How to Build a Website Like TripAdvisor [An In-Depth Guide]

July 19, 2023
5/5 - (1 vote)

Want to create the next TripAdvisor clone platform? As an avid traveler, I’ve spent countless hours researching platforms to find the perfect hotels, restaurants, and things to do in just about every destination imaginable.

TripAdvisor has become the first stop for millions of travelers when planning trips. This dominance reveals the immense opportunity in crowdsourced review websites that harness user-generated content.

In this comprehensive guide, you’ll learn:

  • The origins, business model, and strategies of top review platforms
  • Must-have features for a site like them
  • How to Architect a robust review platform
  • Launch and marketing considerations
  • Monetization strategies
  • Competitor analysis
  • Key takeaways and lessons from industry leaders

Let’s dive into how you can build the next top-review website! The process of creating a review site like TripAdvisor requires understanding the model, must-have features, architecture, and launch considerations of leaders in the space. By following this guide, you’ll be equipped to create the next leading crowdsourced review platform.

Start Your Entrepreneurial Journey Today With Zipprr

Zipprr is the online marketplace to buy, sell, and exchange websites, online stores, app, clone scripts, digital assets and more!

TripAdvisor's Origins and Spectacular Growth Story

To understand TripAdvisor’s winning formula, we need to understand where they came from.

Founding and Early Trajectory

TripAdvisor was founded in 2000 by Stephen Kaufer along with business partners Langley Steinert, Nick Shanny, and Thomas Palka.

Kaufer had prior experience in software development and saw an opportunity to create a travel website where users could share reviews and opinions about destinations worldwide. This user-generated approach wasn’t common in travel at the time.

The team bootstrapped and grew organically initially. Within a few years, TripAdvisor was one of the largest travel sites as word spread among travelers.

Key Acquisitions and Developments

A few major events propelled TripAdvisor’s meteoric rise:

  • 2004 – TripAdvisor was acquired by IAC/InterActiveCorp to complement Expedia and other IAC travel brands.
  • 2005 – IAC spins out Expedia unit with TripAdvisor becoming part of the new Expedia, Inc.
  • 2009 – TripAdvisor spins out from Expedia as an independent public company.
  • 2012 to 2014 – TripAdvisor goes on an acquisition spree to expand its portfolio including Jetsetter, GateGuru, LaFourchette, Viator, and others.
  • 2016 – Launch of TripAdvisor Experiences for booking tours and activities.
  • 2017 – TripAdvisor transitions to an Instant Booking model to allow hotel reservations directly on-site.
  • 2018 – TripAdvisor rebrands its core site from TripAdvisor to Tripadvisor.

Through key acquisitions and strategic pivots, TripAdvisor expanded well beyond just reviews into a robust travel booking and planning platform.

Business Model Evolution

TripAdvisor’s business model has evolved significantly from its early days as a fledgling review site.

Initially, TripAdvisor generated revenue purely from advertising as it built up its reputation and user base.

As the site grew, TripAdvisor was able to adopt an instant booking model, partnering with major OTAs and taking a commission on hotel or other bookings driven through its platform.

Further diversification came from offering Business Listings subscriptions, transaction fees from its Experiences product, and premium analytics services for hospitality and tourism businesses.

Now TripAdvisor generates billions in annual revenue from ads, bookings, subscriptions, transactions, and data services – a testament to smart evolution.

How TripAdvisor Makes Money Today

TripAdvisor utilized multiple creative strategies to monetize over the years. Here’s a deep dive into their key revenue streams:

Advertising Revenue

TripAdvisor earns a significant chunk of its revenue from advertising across its platform. Key ad offerings include:

  • Hotel metasearch ads – Prominently displayed hotel booking links targeted contextually based on the user’s search. Advertisers bid for placement and pay per click.
  • Display ads – Banner, video, and native display ads sold on a cost-per-thousand-impressions (CPM) basis. Popular with tourism boards and brands.
  • Click-based ads – Text-based ads on search results and other pages that advertisers pay for on a cost-per-click basis.
  • Contextual commerce ads – Hotel offers, deals, and availability integrations targeted to the user’s search context.

Bookings and Transactions

TripAdvisor captures transaction revenue in a couple of ways:

  • Instant Booking – Earn commission when users book hotels directly on TripAdvisor powered by partners like Expedia. The site gets paid a percentage of the booking value.
  • Experiences – Take a cut of tour, activity, and attraction ticket bookings made through Viator. Additional revenue from partnerships and commissions with OTAs.

