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With their verified reviews, Cruiseline.com and HotelMe have laid down a challenge for TripAdvisor. There is little reason for TripAdvisor to maintain an either-or stance in its preference for reviews that aren’t verified, and perhaps TripAdvisor will entertain some changes.
If you are ready to dismiss Cruiseline.com as another here-today, gone-tomorrow startup, then consider that World Travel Holdings is one of the largest — if not the largest — cruise seller in the U.S. It owns some 30 cruise and vacation brands, and has private-label partnerships with about two-dozen airlines, online travel agencies and other retailers, including American Airlines, Delta SkyMiles, JetBlue, United, US Airways, Oribtz and Priceline, to name a few.
The launch of verified reviews on Cruiseline.com represents a developing challenge to TripAdvisor for hotels and sister company CruiseCritic, neither of which offer verification. The development comes several weeks after HotelMe started offering verified hotel reviews.
Cruiseline.com, which launched in beta today, enables users to search reviews by destination, cruise line, and ship, and then either to access all reviews or to filter just the verified reviews.
Faraz Qureshi, general manager of New York-based Cruiseline.com, says Cruiseline.com builds on an existing stock of verified reviews from WTH cruise agencies Cruises.com, Cruise411, CheapCruises, Vacation Outlet, and CruisesOnly, with the latter described as the largest cruise agency in the U.S.
When cruisers return from a sailing, they receive an email from one of these cruise agencies, inviting them to write a review, which now appears on Cruiseline.com.
Qureshi says Cruiseline.com verifies that the reviews come from people who actually took the sailing based on their email addresses, booking number and sailing ID.
The site currently doesn’t have any dedicated means for cruise lines to respond to negative reviews other than to write a response as any site user would, but Qureshi says he hopes to add functionality for cruise line responses in the future.
Cruiseline.com has an advantage over HotelMe in gathering verified reviews in that the affiliated cruise agencies were already soliciting them on their own sites, while HotelMe has to build its database of verified hotel reviews from scratch.
Cruiseline.com offers about 18,000 verified reviews and another 18,000, which have not been thoroughly vetted. So why keep the unverified reviews? Are they retained just for search engine optimization purposes?
“If you look at the content, some of it is pretty good,” Qureshi says. “People read dozens of reviews so having that coverage in terms of ships and ports is pretty important.”
And, what of WTH’s backing of the site?
Says Qureshi: “They are committed to this for the long term. They are committed to building a world-class, non-transactional review site.”