Starwood launches user reviews
YTB to sell assets
of travel network
By Danny King
Starwood Hotels & Resorts has launched a user-review section on its hotel websites, marking the
highest-profile attempt yet by a hotel company to
better engage guests who have been posting comments with online travel agencies such as Expedia
or review sites such as TripAdvisor and Yelp.
Starwood will enable guests to post reviews and
ratings based on categories such as overall experience, staff performance, room cleanliness and
recognition of Starwood Preferred Guests. User
reviews will be verified through
Starwood’s reservations system
to ensure comments are coming
from actual guests. The feature
will be technologically powered
by Bazaarvoice, which operates
the user-review sections for Best
Buy, Costco and Dell.
The number of travelers getting recommendations from user-review sites and
social media has mushroomed in recent years, but
some hotel operators have questioned the veracity
of some reviews and have said negative comments
may hurt business.
But according to Douglas Quinby, senior research
director at PhoCus Wright, the advantages of creating an in-house user review site outweigh the risks.
“Despite concerns that negative online com-
ments could dissuade travelers from booking, our
research shows the majority of online reviews ex-
press positive sentiment,” Quinby said. “This helps
hotels compete with OTAs, which have been very
successful with their traveler review programs.”
A user-review section could help attract con-
sumers to Starwood websites and away from on-
line travel agencies, he noted. Additionally, user
reviews boost overall website activity, which helps
hotel websites get more hits through search en-
gines, he said. (PhoCus Wright is owned by North-
star Travel Media, parent of Travel Weekly.)
buys Chicago site
YTB International Inc. said it
agreed to sell the contracts, agree-
ments and licenses held by its
subsidiary, YTB Travel Network, to
an entity called Sixth Scott, which
will operate the multilevel network
of travel sellers, handling content,
customer support and “all group
YTB said Sixth Scott “has ac-
cess to a collection of companies
that generate $1.2 billion in travel
sales annually, and will operate
under the name First Travel Alli-
User reviews will
be verified through
Starwood’s reservations system.
Virgin Hotels, which has been
scouting locations in major U.S.
cities, bought a landmark building
in the Chicago Loop that it will covert to a 250-room hotel, opening
in fall 2013. The property on North
Wabash Avenue is known as the
Old Dearborn Bank Building, a
27-story tower built in 1918.
Virgin is partnering with John
Buck Co., which developed Chicago’s Palomar Hotel.
GDS hotel displays
Megabus to set up
Travelport enhanced its Complete
Pricing Plus hotel product for Galileo and Apollo subscribers.
Agents can now get pricing options such as charges for children,
cribs and extra bedding within an
availability request. Also within
the availability response, the system displays room, rule and rate
information, such as a room’s
view, bedding configuration, meal
plans, credential requirements,
cancellation policy and commission indicator, all within the availability response.
Megabus, the discount intercity
bus line, is putting a hub in Atlanta on Nov. 16 with service to
11 destinations in the Southeast,
including Charlotte; Memphis;
Mobile, Ala.; and Orlando. The
service will operate from the Civic
Center station downtown.
Atlanta is getting a Megabus hub.
MEDIA VETERAN ALSO NAMED TRAVELAGE WEST PUBLISHER
Jack Grant named TW associate publisher
The line also operates hubs from
Chicago, New York, Philadelphia,
Pittsburgh, Washington and Toronto.
Marriott International’s board formally approved the planned spinoff of the company’s timeshare
business, which will become an
independent company, Marriott
Vacations Worldwide, on Nov. 21.
Marriott’s Canyon Villas, Phoenix.
Shares of the new entity will be
distributed to Marriott International stockholders of record as of
Nov. 10; the Orlando-based company will trade on the New York
Stock Exchange as VAC.
Marriott launched the unit in
1984 but decided to cut it loose as
a “pure play” in February.
Northstar Travel Media announced management
changes at two of its key publications, Travel
Weekly and TravelAge West.
Jack Grant, a consumer media veteran, has been
appointed publisher of TravelAge West and as-
sociate publisher of Travel
formerly the publisher of
TravelAge West and vice
president of the company’s
Marketing Solutions Group,
will now focus her full at-
tention on growing Marketing Solutions Group.
Travel Weekly and TravelAge West, which until
now have operated under separate management,
will henceforth share the same senior management team, headed by Grant. He is responsible for
overseeing all digital and print ad sales as well as
developing growth initiatives for both brands.
The two publications will continue to maintain
separate editorial, sales and marketing teams but will
leverage their combined market strength to develop
expanded business within the retail travel industry.
Grant most recently
served as vice president of
integrated sales for Hachette
Filipacchi Media, U.S. until
the company was sold to
Hearst earlier this year. He
also held senior publishing
positions with Gruner &
Jahr USA Publishing, Hearst
Corp., the NY Times Magazine Group and the Times
Mirror Magazine Group.
Tom Kemp, Northstar’s
chairman and CEO, described Grant as “a very
experienced and seasoned publishing executive,”
adding, “We look forward to the leadership Jack
will bring to the company as we integrate the
management of the Travel Weekly and TravelAge
Air Berlin plans
Los Angeles route
Germany’s Air Berlin plans to expand to the U.S. West Coast next
year, launching Berlin-Los Angeles
nonstops three times a week on
May 11 with Airbus A330 aircraft.
At the same time, the airline plans
to boost its New York service from
four weekly flights to daily.
Cunard slates QM2
Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 will enter
drydock at the end of November
for new soft goods and upgrades
to its spa, fitness center and other
areas. The Golden Lion Pub will
take on the feel of “an American
country club,” Cunard said. The
ship returns to service Dec. 8.