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Monday, January 2, 2012

Expedia.com: We verify our hotel reviews

If you go to Expedia.com today, you'll find an overhauled review database that contains some 4 million reviews written by people who Expedia says paid for and stayed in the hotel they wrote about. "We like to call it the new source of truth, internally," says John Kim, Expedia's senior vice president of global products.

According to USA Today, Expedia's new strategy, in fact, is all about making hotel reviews more trustworthy, which in turn could help fuel trust, loyalty - and ultimately hotel bookings. The strategy plays off recent stories about fake reviews posted on TripAdvisor, Yelp and other sites that don't confirm whether an author has actually stayed at a particular property - or if they had some other agenda in writing a review.

"(Customers) have been asking for a source of reviews they can trust," Kim says, citing stories of a "black market" of fake reviews on other review sites. How widely held a belief that is, however, isn't clear.

So far, focus groups that Expedia has brought into its building to try out the system have garnered positive feedback, Kim says.

"This has tested off the charts in our internal testing," he told me. "People love the idea that our reviews are verified so you can't randomly leave a review."

The other big change with Expedia's new platform is that users are now able to tailor their searches to fit their hotel needs. You'll be able to search reviews by rating, date submitted, language, photos - and traveler type. But "traveler type" no longer means searching by "business traveler," "couple," "single" or "family."

Now, it's all about searching by your passion. Baseball fans, for instance, can search for reviews of hotels that might be near stadiums, and likewise for foodies, film buffs or people who love nightclubs, Kim says.

"Many times people are looking for personalized reviews, so this lets a reviewer call out who in particular might benefit (from the review they're writing)," Kim says. "We get very odd requests from time to time, such as for zombie conference hotels. This is a true story. So this offers different points of interest vs. a generic review that would be focused on room quality and price paid."

The current database of roughly 4 million reviews includes hotel reviews that had been previously written on Expedia and sister sites such as Hotels.com, and retroactively categorized to fit the new arrangement. Expedia expects to quickly ramp up to 6.5 million reviews.

The new review platform now also lets users add photos, label their reviews to alert a specific audience, and communicate with other review writers.

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