IN THE HOT SEAT
Many travelers and travel agents admit
they don’t book a hotel without looking
at Internet sites such as TripAdvisor.com,
but most also admit they are never sure
whether to trust the source of the reviews
posted on an Internet site. This week a
new consumer hotel review site launches,
promising objective reviews from professional travel writers who visit the properties anonymously. Travel Weekly hotels editor Jeri Clausing talked with Elie Seidman,
CEO of Oyster.com.
Q: How are the reviews conducted?
A: They are all done by full-time employees who spend all their time either
visiting hotels or writing the reviews.
They are our own people. They go there
anonymously and try to emulate the
customer experience as closely as possible. They go though a 50-page manual
for how to review objectively and fairly.
Our reporters are journalists with
journalism degrees. In addition, we train
them extensively. We try to make our reviews as much about emulating various
customer perspectives. For example,
how would you experience this if you
were a family with two kids on vacation?
One important thing about them being
full-time staffers is they develop a lot of
perspectives. They’ve been to
more hotels in three or four
months than most people go
to in a decade.
he “dream” is still alive, at least for American CEO
Gerard Arpey, who fielded yet another question,
at an investors’ conference in New York, about his
dream of getting distributors to pay for access to the
airline’s content, instead of the other way around.
“I did comment on that,” he
said. “I got a lot of
He went on to
clarify by saying,
“I was talking about online distribution.”
But barely a minute or two later he felt
that clarification needed further clarification.
“We very much value our online partners,” he said. “We really want to be ubiquitous in how we distribute our product.”
To which he also decided to add, “I envision a future where we work in a different way that works for them and for us.”
Sounds like his dream is turning into a
public relations nightmare.
recession is a terrible thing to waste.” Applause drowned out the rest.
Overheard at the Vacation.com confab
in Las Vegas: V-com CEO Steve Tracas
and OSSN President Gary Fee in serious
discussion about ways they could work
Q: I am curious about your business
model. I have talked with others who
have wanted to offer independent reviews but have said that without other
income, such as AAA membership fees,
as a supplement, it’s not economically feasible.
A: We believe there is plenty of money to be made …
whether it’s targeted ads
or general display ads. For
example, we cover Jamaica
very extensively, so you will
see ads for JetBlue. Also, if
someone is looking for bou-
tique hotels in Jamaica, they
might get a pop-up with a
discount to that company’s hotel in
Miami. We will connect to booking
sites, as one of the critical parts of the
planning experience should be figuring out which hotel is the better deal.
For bookings we will refer out to sites
so we will get
Q: How are you different from
AAA or Mobil?
A: I think it is our comprehensiveness. … Our reviews are
1,250 to 2,500 words. And we
have 100 to 500 photos of a
hotel typically, which our staffers take themselves. I think the reason
photography is so important is that it
really gives an objective perspective.
In town that same week, Hugh Riley,
acting secretary general of the Caribbean
Tourism Organization, cut to the chase
during a recent marketing conference
and, in so doing, created the most-quoted
sound bite of the Caribbean Week event.
As panelists droned on during a debate on the pros and cons of pricing and
packaging, Riley raised his hand. The
He stood up, looked out, and said: “A
At the Canada New England Cruise
Symposium last week, TC was surprised
to find two buses parked outside the hotel, each one modeled on the inside to
look and feel like a cruise ship cabin. One
resembled a Celebrity Solstice cabin; the
other an MSC Cruises stateroom (the
buses also had the cruise line logos painted on their side).
Seems as though it’s just a different
definition of “cruisetour.” The buses are
going to different parts of Quebec this
summer to show off the cabins that will
soon be visiting Atlantic Canada.
So, what Caribbean island is Starwood
eyeing next? The hotel firm will open its
first W in Vieques, Puerto Rico, in January, but TC hears that a very popular destination could next be on their radar.
No hints allowed, although one would
have to be a jerk not to know.
‘Our reporters have been to
more hotels in three or four
months than most people go
to in a decade.’
nior vice president of global
advertising and brand management.
Q: How many ho-
tel reviews will be
on the site when
A: Four hundred fifty. Basically we will
have covered all the leisure hotels in
New York, Miami, Jamaica, Aruba, the
Bahamas and most of the U.S. Virgin
Islands. And Las Vegas will come in line
Q: Do you rate the hotels?
A: No. Our ratings come from Pegasus. We felt
you can’t really
simplify a hotel
in those categories. Those are
really there for a
user who wants
to simplify their
content is more substantive.
Q: Will you expand beyond those mar-
A: Over time we definitely want to cover
more hotels and other regions, impor-
tant leisure markets like Hawaii.
Q: Do you allow travelers to post their
A: We view it as user feedback, user
comments on whether they agree with
us. If not, tell us why we are wrong. We
view it as the beginning of a conversa-
tion. … We’re not expecting customers
to do a lot of legwork, but they can say,
“Hey, it was a great place for me and the
kids, and by the way, you forgot to men-
tion these three things.”
Friends & Colleagues
Thomas McAlpin has been
named president and CEO
of ResidenSea, the management company responsible
for operations, administration, sales and marketing for
the only residential community at sea, the World.
McAlpin spent 14 years
at Disney Cruise Line, most
recently as its president; he
has more than 20 years of
experience in ship management and operations.
American Express named
Claire Bennett (below)
senior vice president of the
American Express U.S. Consumer Travel Network.
Jimmy Murphy has retired
from Brendan Worldwide
Vacations, the tour company
he founded 40 years ago.
Murphy has been serving
as a consultant since stepping down as president in
2000, when he turned the
reins over to his son, Gary.
Murphy will focus full-time on AMA Waterways, the
river cruise company where
he serves as chairman.
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She succeeds Lynne Big-gar, who has been named senior vice president of membership rewards for Amex.
For the last three years,
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Felix Laboy has been named
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Fitzgerald has been with
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where he has served as Sabre
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