TripExpert is perhaps going against the grain, in that it doesn't take the crowd-source approach to collecting hotel reviews.
Instead, it has gone back to the old school, in some respects, aggregating reviews from travel guides and magazines.
The company has partnered with 20+ travel guide services such as Frommer's, Lonely Planet, Fodors Travel and Travel + Leisure.
For every hotel, TripExpert displays a review snippet of two or three lines from each travel guide/magazine. Reviews in TripExpert are not a condensed version of the review content in the travel guides, but the key review lines are reused.
It also displays a "TripExpert Score", calculated by a number of parameters including rating and review given by each travel guide partners, and also the number of travel guides that have written about a hotel.
It has also created an API featuring "TripExpert Score" for other travel brands to display on their sites.
TripExpert has partnered with third party booking sites to enable travellers to see hotel availability and rate while they are in TripExpert, and eventually book the hotel in a third party site.
The company was founded by Andrew Nicol and Dann Berg. Currently, the company has a team size of six, with the team members working on design, development, and content management.
Q&A with Nicol below.
Tell us how you founded the company, why and what made you decide to jump in and create the business.
In our own travels, we rely on a number of sources in deciding where to go, what to see and do, and where to stay. Like many other people, we read reviews online on sites like TripAdvisor. But, we also use travel guides like Lonely Planet and Frommer’s, and read articles in travel magazines and in the travel sections of newspapers.
Anecdotally, as we travelled, we started to see that the advice being given by professional reviewers and travel writers was much more reliable than the stuff we would read in user reviews.
So, we decided to start TripExpert, and for the first time aggregate expert travel advice in one place online.
We haven’t accepted and are not actively seeking any outside capital.
Estimation of market size?
The US online travel market had revenues of $157 billion in 2013; the worldwide figure is over $400 billion.
We compete with other services that rate and rank hotels. Our biggest and most obvious competitor is TripAdvisor, which has a very strong position in the market and is valued at about $15 billion.
We also compete with other booking and aggregation services that either embed TripAdvisor’s scores or use their own user reviews to generate scores for hotels and provide recommendations to users.
Revenue model and strategy for profitability?
TripExpert has partnered with several well known third-party booking services, allowing users to complete their checkout process with brands they trust and guaranteeing a competitive nightly rate.
TripExpert receives a commission every time a user books with one of our booking partners.
What problem does the business solve?
Until now, research and choosing a hotel involved relying primarily on user reviews. We think user reviews are flawed, especially for hotels.
A large number of reviews are fake -- posted either by the hotel or by its competitors.
In addition, the average traveler has no basis for comparison when reviewing a hotel, because he/she has probably only stayed in a single hotel in a destination and has no idea what the competition is offering.
At TripExpert, users can find expert opinion about hotels all over the world in one single place.
We not only feature reviews from established travel authorities, but also scoure each review for insider tips, such as rooms with the best view or the least amount of noise.
How did the initial idea evolve and were there changes/any pivots along the way in the early stages?
We started developing an early version of TripExpert at the AngelHack hackathon in 2012, where we were a national finalist. Although we’ve made a number of refinements to our approach since that time, the core idea has remained the same.
Why should people or companies use the business?
The hotel you choose for your next vacation or business trip can have a huge impact on your overall experience. We provide the most reliable hotel ratings and rankings available.
Our scoring algorithm takes into account how a hotel has been reviewed in over 20 publications like Fodor’s, Travel + Leisure, The New York Times.
Unlike user reviews, our hotel scores can’t be manipulated by hotels themselves, and they’re based on the opinions of experts who have stayed at multiple properties in a destination and who know which are best.
What is the strategy for raising awareness and the customer/user acquisition (apart from PR)?
Aside from the website, we’re also active on social media, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. We’re also launching a blog where we use the data collected by TripExpert to write guides to popular destinations around the world.
Additionally, TripExpert is launching an API that’s available to other travel search websites. This means that any travel website can benefit from the TripExpert Score by using our data to improve hotel ranking on their own sites.
Where do you see the company in three years time and what specific challenges do you anticipate having to overcome?
In the coming months, we will be expanding beyond hotels to also cover restaurants, attractions and nightlife.
We’re also working on mobile apps and will launch them in the Fall.
Our primary challenge is to acquire users, but we’re confident that we offer a unique and differentiated travel search product.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
We don’t consider ourselves "another startup", because we’re taking a different approach to travel decision-making than every other service out there. There are hundreds (probably even thousands) of websites where you can post and read reviews that other travelers have written. But, there’s not a single site where you can see expert consensus in one place.
What other technology company would you consider yourselves most closely aligned to in terms of culture and style... and why?
Our company is in a unique position, since we use expert opinion to discover the best hotels while still offering competitive rates thanks to our booking partners. This enables us to work with the highest quality of content while still remaining within reach of the average consumer. Like our website, our culture and style is also unique, remaining true to ourselves while always putting our user first — whether he or she is booking a hotel on our website or on another site that is using TripExpert data to improve its own ranking algorithm.
TripExpert's tagline - "Finally, hotel reviews you can trust" - is interesting. The company summarizes its entire business in this tagline. It is also a dig at other hotel review sites that it deems untrustworthy.
TripAdvisor might be the leader in hotel reviews, but it has its own issues of tackling fake reviews by users and hotels, and also by third party companies that offer positive-review-writing service at a cost.
This is precisely the issue that TripExpert wants to eliminate by not taking the user generated content (UGC) approach. TripExpert also says that crowdsourced hotel reviews are flawed.
While there are issues in the crowdsourced review model, there are numerous studies that bring out the impact of user reviews on hotel selection. For example, TripAdvisor became the number one source of traffic for bookings made in a hotel’s website.
But, in case of TripExpert, there are different set of issues to tackle, such as:
1) Review sites like TripAdvisor bring out various aspects of a hotel - its front end staff, bed, restaurant, cleanliness, issue resolution, price, surroundings, etc. Users get rich information by reading these details from a fellow traveller, but in case of TripExpert, a user will read a 2-3 lines of review snippet. In the defense of TripExpert, it displays interesting tips for a hotel.
2) TripExpert displays hotels only if it was written by at least one of its travel guide partners. While this is a good mechanism to show the "expert reviewed" hotels, travellers might have to miss reading about many hotels just because experts have yet to stay at the property.
3) Since TripExpert aggregates review content from travel guide partners, the site might have to figure a strategy to tackle duplicate content from the eyes of the search engine king - Google.
Vine video about TripExpert: