Travel Alert: Get the online algorithms out of your travel plans!

TripAdvisor and Viator are one of many online travel agents, known as “OTA’s” using useless algorithms to persuade you into booking higher profit travel experiences.

TripAdvisor, at one time, was a useful review website, but after they bought viator.com, an Australian-based tour aggregator, they are now just a booking OTA platform. All travelers and OTA users should be fully alerted to what TripAdvisor and Viator are doing…

1. Not vetting tour operators on their booking platform for which they get commissions on. A significant number of illegal operators with no California Public Utilities licenses was found on their platforms in San Francisco and Napa.

2. Viator.com booking platform purposely does not inform its customers who the actual tour operator/supplier is. It’s probably not a good idea to book an experience until you are aware of the company name. Cruise ships sell excursions onboard but all the tours and experiences are fully vetted and insurance is checked. Viator/TripAdvisor is cutting out a very important step.

Who are these companies? Why are these services so expensive?

3.  TripAdvisor Experiences can get an unvetted, illegal tour operation up within a day.

4. Customer Service Agents are answering phones not from the U.S.. How can someone from another country really know what is going on in your destination city? It can be viewed as a lazy way to support travel customers.

5. “Double-Serving” two websites with the same product and pricing information on Google Ads keywords auctions. This double-serving practice helps illegal operators who had never thought twice to advertise on Google before to achieve high sales volume opportunities from the search engine giant. While this is occurring, the legal operators who might also be Google advertisers are now stuck paying more per click in the ad auctions. Arguably, someone who does not have authority to operate tours in a given state is not likely going to open up an expensive Google account and start advertising their less-than-legal operation. TripAdvisor makes it easy for them to not have to make that decision.

Bring back live-person travel agents into your travel plans!

The travel agent was wiped out with the introduction of the Internet. Today, it makes sense to book your own flights online, but nothing else. The way things are going with these Internet travel platforms and how they get to decide what you see first and foremost is really useless to the end user. Users of these platforms are going to end up doing either banal travel or the wrong experiences for them. Instead of looking at a platform that weighs heavily on a popularity vote system, you should really consider bringing back the travel agent for your travel planning needs. The problem with popularity votes, is voters can vote an unlimited amount of times. This has to be useless for travelers. Users of these platforms can do better. The goal is to book the best travel experiences, not the most popular experiences based on ratings/votes/reviews/potential-repeated-votes that are unchecked-unvetted. OTA’s will offer you a live person to talk to, but that person is most likely from another country. How could someone from another country who has never been to your destination city ever help you?

Don’t trust these platforms to run your life!

Facebook makes sense because it connects you to your remote friends/acquaintances that you otherwise have no reasonable means manage that connection yourself. But using online platforms for other things, like travel planning, starts to get questionable. If those platforms are not going to vet the folks on their sites then they are taking the path of least resistance of selling you services. They want to sell you all products/services not necessarily the best services and certainly not the best services that fits your needs. They want to be the Amazon-of-travel, but sometimes not all travel experiences should be sold at all. Look for a curated travel experience instead.

For travel and tours, the rule of thumb is: If you can’t talk directly with the person, the actual tour experience operator who is providing you the actual services, then you can do better.

Customers on average spend only 35 minutes researching travel and travel-experiences for a 72 hour trip.

Online Travel Agents enable us to be lazy and only spend a fraction of what we should be researching. We spend 35 minutes book a bunch of things from the Internet that effects 72 hours of our lives. From the wrong hotel, the wrong tour choice, even the wrong restaurant. Travel the US has been full of banality as we are only selecting travel that pays higher commissions to the OTA’s.

Talk to local tour operators, directly,  who will happily tell you their company name

While Viator.com does not want you to know the tour company name before you book, other tour operators do you want you know them by name. At Premium Tours, we get so many online bookings, and very few phone calls these days. To offset this habit, before booking an out of town experience, try calling the operator just to make contact. Call us! Check us out first. Contact: 415-326-3454 . We are more than happy to talk to you about your trip to SF, because we live here. We will talk in detail about our tours. We can even recommend other tour companies if need be. We think getting the human touch back into travel is needed.

Post a review online at Yelp or Google Reviews and not on TripAdvisor who is selling tours for commissions.

Once TripAdvisor made the decision to sell tours for a commission and become a middle man, competing with the tour operators who are reviewed on their site, then they essentially lost their credibility to host tour and travel reviews. If Google owned all of the businesses found in their search results, you would then not trust/search with Google anymore. To this extent, it makes no sense for you to read TripAdvisor reviews, review their algorithm of search results knowing they now get paid on every transaction you book from their platform.

TripAdvisor seems to be keeping two databases of reviews. They host reviews on viator.com for customers that actually book the tours, and they host another set of reviews found on TripAdvisor.com where people can post reviews who have not necessarily booked the tour experience. You should question why they are doing this.

Yelp and Google Reviews do not sell tours and travel-related experiences from their review-site platforms.

Google is also not helping travel customers in the U.S. Allowing large companies to double-serve ads taking up all of the billboard space.

Google, also just an algorithm with no common sense, has oversight teams that are purposely looking the other way to make more money for Google/Alphabet, Inc. They are allowing or looking the other way, or missing the policy violation of TripAdvisor and Viator.com advertising two websites in their tour and travel-related keyword auctions. This practice is wiping out legitimate tour operators from being seen on Google. To help offset this strain on local operators, try using a different search engine or scroll down past TripAdvisor and Viator.com ads/listings/website domains and find a local operator and visit their website instead.

The Internet made us efficient. Online Travel Agent platforms make us lazy.

Using the internet to book airfare makes sense. Also, using search engines to try to find a local tour operator to call and discuss your tour needs also makes good sense. But using an online travel agent that hosts unvetted reviews and illegal tour operators on their platforms while using a for-profit algorithm to decide what they show you first, should be useless to the the traveler. Today, there seems to be a big difference between using the Internet to search for something in the travel space and using an online travel agent website/platform – these banner-ad-driven OTA’s seemed to be rigged against us. Coming to San Francisco? Talk to us at 415-326-3454 . We will give you the 4-1-1 on the city landscape. A local will answer the phone, we have no banner ads, and our city tours are state licensed and insured.

AirBNB now vets tour operators

AirBNB uses a third party company, Evident, Inc, to vet their tour operators. They also make tons of disclosures to potential wannabe tour operators regarding state licensing requirements that puts the pressure and the onus on the operator. If an operator ignores the many disclosures that were made by AirBNB, they are still not going to get too far past Evident’s vetting process.

Meanwhile, TripAdvisor is currently letting anyone on their OTA network. For the entire year 2019, we saw their website was open to all tour outfits to sign up and start selling their experiences on TripAdvisor.com and Viator.com. Unlike AirBNB, no disclosures were made to attempt to scare the illegal operators away. Let’s recap: TripAdvisor.com allows anyone to post a review, no vetting of that review, and let’s anyone sign up to sell and operate tours on their network. How can this OTA truly be useful to anyone?

Read this Medium.com article on TripAdvisor:

https://medium.com/choking-on-a-macaron/what-you-don-t-know-about-tripadvisor-15d31d745bdc

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