the option to follow people. For many in the travel blogging world followers are the Holy Grail. But on a TA thread there was suspicion from contributors about why ‘strangers’ were suddenly following them. In two pages of discussion the general consensus was not one of embracing these numbers but of blocking them. Parallel universes.

      Aside from the nofollow links, wouldn’t those bloggers who feature affiliate links on their sites benefit from being exposed to a sizeable audience of potential readers who were actually looking to book holidays, visits to attractions etc? That alone would make participation a juicy prospect wouldn’t it? We don’t have affiliate links on our sites, so I might be overlooking something obvious with that assumption.

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