In Battle for Online Travel Market, TripAdvisor Has Edge

Online travel bookings has to be one of the most commoditized and over-crowded markets on the Web. The points of differentiation tend to be which hotels a site represents, or the consumer-friendliness of its software, neither of which seem a long-lasting guarantee of success.

That’s why TripAdvisor, the travel review site, deserves some attention for its recent moves to shake up the market. It already has built a big global audience with its user reviews, which are difficult to replicate. And now it is expanding. Starting last year, it added the ability to book trips directly on its site instead of handing them off to partners like Expedia and Priceline. It’s a classic strategy of a company trying to get closer to the final transaction in order to take a cut of it.

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The online travel space is hardly static, with new competitors emerging out of the blue—Airbnb being just one, while both Google and Amazon have made moves into the space. Long term, there’s a good chance that TripAdvisor itself gets sold—Mr. Maffei is a financial engineering expert, after all. For now, though, TripAdvisor is the company to watch in online travel.

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The fight is full of ironies, most obviously that Expedia owned TripAdvisor until 2011, part of a long and convoluted history between the two companies and their corporate shareholders.