Are Those Reviews Coming From a Trusted Source?

Today’s New York Times has an article on hotel and restaurant reviews. They mostly talk about TripAdvisor and IgoUgo (which I had never heard of until today) and compare them to Zagat. Most of the information in there has been thoroughly discussed before (user reviews vs. editor reviews, moderated vs. un-moderated comments) but one quote from Tim Zagat (Zagat’s co-founder) really stood out for me. Talking about consumer reviews, he said:

“Some Internet companies are running into the problem that anybody can throw up things on the wall, and after a while there are just too many people doing it.”

TripAdvisor hotel Arts Review Barcelona

What it means: Tim Zagat is onto something. He doesn’t express it that way but it’s all about reviews from “trusted sources”. A trusted source could be, for example, a pro reviewer/critic (aggregated in sites like Metacritic.com), a friend or someone from an affinity group (or trusted community). Some of the travel and review sites out there suffer from a lack of “trusted sources” and it’s the reason why we often feel like there’s too much information to process when we see hundreds of reviews for a hotel or restaurant. Why would I trust travelingmom526 or baroudeur2004? If they’re not direct contacts, how do I know if they have the same taste as me?

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Travel Guides Still Selling Well, Saved by Portability

This article from the New York Times talks about efforts being made by the travel guide industry to avoid being disrupted by the Internet.

“We want to be in a position where, if the business suddenly collapses in five years, we have a plan — unlike the music industry,” said Martin Dunford, publishing director of Rough Guides, which is part of the Penguin division of the media company Pearson, based in London.

So far, the digital media revolution has been much less turbulent for guidebook publishers than for record companies, which are fighting rampant online copying. Sales of travel guides, while flat in some traditionally stalwart markets like Britain, have been growing strongly in developing countries and in the United States (…).

Travel publishers sold 14.8 million books in the United States last year, up 11 percent from two years ago, according to Nielsen BookScan. Still, guidebook companies may have missed an opportunity on the Internet.

Travel Guide books

(Flickr photo by Malias)

What it means: Portability, brand and content are this industry’s key success factors. I think they’ve been saved from disruption so far because of the combo of crappy mobile devices, bad wireless access and half-baked applications. When you travel, it’s still much easier to carry your print guide book with you than try to access online sites and applications. The industry is doing interesting stuff right now but, if I was running their online strategy, I would be putting a lot more energy behind social travel mobile applications. This is where the industry will be disrupted, when mobile comes of age (check out Dopplr for a glimpse at the future).

By the way, the following excerpts/quotes from the article could have been written about the directory industry (or the newspaper industry):

  • “While many travel publishers have had Web sites for a long time, some of them, along with booksellers, initially worried about cannibalizing sales of guidebooks”
  • “Digital business still generates relatively little revenue for guidebook publishers — less than 5 percent of sales at Penguin’s travel division, for example, according to executives there.”
  • “There’s been a lot of experimentation, but maybe not enough revenue coming back from digital,”
  • “The travel guide business, the good old-fashioned paper book, is still a strong and healthy business,” Ms. Slatyer said. “And we think it will be for some time.”

Farecast Cracks the Hotel Reservation “Black Box”

(via TechCrunch)

Seattle-based Farecast, a startup that launched about 18 months ago to focus on predicting flight prices and guaranteeing users against increases, just expanded to help people find deals on hotel rooms as well.

The hotels area of the site helps users see prices based on a number of travel search engines (Orbitz, CheapTickets and ReserveTravel). All the results are shown on a map along with price and other basic information.

But the service also looks at each of the hotels to let you know if it’s priced attractively or not. For most hotels, the star rating isn’t enough to tell if the price is too high or low v. local competition. Over the long run market forces even the playing field, but a traveler unfamiliar with a specific hotel can (and often is) overcharged occasionally. Farecast will help you understand if you are getting a deal or not on that specific hotel.

What it means: I love these services that crack open what I call “black-box” industries and give the power back to the users. Farecast does it for flights and hotels. Zillow does it for real estate. I can think of at least a dozen other industries that could be disrupted that way.

Praized-Worthy Today: Ad Spending on Social Network Sites, SideStep buys TravelPost

  • Ad spending on social network sites in Mediapost (registration required): “Ad spending on social network sites is set to top $1.8 billion by 2010, but the network operators such as MySpace and Facebook must develop tools to measure results.”

emarketer_ad_spending.jpgWhat it means: according to this eMarketer report, 2007 ad spending will be at $865M on these types of sites with MySpace getting 60% of those revenues. Looking at 2010 numbers, I believe social networks might become an advertising category of its own.

  • SideStep buys TravelPost via Search Engine Watch: “TravelPost, with over 500,000 hotel reviews on its site, might be the smartest little travel site you’ve never heard of. The coolest feature is the ability to filter hotel reviews by Age, Gender, Budget, and Trip Purpose. TravelPost requires the reviewer to enter demographic information before posting.”

What it means: many larger organizations are buying small established companies instead of building from scratch. Also, I like the idea of having demographic information on user-generated content. Finally, I think word-of-mouth certainly plays an important role in any travel decision and therefore benefits from user-generated reviews and descriptions.