Friday, March 20, 2009

TripAdvisor vs. Kayak: Paid Reviews Don't Float My Boat

When I wanted to book a London hotel last year, the first thing I did was go to to check out a few properties. So, I value user-generated hotel reviews, even though I know some are fakes.
And, lately, hotel review sites have come in for some new criticisms. For example, Anita Dunham-Potter writes on Tripso that the Royal Champions, a group of frequent cruisers who are prolific in their cruise reviews, actually was organized and wooed by Royal Caribbean. And, Edward Hasbrouk's The Practical Nomad blog takes on the Champions' cruise-line champions, Royal Caribbean, as well.
Meanwhile, Arthur Frommer's blog discusses a report that claims a Scottish tourism board is coaching hotels on how to submit favorable reviews to TripAdvisor.
So, against this backdrop, I just read recommendations by Sam Shank, the founder of and current CEO of, on how Kayak, which owns TravelPost, might unseat TripAdvisor as the dominant player in the hotel-review sphere. Well, Shank seems like a smart guy with a lot of good ideas, but one recommendation seemed fairly shocking and off-base, given the credibility beating that hotel-review sites are taking these days.
In the Up Take Travel Industry News blog and in further detail on his own DealBase blog, Shank suggests that Kayak start giving TravelPost's frequent hotel-reviewers a revenue share of ads that appear on their review pages. Other review sites, like HubPages, already pay "royalties" to reviewers, he notes.
Well, I think paying hotel guests for reviews is a royally bad idea. You've heard of pay to play? Well, this borders on play to stay.
Hotel reviews should be genuine, heart-felt or rant-inspired and devoid of commercialism. I want the reviewer's honest assessment of whether the room smelled of smoke or the reception-desk folks had their snoots in the air.
After all, in his posts, Shank criticizes TripAdvisor as being too commercial, cluttering up the works with too many ads, and being saddled with conflicts of interest because TripAdvisor is owned by Expedia.
Would there be any conflicts if TravelPost reviewers started churning out reviews just to keep the ad dollars rolling in?
If I wanted to read a professional hotel-reviewer's angle on the latest W Hotel in Miami or any other property, I'd read Travel + Leisure.
Kayak and its TravelPost unit, which are aggregating hotel reviews from around the Web, appear well on their way to making the hotel-review arena much more interesting.
But, paying for citizens' reviews just ain't the way to go.


Steve Hafner said...

Hi Dennis,

We agree with you. Paying for content doesn't seem to create good incentives for reviewers and may taint the content. Plus it's not Kayak or TravelPost's style.

But we do intend to aggregate content from thousands of travel sites...some of whom may pay for content. We do list the source of that content and allow users to suppress any website they find inaccurate.

Steve Hafner (Kayak CEO)

samshank said...


You raise some great points about the challenges of sharing revenue with the creator of review content, and I agree with you that such a program would need significant controls and oversight.

I didn't address the issue of fraudulent reviews in my post - as background, we actively screened for fake reviews when I ran TravelPost, but found less than .03% of all reviews were problematic out of hundreds of thousands posted. The ones that were fake were easy to identify based on their content and technical indicators (IP address, etc) and immediately removed. But, despite the low incidence of fraud, it's a serious issue as one fake review out of a million can undermine confidence in the entire system.

To implement a royalty program with review writers, I'm confident that the issues you raise could be resolved, but it would take some extra effort and continued diligence. For example, to qualify for a revenue share, confirmation of stay could be required from the poster (via an emailed receipt). Or, reviews must include 2+ original photos of the property (as it's harder to write a fake review if you don't have photos of the hotel.) Another idea is that reviews that qualify for revenue sharing could be identified as such to the reader of the review.

Sam Shank - CEO

Douglas Quinby said...

You should reach out to TJ Mahoney at FlipKey. They've set up a very methodical system for managing vacation rental reviews. I'm sure he'd have interesting perspective here.


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