There are two different types of hotel reviews: user reviews and professional reviews from travel journalists. When choosing a hotel, it can be helpful to evaluate both. TripAdvisor has long been the leader of the pack when it comes to providing a database of user reviews for every hotel out there. Oyster Hotel Reviews aims to provide consumers with qualified professional reviews of hotels around the world, hoping to compete with the likes of Frommers, Fodors, Conde Nast Traveler and others. Oyster’s reviews take on a longer, more magazine-like form, and are all written by a staff of full-time journalists who travel to each hotel reviewed.
There’s no doubt that Oyster’s actual reviews are comprehensive. Reviews include a snapshot summary that lists detailed pros and cons of each hotel, and extensive descriptions on the scene, service, location, features, activities, food and drinks for hotels. Because the review is able to be so lengthy, the details given about the hotel are ones that you wouldn’t normally find on other review sites, such as the thread count of the sheets on the beds or which celebs have stayed there. Each review also includes photos from when the reporter stayed in the hotel (not the fancy photos pulled from the hotel’s website), a map with nearby hotels, and user comments/reviews.
Currently, Oyster, which launches in beta tomorrow, only provides reviews for hotels in Aruba, Jamaica, Dominican Republic and Miami and plans to add New York City and Las Vegas in the near future. These lack of options are no doubt limiting and even in the current coverage areas, not every hotel is listed. For example, in Jamaica, there are only 40 hotels listed for the entire country. TripAdvisor lists over 300 hotels, in addition to lists of vacation rentals and B&Bs.
To date, Oyster has raised $6.4 million in Series A funding from Bain Capital Ventures, Accelerator Ventures and angel investors in March 2008 and plans to raise a Series B round in the near future. The co-founder of Oyster Hotel Reviews, Elie Seidman, says Oyster will make money off of traditional CPM based ads from relevant partners (Jamaica’s tourism board, airlines etc.). Seidman says the site will also generated revenue from leads to bookings sites like Orbitz, Hotels.com and Expedia. On Oyster, you can click to check availability of a hotel for a given date and will be given the choice to check Expedia, Hotels.com, Travelocity, and Orbitz. Each time a user books through one of these engines from a lead created by Oysters, the site gets a cut.
The online travel industry has a whole is incredibly crowded—and there are many services out there that provide reviews of hotels including TripAdvisor, Fodors, Frommers and TripKick. I think the comprehensive, journalistic, unbiased style of Oyster’s reviews are certainly useful, but the startup will need to scale its number of reviews and coverage areas to be a serious competitor.