Orbitz opens hotel reviews to nonbookersNewsBy Dennis Schaal | October 25, 2010Share This article was originally published on Even as the integrity of consumer reviews comes under fire, Orbitz has opened its hotel reviews to people who may -- or may not have -- stayed at the property.Up until a couple of months ago, when the change was quietly made, Orbitz only accepted hotel reviews from people who had booked their stay on Orbitz.com.With the change, anyone can write a hotel review on Orbitz.com, but reviews from verified customers -- people who booked their rooms on Orbitz -- are identified as such and given heavier weight when Orbitz calculates its Reviewer Score for each property.Orbitz spokesman Brian Hoyt says the company found that people who may have booked a flight or cruise on Orbitz.com also wanted the opportunity to write a hotel review -- even if they had booked the property elsewhere.Opening up the review process enables Orbitz to further engage with travelers in the hope of providing better, more up to date hotel information.Orbitz also hopes to capture that customer's hotel booking the next time around, Hoyt adds."It's an engagement exercise," Hoyt says.In light of the new policy, Orbitz can now ping a broader base of customers to encourage them to write hotel reviews.When a user writes a review, Orbitz displays a message that their review will be posted in 3-5 days.Hoyt says Orbitz uses that time to vet that review and remove any profanity, although the company does not edit out negative opinions.TripAdvisor is often criticized about the integrity of its consumer reviews, but has used the volume of reviews to enhance its SEO stance, consumer engagement and attractiveness to advertisers.Unlike Orbitz, TripAdvisor can't verify that anyone actually has stayed at a particular property before writing a review because TripAdvisor doesn't take any bookings.In opening up its reviews, Orbitz is differentiating itself from Priceline and Expedia.com, which only take reviews from verified customers. Travelocity's policy is more similar to Orbitz's.In other news, Expedia.com officially launched its opaque hotel product, Unpublished Rates, with access to some 25,000 hotels worldwide. The feature launched in beta in June.Among the Big Four U.S. based online travel agencies, that leaves Orbitz.com as the sole OTA without an opaque hotel offering. In the past, Orbitz had opaque partnerships with Hotwire and Priceline, but has no distressed inventory offering today.Hoyt of Orbitz says the company is watching Unpublished Rates from Expedia and Travelocity's Top Secret Hotels, but is focusing now on improving the published rate hotel search experience.