As a hospitality marketing professional you and I both know we’re not.  But even Seth Godin would be hard pressed to think otherwise after reading the press releases for the new, over-hyped online hotel review site Oyster.com.

Essentially, Oyster.com is a hotel review site that sends professionals to stay at and review individual hotels.  Purported to have been in stealth mode for the past year or so, the site has gone public with a limited number of reviews covering hotels in New York, Miami, Jamaica, Aruba and the Dominican Republic.

To generate publicity CEO and founder Elie Seidman is taking on the 800 pound gorilla – TripAdvisor and the people who market the hotels his web site reviews.

Seidman is quoted as saying –

“There are tremendous differences between what our reporters bring back and the marketing distortions of the hotel industry.”

Did he just call us liars?

But wait, it gets better.  Mr. Seidman goes on to say, “The vast majority of hotel descriptions and photos circulating on the Internet originates in the hotel’s own marketing departments and gets reproduced over and over as legitimate truth–but it’s often misleading.”

Armed with 10 professional reviewers who travel essentially full time and go to 60 to 70 hotels a year it looks like Oyster.com will post 600 to 700 new reviews a year.  Based on those numbers it’s hard to imagine this new site will “fundamentally change the way people make hotel decisions” as he claims.

Let’s face it – it’s not going to happen.  Simply put Oyster.com is just another traditional travel guide like AAA or Mobil that will soon carry outdated information based on one person’s opinion of one encounter with a hotel.  But if Mr. Seidman was being truthful and said as much in his press releases he wouldn’t be getting nearly as much press coverage now would he?  Could this be a case of the pot calling the kettle black?

If content is king then Oyster.com is not going to replace TripAdvisor or fundamentally change the way people make hotel decisions. While some like to complain about TripAdvisor, let’s face it – people use it, believe it and book millions of room nights based on its reviews.

Give your guests credit.  They check a variety of sources and read multiple reviews (not just one) to formulate their opinions.  And I’ll bet they would write a pretty accurate and truthful review of your hotel if you asked them to.

In the meantime, after reviewing the Oyster.com site I came away underwhelmed.  A flash-in-the-pan perhaps?

Check it out and let me know what you think.  Safe travels – Madigan Pratt

For other comments on Oyster.com check out:

  1. Arthur Frommer
  2. BusinessWeek
AUTHOR: Madigan Pratt

Results oriented hotel marketing professional and expert in helping hotels acquire and retain profitable customers.

5 Comments
  • Jeffrey Frankel

    Madigan,
    I enjoyed your article about Oyster.com and absolutely agree with your analysis. While I find user generated reviews to be somewhat problematic, Oyster’s approach is unlikely to succeed. Several years ago, while working at an online travel agency, I wanted to add reviews to our website. I considered starting a division to create professional reviews similar to Oyster’s model. However, it was not financially feasible. As you mentioned in your article, the number of hotels that could be covered in a year is limited. Furthermore, those reviews become stale after a few months during which time numerous changes can take place at a property (especially the hurricane prone Caribbean). Finally, even the finest hotels can have a bad day where things just don’t go right. Since these hotels are being rated on one visit by one person, it lacks the balance of multiple reviews.

    Regardless, dethroning TripAdvisor is unlikely. Their SEO is unmatched and they were the 800 pound gorilla even before Expedia’s umbrella.

    July 7, 2009
  • Madigan Pratt

    Thanks Jeffrey,
    It will be interesting to watch Oyster evolve – or dissolve – as the case may be. Seems to be a strange business model given today’s web 2.0 environment and the economy.
    Got to hand it to them though, they have generated quite a bit of buzz – but it takes more than buzz to make today.
    Regards,
    Madigan

    July 7, 2009
  • D. Richmond

    Professionals? How is someone who went to journalism school professionally capable in reviewing hotels? Only hotel professionals know what to really look for – or what just may be a case of a bad day as previously mentioned. Do the reviews actually require a degree in english, and does taking a picture of mold require a degree in photography? What’s wrong with experience and, of course, common sense.

    July 9, 2009
  • Madigan,

    Enjoyed reading your analysis and I agree with you.

    I am not going to voice my opinion on oyster due to the fact that they are a competitor to my start up (raveable.com) which launched last May without much fanfare (we don’t have 6 million dollars, nor we like to create unfounded controversy).

    We have a different take on the guest reviews space. We think that the problem is the overwhelming number of reviews that are scattered across the web. Travelers feel obligated to skim through many reviews before they make a decision. They get frustrated due to the inconsistency of recommendations from one reviewer to another. The process just takes too much time. With raveable.com we attempted to solve this problem and save travelers time. I’d love to get your feedback and thoughts on raveable.com as an expert in the hospitality space.

    Thanks!
    Rafik – Raveable.com CTO

    July 12, 2009

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