Given the expense of dispatching staff to each hotel to write reviews and take photos, Oyster never had a clear business model. But it is clear that TripAdvisor values Oyster's photos as a way to bridge the gap between hotel-supplied photos and very amateur guest photos.
TripAdvisor CEO Stephen Kaufer says the company’s announced acquisition today of professional review site Oyster doesn’t represent a shift away from user reviews, but instead is mostly about Oyster’s photos.
“We looked at the photos Oyster has and said, wow, those really help tell you what the hotel is like,” Kaufer told Skift in an interview today at TripAdvisor headquarters in Newton, Massacusetts. “They are not touched up because Oyster took them.”
“They are very, very real,” Kaufer says of Oyster’s photos, taken by Oyster-hired photographers and geared to provide a more realistic alternative to hotels’ own marketing-driven imagery. “They are also of higher quality — better lenses, better photography — than user generated photos, which our visitors absolutely love. So we think it just helps to make the right purchase decision.”
Kaufer didn’t hesitate when asked if TripAdvisor will integrate Oyster’s photos into hotel pages on TripAdvisor.com to supplement hotel-provided and guest-taken property photos. They will be integrated.
But he punted when asked if Oyster’s journalist-written hotel reviews will ever make it into TripAdvisor.com.
“When we look at the editorial component that Oyster brings, we may add that if we think the typical TripAdvisor customer will appreciate that additional insight,” Kaufer says.
MORE ABOUT TRIPADVISOR AND OYSTER
- Heavily funded hotel review site Oyster puts itself up for sale
- Oyster hotel review site fires staff and hopes for asset sale
- TripAdvisor on Buying Travel Startups: “We Will Continue to Be Acquisitive”
- TripAdvisor’s Curious Strategy of Buying Smaller Startups
Kaufer says the Oyster site will likely remain — for now at least — but it won’t get much in the way of marketing because its mission as a brand cuts too close to TripAdvisor’s own reason for being.
“Their brand isn’t going to be the worldwide professional photos or ‘hotel tell all,’ as they call it,” Kaufer says. “We are putting our eggs behind the TripAdvisor brand as the global place to go pick a hotel,” Kaufer said. “And so the Oyster site is not going to be the full-on branded effort that TripAdvisor gets.”
Kaufer says people would be “barking up the wrong tree” if they would think that the Oyster acquisition means any move away from reliance on user-written reviews, or if TripAdvisor intends to become a hybrid of verified and unverified reviews.
In fact, Kaufer said, even TripAdvisor’s recent agreement with American Express in which hotel reviews written on TripAdvisor would be labeled as coming from an AmEx user, is less about verified reviews and more about “social” — enabling AmEx cardholders to find one another on TripAdvisor.
Kaufer noted that some sites that are part of the TripAdvisor family of companies have long had professional reviews to augment user reviews.
But for TripAdvisor-branded sites, Kaufer says, the company is sticking with “the wisdom of the crowd.”
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