Wharton Customer Analytics

Research Paper Series

Designing Ranking Systems for Hotels on Travel Search Engines by Mining User-Generated and Crowd-Sourced Content

User-Generated Content (UGC) on social media platforms and product search engines is changing the way consumers shop for goods online. However, current product search engines fail to effectively leverage information created across diverse social media platforms. Moreover, current ranking algorithms in these product search engines tend to induce consumers to focus on one single product characteristic dimension (e.g., price, star rating). This approach largely ignores consumers’ multi-dimensional preferences for products. In this paper, we propose to generate a ranking system that recommends products that provide on average the best value for the consumer’s money. The key idea is that products that provide a higher surplus should be ranked higher on the screen in response to consumer queries. We use a unique dataset of U.S. hotel reservations made over a three-month period through Travelocity, which we supplement with data from various social media sources using techniques from text mining, image classification, social geo-tagging, human annotations, and geo-mapping. We propose a random coefficient hybrid structural model, taking into consideration the two sources of consumer heterogeneity the different travel occasions and different hotel characteristics introduce. Based on the estimates from the model, we infer the economic impact of various location and service characteristics of hotels. We then propose a new hotel ranking system based on the average utility gain a consumer receives from staying in a particular hotel. By doing so, we can provide customers with the “best-value” hotels early on. Our user studies, using ranking comparisons from several thousand users, validates the superiority of our ranking system relative to existing systems on several travel search engines. On a broader note, this paper illustrates how social media can be mined and incorporated into a demand-estimation model in order to generate a new ranking system in product search engines. We thus highlight the tight linkages between user behavior on social media and search engines. Our inter-disciplinary approach provides several insights for using machine learning techniques in economics and marketing research.

Keywords: User Generated Content, Social Media, Travel Search, Structural Modeling, Hotel Demand Estimation, Text mining, Crowd Sourcing