In December 2010, TripAdvisor customer reviews disappeared from Google Places listings, causing a stir among hoteliers. Whereas a previous Google search for “hotels in West Hollywood” would have populated Google Places listings (among other results) with guests’ comments from TripAdvisor, these customer reviews suddenly disappeared from Places pages.

The removal of these reviews was addressed initially as a “glitch” by Google, but was later confirmed by TripAdvisor as a strategic decision to block the search giant from streaming its content into the popular Places listings. Asserting that Google Places does not enhance the “experience of selecting the right hotel,” TripAdvisor blocked access to its reviews and stated it would further evaluate the situation as Google Places continues to evolve.

Though the issue has not been resolved since then, some TripAdvisor customer reviews still appear occasionally in certain destinations. (TripAdvisor claims Google has refused its requests to stop using content from TripAdvisor.com.)

Content on Google Places, which is a recent initiative by Google to provide users with the richest and most relevant information about local businesses and entities, is far deeper and broader than any other search engine, yellow pages or data provider’s content. Ultimately, it will provide a major competitive advantage for Google on the mobile Web.

So why would TripAdvisor block Google Places from accessing its reviews? There is a variety of reasons:

- TripAdvisor, owned by Expedia, is a part of the FairSearch campaign, a group lobbying against the proposed acquisition of ITA Software by Google. This could be a “warning” to show that even mighty Google could suffer at the hands of other major players in the travel sector.

- The ability to read reviews on Google Places means a user does not have to visit TripAdvisor, diminishing the site’s traffic, advertising reach, appeal, etc.

- Google Places streams other popular review sites such as Yelp and Frommers, lessening the significance of TripAdvisor.

For hoteliers, the importance of travel consumer review sites should not be ignored. A recent poll conducted by MSNBC shows that 86% of travelers rely on review sites to choose hotel accommodations. The world’s largest travel site, TripAdvisor boasts 20 million members and over 40 million reviews. Its “monopolistic” grip on the hotel customer review space is maintained by more than 10 million unique visitors per month—almost double its closest competitor’s traffic (Yahoo! Travel).

Any online website monopoly functions against the best interests of the hospitality industry, and this should serve as a wake-up call for hoteliers to steer the traveling public toward other sites. Hotels must resist being held captive by TripAdvisor and refuse to remain at the mercy of one collection of opinions on one single review site.

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