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TripAdvisor is proof that Web 2.0 isn't particularly new - the seven-year old travel website is based around user-generated content and has a thriving community.

We sat down with Marc Charron, TripAdvisor's European managing director, to discuss the company's past, present and future.

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Since opening the office in London last year, what have you been doing to expand Tripadvisor's international presence?

We have a large international audience already – about half our audience is international, and a good piece of that is in Europe.

It made sense to open the London office to be closer to our advertisers, as well as for our customer proposition. We launched our European domain, so we have Tripadvisor in Spain, France, Italy, Germany and the UK, and part of our work here is to make those communities as vibrant as our English language community.

We’re trying to build great, local, genuinely vibrant communities in local languages.

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Beyond advertising, can you suggest some ways hoteliers and travel companies can participate in the site?

There are ways to participate. We have hotel groups that point at Tripadvisor from their own website, for instance. There are also hotels that are able to respond to reviews – the proprietor does have the opportunity to reply if he or she sees a review.

I’ve also stayed at a hotel that sent me an email after I left, saying ‘hope you enjoyed your stay, please add your comments to Tripadvisor.’ So there are ways for hoteliers to participate in the community.

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You added display ads last year, on top of text links. What was the reasoning behind that? And do you have any plans to develop other revenue streams?

We found that not all of our partners would benefit from text links and that there were advertisers who wanted to speak to our entire travel audience.

Tour operators and hotel brands, and our existing partners, have an opportunity to build their brands on the site. But really, our model is an advertising model – there are no booking engines and we’re not a price comparison site.

We’re very happy with our business model as it is, and we’re going to leave transactions to others.

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What can you say about how the site itself is going to develop?

The thrust of what we are trying to do is to enhance the community and engage people more fully. We have a huge reservoir of content and it is growing every day, and at some point we will have to reveal the information that is most relevant to you.

Anyone that partakes on the forums would realise that there is a wealth of information that doesn’t just exist on the site, but also exists in the people that use the site. Not everyone is into participating in forums but that ability to allow communication between fellow travellers is a natural thing for us to explore.

It’s less about the self-expression of, say, Myspace – it is more about getting people on there to share their opinions. When I read something by someone, I’m often interested in the other things they have written.

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Do you think there’s a lack of understanding about how reviews are rated on Tripadvisor, considering the amount that’s written in the press about phoney reviews?

We have zero tolerance for hotels writing their own reviews. We say that throughout the site. But I think it’s less of an issue than has been suggested.

The vast majority of reviews are from people who have the right intent, and any reviews that are written with the intent to mislead are found out and simply not believed. People have the opportunity to vote on whether reviews are useful or not, and we have a huge volume of reviews, so any misleading reviews get lost within this huge volume of real reviews.

I think it’s a red herring. It’s overblown. The proof is how the site works. In the end, people trust the reviews, there’s a huge amount of value and it simply wouldn’t work if there was this rampant problem. The site works too well for that to be an issue.

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Do you have any plans to syndicate your reviews to other websites?

We’ve certainly had people approach us. We’ve had hotels, tour operators and airlines talk about having Tripadvisor content, so yes, it is something we are looking at.

I don’t see it as much as a revenue stream so much as putting the content and information out where people are looking to book their travel. It’s about sharing the wealth of information with partners.

Ultimately, our website will be a key resource for people, but the idea of sharing reviews is something we’re undertaking.

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When will it happen?

It’s something we’re addressing – what content we would want to share and in what form we would want to share it. So it’s something that in the first half of the year, we would want to delve into.

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Is there any truth to the rumours that Expedia wants to use your content and doesn’t want you to syndicate it out?

That’s interesting – I guess you have to be careful what you read in blogs. I think the attitude generally at Tripadvisor is that with the right partnership, we are interested in sharing our content – whether that’s with Expedia or anyone else.

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You recently allowed reviewers to add videos to the site. How much potential is there for rich media on Tripadvisor, and what’s uptake been like so far?

I don’t think of it as in rich media, but in terms of the content people are interested in to help them make good decisions. We have a huge reservoir of photos, so it’s really just another way for people to contribute. It’s giving people an outlet to share the great information they have on hotels and destinations.

Video is something that is really engaging, and everyone has a video camera on their phone now. Some people are more comfortable sharing a video, rather than writing a review. It’s very early days, but the response has been very positive.

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Published 7 March, 2007 by Richard Maven

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