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For six years, entrepreneurs Elie Seidman and Ariel Charytan spent most of their time going around the United States as they worked on growing their first startup. With all that traveling, the pair has seen it all – the good, the bad, the ugly. Unfortunately, it was often difficult to know beforehand if a hotel they had booked would meet their expectations. The pair found it frustrating that even with the Internet, it wasn’t always easy to find a decent hotel. Hotel websites aren’t exactly unbiased sources – the photos may have been edited, and the text is usually vague, marketing copy. Meanwhile, user-powered travel sites are filled with mixed, subjective reviews by strangers.

Thinking that the lack of independent hotel reviews may just be an online search problem, Ariel and Elie contacted Eytan Seidman, who at that time was working for Microsoft’s Internet search business. Eytan had a different explanation, however. “Search can’t provide the answer if the underlying content doesn’t exist,” he said.

Thus, in the spring of 2008, the three started Oyster.com, the first hotel review site that offers impartial, in-depth reviews based on the firsthand experience of hotel experts. It’s also the only site that makes inspections in person – Oyster investigators visit, photograph, rate, and review every hotel featured on the website. Using Oyster’s own consistent, uniform, and objective “pearl rating system”, reviewers rank hotels based on the services available, quality of rooms and amenities, and overall state of the property, among other criteria.

“A vacation is very unique because you can’t try it before you buy and you can’t return it once you arrive,” Elie says.

Oyster may not have been to every hotel on the planet yet, but as of February 2012, it has reviewed 3,000 hotels in 242 cities in 30 countries. Its readership, which is currently at 10 million, grows at a rate of 300 percent per year.

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