A new hotel-rating Web site, Oyster, joins the chorus
A new company, Oyster Hotel Reviews, opened its online doors Monday, with a stated goal of becoming the premier source for independent, professionally produced and in-depth hotel reviews.
The New York Times
Thanks to the Internet and its spawns like Facebook and Twitter, everybody's a critic. But not everybody is a good critic.
Take hotel ratings. Like many other travelers, I have devised my own strange system for choosing a hotel, once I have settled on the location and price range.
It encompasses word-of-mouth, hopeful guessing through past experiences with a given hotel company and wild speculation based on a haphazard sampling of the copious reviews at various Web sites.
These online reviews, while often entertaining and informative in the aggregate, are typically written by anonymous people — some of whom, for all I know, could be in a federal penitentiary and just killing time with wistful critiques of places they have never seen.
This is not a great system, but hey, adventure is grist for my little mill. There are, of course, professionally compiled hotel reviews, including those published by Mobil and AAA.
Those guides are useful, as are the avalanche of amateur reviews that appear on Internet-travel sites like IgoUgo.com (which even provides reader forums and travel journals) and TripAdvisor.com, which has tens of thousands of user-generated reviews of hotels.
I especially value TripAdvisor because, with practice, you can readily sort out the cranks from the vast majority of earnest reviewers who simply want to share their personal views about a hotel stay.
TripAdvisor does not pull punches. Take a recent review of a certain hotel in New York's Times Square that heavily promotes itself to budget-minded tourists. "A body bag was pulled out of the elevator," one unhappy guest related.
Anyway, you would think there would be no room for another hotel-rating business, especially in the current economic slump.
But no. A new company, Oyster Hotel Reviews, opened its online doors Monday, with a stated goal of becoming the premier source for independent, professionally produced and in-depth hotel reviews. It's at www.oyster.com.
The plan, said Elie Seidman, the chief executive and co-founder, is to establish a big base of "rigorous and independent" reviews, each about 2,000 words, accompanied by reviewer-produced candid photographs of practically every nook of each hotel.
Right now, the Web site is limited mostly to reviews of hotels in Miami and the Caribbean. But the New York City hotel section is going live soon, followed by the section on Las Vegas hotels. Others will follow.
Oyster, which has financing from Bain Capital, operates on an interesting journalistic model for the Internet because it hires journalists as full-time employees, not independent contractors.
Its reviewers train with a 60-page manual. And each review is heavily illustrated with high-resolution photographs, more than 100 for each review, enough to offer a full view of that lavish lobby as well as the questionable state of the shower-stall caulking.
Seidman said the site had 15 people on the editorial staff, "all with core journalism backgrounds." Ten of those people "travel, effectively, full-time and go to 60 or 70 hotels in a year," he said.
"We pay for all the expenses, the plane ticket, taxis, meals, rooms and, of course, salaries and benefits."
My own assessment, in this early stage, is that the reviews now online are solid and useful, and the photographs are invaluable.
However, the site is limited right now. And the company, which depends on advertising on the site, is carrying a big payroll and high travel expenses during a tough time for the travel industry.
On the other hand, standards even at many quality hotels are slipping these days as costs are cut and rooms go unsold. I'm hearing more complaints about hotels now than I have in many years.
So it will be good to have some extra cops walking the beat. With cameras.
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.