Subscriptions and Services

TripAdvisor generates recurring revenue streams by offering subscription-based services to businesses like:

  • Business Listings – Paid tier for lodging providers to add enhanced profiles with more photos/videos, contact options, analytics, etc.
  • Sponsored Placements – Paid advertising spots where hotels can promote special offers and guaranteed visibility.
  • Management Center – Suite of premium tools for hospitality providers to manage listings, and offers, respond to reviews, get analytics, and more.

User Data Monetization

With first-party behavioral data on millions of travelers, TripAdvisor monetizes its data trove by:

  • Packaging analytics and insights as premium services for hospitality providers and destination marketing firms.
  • Building detailed traveler profiles and segmentation models to improve ad targeting for brands.
  • Crafting personalized trip recommendations and hotel rankings optimized to keep users engaged on the site longer.

Key Factors Behind its Dominance

TripAdvisor has managed to fend off intense competition from giants like Google and maintain its position as the world’s largest travel platform. How?

Network Effects of Crowdsourced Reviews

TripAdvisor’s core value proposition comes from the quantity and quality of reviews from real travelers. More reviews attract more eyeballs. More eyeballs result in more reviews. This virtuous cycle allowed TripAdvisor to achieve scale fast.

Brand Authority in Travel Planning

Billions invested in advertising over the years have cemented TripAdvisor as a universally recognized authority site for travel advice and booking assistance. Their brand carries trust and social proof.

Technology and Data Expertise

TripAdvisor builds state-of-the-art technology for fraud detection, personalization, demand forecasting, dynamic pricing, and real-time data feeds. This powers seamless experiences.

Industry Partnerships

Strong ties with Expedia, booking providers, airlines, hotel chains, and tourism boards expanded TripAdvisor’s supply network and boosted bookings.

TripAdvisor masterfully blended these elements to cement long-term competitive advantages that are not easy for newer players to replicate from scratch.

Must-Have Features for a Site Like TripAdvisor

Now let’s look at key functionalities that you need to create a website like TripAdvisor.

Search and Filters

Let users easily find relevant listings via keyword search and intuitive filters like price, ratings, amenities, etc.

Ratings and Reviews

The core crowdsourced data. Build trust by verifying reviewers’ identities.

Images and Videos

Rich media brings listings to life. Allow users to upload photos and videos.

Maps Integration

Visualize results geographically on embedded maps for easy discovery.

Profile Dashboards

Businesses can claim and manage their listing info, offers, responses, and analytics.

Booking Integration

Enable frictionless booking from the site to unlock revenue streams. Get commissions on conversions.

Discussion Forums

Users ask questions and share experiences creating organic engagement while generating more data.

Travel Timelines and Maps

Let users showcase past trips, save planning lists and discover popular recommendations.

Personalized Recommendations

Suggest relevant listings algorithmically based on individual user behavior and profiles.

Loyalty Programs

Incentivize quality user contributions via points, badges, and levels. Makes participation fun.

As TripAdvisor proves, get these fundamentals right and you have a solid foundation to scale upon.

10-Step Plan to Create a Website Like TripAdvisor From Scratch

Step 1: Identify Your Niche

TripAdvisor might aim to cover the whole gamut of travel categories, but when just starting out, it pays to focus on a specific niche. Are you most passionate about hotel reviews? Restaurants? Adventure excursions? Identifying a narrower focus area allows you to really tailor the user experience and build an engaged community around a topic they love.

It also helps to thoroughly analyze existing competitor sites in your space. Look for gaps in their offerings or areas where you could provide a better user experience. Your goal is to create something that serves an under-tapped need so you’re not just replicating what’s already out there.

Step 2: Define Your Unique Value Proposition

Once you’ve picked your area of focus, the next step is crafting your unique value proposition. Essentially, this is your website’s promise to visitors on what value they can expect to get.

For a travel site, this could be insider tips from locals, a more personalized recommendation engine, high-quality photos, unfiltered and unbiased reviews, or a community of like-minded travelers. Come up with 2-3 key benefits your platform will provide that will make you stand out from the competition.

Step 3: Choose the Right Platform

You essentially have 3 main options when it comes to the underlying platform for your website: custom development, an open source solution like WordPress, or review site plugins and templates.

Custom development gives you the most flexibility to build exactly the features you want, but can be more expensive upfront. Open source platforms like WordPress balance flexibility and affordability through plugins and customization. Review site plugins offer quick setup but less control. Assess your budget, timeline, and technical capabilities when weighing the options.

Step 4: Implement Core Functionality

No travel review site can thrive without a solid foundation of core features:

  • User review creation and management
  • Search and filtering of reviews
  • Rich media like photos and videos
  • Profiles for destinations, hotels, restaurants etc.
  • Discovery tools like browse, search, maps etc.

