Oyster.com plans to launch websites in Europe in 2010NewsBy Dennis Schaal | June 14, 2010Share This article was originally published on Oyster.com, which features journalist-written hotel reviews, plans to launch websites in Canada, the U.K., Germany, France, Spain and Italy before the end of 2010, the company says.Co-founder and CEO Elie Seidman says the international websites would be focused at first on Oyster's existing hotel content in North America, and the expansion would entail translating the editorial information into German, French, Spain and Italian.The European websites would later broaden their content to cover countries, including those within Europe, that Europeans travel to, Seidman says. For example, the German website would cover popular destinations for German travelers in Italy.The domain name strategy isn't finalized, he adds, since domains like Oyster.de already are taken.The internationalization of Oyster is harmonious with trends seen since the hotel-review website introduced hotel transactions in the beginning of May.Previously, Oyster earned revenue primarily from referrals to online travel agencies through their individual booking engines or metasearch.But, with the launch of hotel transactions, Oyster is blending this referral model with revenue from its own transactions, and is experimenting with the balance.Depending on the travel dates and the properties, sometimes Oyster visitors get steered toward metasearch and other times the choice of a direct booking on Oyster comes to the fore.Given the North America-focused content, a disproportionate number of its own hotel bookings have come from Europe and Asia-Pacific, Seidman says, for destinations like Miami, Las Vegas or the Dominican Republic."So, that's something we are going to double-down on," Seidman says, referring to these bookings and the launch of new country websites.Oyster offers rooms on a merchant model basis, sourcing inventory from Reserve Travel, directly from hotels, a global distribution system and wholesalers such as Tourico Holidays."In retrospect, that was functionality that we needed to have," Seidman says, referring to hotel transactions.So, how would Oyster handle expanding its international content given the fact that it scaled back on its review staff?In 2009, Oyster had been spending money in big bunches to build the initial platform and "at the end of last year we stopped growing the footprint," Seidman says.In the future, Oyster will spend "in big rushes" -- as opposed to incremental increases -- "to expand the footprint again," Seidman says.Today, Seidman says the company has 30 freelancers who have been trained and have "qualified" to write hotel reviews. Initially, reviews for foreign language websites would be written in English and translated into the respective languages of the various country websites, he says.And, would Oyster hired Europe-based freelancers to cover hotels in Europe?Seidman says those kind of details are still being worked out.Writing hotel reviews about properties in North America has been "the low-hanging fruit," Seidman says, adding that Oyster plans to tackle geographic expansion and more destinations.But, much of the heavy lifting that the Oyster is engaged in relates not to new international websites or expanding content outside of North America, but to adding features and functionality on Oyster.com, Seidman says.Over the next 90 days, he says, Oyster will be working on adding room-level content -- comparing the amenities and qualities of room 234 in one property to those in room 402 at another -- and refining the user interface."The OTA is a breadth play," Seidman says.Oyster, which targets a relatively high demographic of consumers, doesn't intend to be a one-stop shop like an OTA, but our "ambitions are to make our breadth greater."Meanwhile, Oyster is testing a marketing campaign to find the right medium and message to convey to consumers that they can engage with Oyster very "early in the funnel," at the beginning of the travel-planning stage.Whether consumers are in France, Germany or the U.S., Oyster hopes to get their attention "when they are first dreaming about travel," Seidman says.