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The Interview: Scott Medintz, Oyster Hotel Reviews

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Kid Rock, Janet Jackson and Chace Crawford are among the celebs who stay or hang out at the Gramercy Park Hotel, according to Oyster Hotel Reviews. Courtesy of Oyster Hotel Reviews.


    If you're someone who automatically checks out Tripadvisor for hotel reviews and recommendations before you travel, you should know that there's a new kid on the block. Oyster Hotel Reviews, which debuted in June, may well give Tripadvisor a run for their money in the long run.
    But their methodology is quite different. Instead of relying on guest reviews, Oyster has a staff of reporters who travel anonymously, pay for their rooms and report their findings.And what other site will actually talk about celebrity sightings in hotels?
  I caught up with Scott Medintz, Executive Editor of Oyster Hotel Reviews (and a former Senior Editor at Money), to learn more.

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Scott Medintz. Courtesy of Oyster Hotel Reviews.

Tripadvisor has dominated online reviews for years. What does Oyster bring to the table?

    When you want to buy a car, a computer, a cell phone, or most other big-ticket items, you can find honest, independent reviews of these items, written by professionals who know everything there is to know about the product and its competition.
    Prior to Oyster Hotel Reviews, there was nothing like this for hotels. Even worse, unlike an iPhone, hotel's aren't a product you can return if you're dissatisfied. Choosing the right hotel is a high involvement, high risk purchase.
    You can use TripAdvisor and read 50 or so different, conflicting reviews — trying to figure out why the same hotel gets grades of 1's and 5's from different people — from individuals who might have visited only one hotel in the past year and may be nothing like you.
    Or you can go to Oyster and read an in-depth assessment of each hotel from a professional reporter who has reviewed dozens of hotels.

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Fontainebleau, Miami Beach. Courtesy of Oyster Hotel Reviews.

They can not only help you understand what the hotel is actually like, but he or she can also compare each hotel to other comparable hotels in the same area. So if you're visiting Miami and want to know how the new W South Beach stacks up against to the Mondrian, Setai, Fontainebleau, Four Seasons, Tides and all the other hotels that are in its price range, you can read a review from an expert who knows the advantages and disadvantages of each property. We offer professional reviews like a CNET or Car and Driver for hotels, a reliable and accountable source for information.
    We do think that user-generated reviews have a very important role in the research process, and we encourage our readers to tell us about their experiences at a hotel and to post comments on our site in response to our reviews.
    Unlike other websites, we don't just restate what the hotel says about itself. If a hotel claims that it has a pool but it really only has a large hot tub, we'll say so. And we'll have the photos to prove it.

How does Oyster differ from, say, AAA or Mobil reviews of hotels?

    The obvious difference is in the substance: zero original photos and about a 50-100-word generic-sounding write-up from them; about 300 original and undoctored photos and a critical 2,000-word review from us, as well as the aforementioned verified data on what the hotel has and does not have. This is found on our amenities tab. We try to answer a potential traveler's core questions: What's the hotel really like? Is it worth the price?
    AAA and the Mobil guides, however, rely almost entirely on their diamonds and stars and distinctions or sorts to categorize and classify the hotel meaning that they're largely reducing the complex answer of what a hotel has and is like into a single, catch-all icon. This leverages their historically — but no longer meaningful — brands and allows them to skimp on the actual hard work. 

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The Caves, Negril, Jamaica. Courtesy of Oyster Hotel Reviews.

How do you select which hotels to review – or not to review?

    First and foremost, we are focused on leisure travel. This dictates not only the destinations we choose but also the hotels we cover within each destination. Second, we want to help as many readers as possible, so that means that our hotels tend to skew larger, but this is by no means a hard and fast rule.
    We want to capture the feel of a destination and within every hotel price range we strive to offer our readers many choices. We also want to capture the special finds and great values. So unfortunately, there's no simple formula. We evaluate all of the hotels — literally hotel by hotel — within a given destination and select them one by one. Of course, our human resources are limited so inevitably we might miss one or two properties we might otherwise have liked to cover. We also adapt on the fly — if while actually visiting the location we find a place that we think we should have covered but had not planned on covering, we add it to the list.
    Unlike some of the guidebooks like Fodor's, we don't accept free stays or discounts, and unlike the online travel agencies, we don't review a place unless we have visited it ourselves and taken our own photographs. In contrast, the photos on a site like Hotels.com will typically come from the hotel's own marketing department.

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The Beach at Grand Oasis Marien, Dominican Republic. Courtesy of Oyster Hotel Reviews.

How many nights do your reporters spend at a given property?

    We've covered everything from 30-room spring break crash pads in South Beach with nothing but a room and a check-in desk to hulking, all-inclusive mega-resorts in the Dominican Republic. So it doesn't always make sense to stay at every hotel for the same amount of time.
    Sometimes we can gather all the information we need in one night — two days — and sometimes we'll need at least three nights to photograph the entire resort, interview other guests, wade out into the ocean, swim in the pool, test out the spa, and sip a few cocktails at the nightly cabaret. We always try to experience a hotel as a typical tourist might, and sometimes that means taking some extra time to join in on the fun.

Any surprises so far in what they've discovered?

    I'm always surprised no two hotels are ever the same — even within the same brand family. We're in this business because we couldn't trust the hotel websites, we couldn't glean enough information from the guide books, and there was no other product on the market that could give us a clear impression about what to expect from a hotel.
    Frankly, I think what's most surprising is when we uncover a hotel that appropriately and accurately represents itself on its own website. Those are few and far between. Interestingly, some great hotels do a poor job on their own website of conveying just how great their own place is. Describing a hotel on a website is a different challenge than building and running a hotel.


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The reporting team at Oyster.Courtesy of Oyster Hotel Reviews.

You've got a fairly limited range of destinations right now. Where will you expand to in the near future?

    We'll cover the world, but it will take time. Our Las Vegas hotels will be rolling out shortly. As for what's next, we don't want to reveal too much we don't want the hotels to know we're coming, but I will say that we're making some very difficult choices about where to visit next and we're always happy to hear requests.
    It's also worth noting that we're in the process of hiring additional people to help us broaden our destination coverage more quickly. In time we will be quadrupling our current reporting staff. If any readers out there have ever dreamed of being a travel journalis
t, check out our job posting.

Your booking engine uses Orbitz and Travelocity. Are there plans for searching for rates on other OTA's?

    Just to clarify, we're not a booking website and we're not trying to sell anyone a hotel. The prices that appear on our site are provided by the hotels themselves to the likes of Orbitz and Travelocity. We just average the price of the standard, base-level room for the next 30 days.
    If you click on "Check Rates & Availability" on our hotel review page, you'll see a box that pops up with options to search Hotels.com, Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz so that you can check the rates on your specified travel dates. We selected these companies because they are the most popular, but we don't advocate for any one of them in particular.
    Unlike websites who are in the business of making money selling hotel rooms, we also provide the reader with a link to a hotel's own website and the hotel's own phone number directly on our site. As a traveler, I often find that calling the hotel directly is an important last step in my research.

Visit Oyster Hotel Reviews.

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