Skift Take

The advent of user reviews in travel was a disruptive and positive force, and they in turn may indeed get upended or greatly modified as new technologies take hold.

Series: Dennis' Online Travel Briefing

Dennis' Online Travel Briefing

Editor’s Note:¬†Every Wednesday, Executive Editor and online travel rockstar Dennis Schaal will bring readers exclusive reporting and insight into the business of online travel and digital booking, and how this sector has an impact across the travel industry.

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Online Travel This Week

Serial entrepreneur Paul English is back again with a new app called Deets, and he’s trying to disrupt the way people discover restaurants and hotels.

English, who co-founded both Kayak, which sold to Booking Holdings for $1.8 billion in 2013, and Lola, which offloaded its assets to Capital One in 2021 for an undisclosed sum, called Tripadvisor and Yelp reviews “garbage” in a Skift interview, and said he hopes to use natural language processing, AI and machine learning to summarize and streamline reviews personalized for each user in Deets. The tagline is “your favorite places.”

He asked me to search Google for “buy Amazon reviews,” and there were 41,000 results, meaning fake reviews are for sale. The same search for Tripadvisor generates 7,560 results and there are 14,300 for Yelp. On the review integrity front, Tripadvisor has a team to intercept fraudulent reviews, and its CEO believes its user reviews are part of an “enduring foundation” for revitalizing the company.

Paul English (rear, left) with co-workers at Lola in 2016. Source: Lola

Deets, which debuted last year, is unimpressive in its current incarnation as it shows a limited number of restaurants with sometimes-one-sentence reviews and photos for dining establishments in Boston and New York City. I left a 4.0 review for a restaurant I never heard of or visited to see how it worked. English said an app update is coming in about a week.

The idea is to cut through user review clutter and the “analysis paralysis” that comes with having to wade through a long feed in order to choose a restaurant or hotel, English said. Deets might pick five restaurants that your friends or foodies you follow like in Miami, and then modify the choices based on personalization and polls run through the app, he added.

Deets currently has a partnership with OpenTable, the dining app run by Debby Soo and overseen by English’s co-founder at Kayak, Steve Hafner, and there will be more partnerships to come.

English sees Deets as a big business opportunity. But it’s a long road to evolve from just another app, to break out of the pack, and turn a startup into to a meaningful enterprise.

English is a serial entrepreneur, as detailed in a 2016 Tracy Kidder biography, A Truck Full of Money. The title comes from one of his years-long collaborators at Kayak and earlier startups saying he wanted to be standing next to English when he gets hit by a truck full of money, and Kayak was such a vehicle.

Deets is one of five apps coming out of English’s development studio, Boston Venture Studio.

In addition to Deets, he retained rights to the Lola brand when its assets were sold to Capital One, and English said he’s turning it into a dating app with the name pertaining to “love language.” English said he spends a couple of hours per week working on a reinvigorated Chinese chess app, Xiangqi.com, that he launched in 1997. There’s another app that would be a bot to answer your emails while you’re away, and a fifth app, would revolve around finding shows to watch that your friends are watching.

English said he hasn’t had this much fun since the first year at Kayak, which was 2004, when he was the chief technology officer and there weren’t yet any product managers. English said his goal with Boston Venture Studio is to launch two apps per year.

In Brief

Citi Relaunches Travel Website With Booking Holdings Partnership

With big banks increasingly getting into travel booking, Citi relaunched its previously in-house-powered travel website in partnership with Booking.com. Booking’s sister company Agoda, based in Singapore, said the site is actually “powered by Rocket Travel by Agoda.” Only Citi credit card holders can access the site, which will begin to be available later this month to select cardmember through the Citi app, Agoda said.

WayAway Debuts Maps With City Sections to Avoid

As part of a focus on safety for solo female travelers, travel metasearch website WayAway debuted maps that pinpoint “potential unsafe” areas for visitors. The feature, highlighted by grayed out city sections and hand emojis signifying to stay out, can cut both ways. Travelers unfamiliar with a city might welcome avoiding high-crime areas, but locals trying to revitalize these areas and to attract visitors may object to the characterization.

Inspirato Looks to Enhanced Distribution Through Online Travel Agencies

Luxury travel site Inspirato is looking to increase its distribution through online travel companies such as Airbnb and Vrbo. Inspirato will turn to these distributors when it has excess capacity, and one can expect some of these homes would be offered at discounted rates. Skift

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Tags: agoda, apps, banks, booking.com, citi, Dennis' Online Travel Briefing, future of lodging, hotels, inspirato, kayak, lola, mobile, online travel newsletter, opentable, restaurants, Skift Pro Columns, startups

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