Spend time wireframing and planning these elements in a user-centric way. How can you make the review writing process as seamless as possible? How will you showcase amazing travel photos that inspire wanderlust? Prioritize features that deliver direct value to your audience.

Step 5: Incorporate Social Features

People love sharing travel experiences and tips with others passionate about the same things. Adding social features can help fuel this viral spread:

  • Allow users to share reviews directly to major social networks
  • Enable travelers to connect with each other around common interests and destinations
  • Allow users to follow and engage with influencers in the travel space

Step 6: Build Travel Planning Tools

Features that help people plan upcoming vacations can boost engagement. Consider adding:

  • Wishlists for saving desired destinations and retreats
  • Itinerary builders to craft multi-stop trip plans
  • Maps, schedules and organizational tools to simplify travel planning

Step 7: Develop Personalized Recommendations

The more tailored the experience you can provide, the stickier your site will become. Using algorithms and machine learning, you can analyze each user’s activity and preferences to offer personalized suggestions on new destinations, hotels, restaurants etc. Start simple at first and become more advanced over time.

Step 8: Monetize Your Platform

While your focus shouldn’t be on monetization from day 1, long-term sustainability requires revenue. Once you have an engaged following, consider:

  • Selling ad space to travel and hospitality businesses
  • Taking commissions on bookings generated through your site
  • Offering premium subscriptions for additional features
  • Building affiliate partnerships with booking sites and travel brands

Step 9: Market Your Website

Promoting your travel site takes persistence and creativity. Some key marketing tactics include in TripAdvisor clone:

  • Search Engine Optimization to improve organic search visibility
  • Content marketing through blogging, video etc.
  • Social media marketing and influencer partnerships
  • Targeted digital ads to reach travel fanatics

Step 10: Analyze Performance

Continuously analyze user behavior and feedback to refine the experience. Key metrics to track include:

  • Traffic and visitor growth
  • User engagement and activity
  • Reviews and conversions generated
  • Referral sources driving traffic

TripAdvisor Competitors and Alternative Platforms

It’s smart to analyze major alternative players:

Yelp – Yelp carved out a niche in crowdsourced reviews initially for local businesses like restaurants, bars, salons, mechanics, etc. They monetize via ads and business subscriptions.

Google Local Services – As the dominant search engine, Google aggregates local business listings, and ratings, and facilitates booking appointments. Monetizes the same way as its core search via ads.

Facebook – Business pages on Facebook allow ratings and reviews alongside social recommendations. Facebook offers advertising and subscription models for enhanced business profiles.

Thumbtack – Specialized in-home services like contractors, maintenance, lessons, etc. Lead gen to service professionals is the primary model.

Glassdoor – Focused on anonymous employee reviews of companies and salary data. Monetizes via employer branding and recruiting services.

Indeed – Aggregates millions of job listings supplemented by reviews of companies from past and current employees. Leverages job advertising.

App Store – User ratings and reviews are integral to app visibility and downloads on the Apple and Google app stores. Revenue via commissions on app sales.

Thorough competitor analysis illuminates gaps, opportunities, and differentiators you can leverage.

Conclusion and Key Takeaways

Replicating the runaway success of TripAdvisor takes no magic ingredient – just meticulous execution across business models, user experience, technology, and strategic marketing.

Some key lessons to help guide your efforts:

  • Find gaps where user reviews can remove information asymmetry and build trust.
  • Start niche. Expand based on user data and high-opportunity adjacent spaces.
  • Build top-notch technology and data capabilities from day one.
  • Turn users into evangelists through smart gamification and community features.
  • Plan monetization models upfront. Evolve them constantly based on learnings.
  • Competitive analysis should inform but not limit your imagination.

While the barriers to launching a new platform today are far lower thanks to accessible technology, competing at scale still demands constant innovation.

But with the right strategic blueprint, your startup can absolutely captivate a niche and over time develop into the next TripAdvisor-like category leader. I hope this guide provided some sparks to get your review platform endeavor started!

Interested to acquire Business? 😎

let me know about your queries.


    Aditi Krishnan

    Aditi Krishnan is a custom software development expert with over 5 years of experience in designing and building applications. She is currently a Lead Developer at Zipprr, a fast-growing software development company based in Cleveland, USA. Aditi specializes in Java, Python, and web technologies like ReactJS. Some of her past projects include developing internal tools for a logistics unicorn and building custom CRMs for Austrian SMEs. Outside of work, she enjoys traveling, cooking experimental dishes and is currently learning coding in Rust.