Our CEO & Co-founder, Chris Brown was recently invited to chat with TravelMole’s Graham McKenzie about our Service Reviews solution and how it can help the travel industry.
Topics up for discussion included fake reviews, recent tech developments, and changes within the sector. Read the full interview below or watch the video in full now.
Q1: As far as tech development is concerned, What’s changed? What do you think is new? What are you looking for now in the marketplace that perhaps you weren’t 10-15 years ago?
A1: I think in terms of what's changed, I think it's just an evolution. So, you know, you look back at what I was doing 18 years ago now, when I started Holiday Watchdog and you know, it was all very basic HTML websites.
The web was very new back then not many people were using it. We're talking back in the day where if you said API to a travel agent, they thought you were speaking a foreign language because they weren't really using them fast forward a bit further, probably another eight, nine years, when we had Sunshine and we were dynamically packaging online, you know, the industry was really taking hold of that, again API's were becoming quite propelled and I think we've now got to a point where technology within travel has progressed enough that we can start talking about data without people getting scared.
So with TrustedTrip, I actually came up with the concept about eight years ago, and for the concept of it to work, I need travel agents to share with me their data. And if you said that to a travel agent eight years ago and said, I need your data from you, they would have said, you're not having my booking data, you're going to give it to somebody else. Whereas now, they're quite happy to share a bit of data.
So I think in terms of where the development’s been, it’s not necessarily in specific technology advancements, but I think data as a piece of tech within travel is the big thing now. And we're at a point now where we can start to use that to make things better.”
Q2: Okay, now as far as TrustedTrip is concerned, there are lots of review systems around and even down to the basic, you know, big systems like Facebook, you can go on and say I didn’t like this or I didn't particularly want to do this, or this was fantastic. What, what space in the market did you detect? Or do you ascertain there to be? And how are you exploiting that?
A2: So I think yes, there are lots of other review platforms around and there's actually quite a multitude of reasons why there's a space that exists that we're kind of moving into. The biggest one is verification. So obviously, one of the big, big pieces of this in the media on a frequent basis is fake reviews. And that's not just in travel. That's everything, I saw there was a piece on Amazon just yesterday on the BBC about fake reviews that’s a problem they have on there. From a travel industry perspective, you know, everyone has a big issue with fake reviews specifically on TripAdvisor. They're the biggest, you know, I’m not outing them, but they’re around.
And then we've got this piece around a lot of travel agents now moving into an area where they have a website and they want to pull poor review content through to their website. So they need an API to do that. Where do they go to get the API of reviews? They go to TripAdvisor and not the easiest API to get hold of, and it has its limitations.
There are lots of brand new rules and guidelines and once you get past their free version, which is difficult again, like I said, to get hold of it does cost money to use it. One of the conversations I remember having with an agent was I am selling a holiday to a consumer based on a bunch of reviews that might possibly be fake. So someone's now booking a holiday hotel in the Mediterranean, they think it's gonna be amazing because the reviews say so they get there it is crap because the reviews are fabricated.
Whether they're by the hotel owner or an agent that's trying to sell that hotel, now I've got a customer that's complaining and now that's my foot. So I was really looking at how do we solve the problem of verified reviews? How do we get past that? And it really literally comes down to the only way we can do it is by taking a look at someone like booking.com as an example, or even Expedia. They collect their own reviews for their own products. So you know, when you go to booking.com, or Expedia, every review they show you as a verified review, it’s from a real customer, great model.
However, outside of their own brand. there's nothing going on, there's nothing happening. So you take lots of smaller agents so we can take someone and when I say small, they're not small by any means, but if I can take someone for example, like the size of say someone like Barrhead Travel or Midcounties. They are huge travel agencies. But if you went to them and said, Why aren’t you collecting your own reviews? They all turn around and say to you, well, we would, but we can't collect enough meaningful data to compete with someone like TripAdvisor.
So the concept was really simple. It's like, Okay, so I've got that user number. I've got 10 small agents and together they make one big Trip Advisor size agent (it's not real numbers I'm using just to say that.) How can I get into work together? And that's really where we came up with TrustedTrip was, the space in the market is to bring the industry together, not just OTAs but suppliers as well.
Anyone that really sells a travel product to a consumer, where we can then go to that consumer and collect their verified review, bring all that data together and essentially pull it into a single place. I like to use the word syndicated lot but people don't know what it means, aggregate, different things, but the example I use is if you go and book The Four Seasons with a travel agent A and TrustedTrip collects your verified review.
Now TrustedTrip is holding your review of the Four Seasons from travel agent A and I booked with travel agent B at the same hotel, I get a review form come through via TrustedTrip and I leave my reviews consumer, now TrustedTrip I have two reviews in the database for Four Seasons, and two agents that have sent them. So what I will now do is using my API, we will send those reviews back to the agent in their entirety. So agent B will get your review and my review no matter where I booked. So what it really is about is pulling all of this verified data into a single place and then sharing it back out to the industry and saying you know, under no uncertain terms, these reviews are real.
Every single person that left a review, whether it's for a hotel or flight crews or transfer a car, hire, attractions, attraction, they all exist. They all actually made a purchase. They went there, they did it, they travelled on it, and they've come back and they've left their feedback. So there's no question of is this fake or somebody's fabricating the truth?
Q3: One of the things however, though, is that you know, TrustedTrip. Obviously we know it because we're talking about it, but the consumer at large will not know TrustedTrip, is that one of the issues? You're competing against the brand, almost impossible to compete against TripAdvisor in terms of brand recognition…
A3: Oh, absolutely. That is a massive, massive sort of early issue for us. And I don't think it's completely a lost cause. Otherwise, I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing. I think we know that part of our early game plan and part of what we're trying to do now, and it kind of links together, is you know, I need to get the consumer on side, I need to get the industry on side.
So to get the industry on the side, I need to do something within the industry itself and that's not just within the UK. You know, we've got interests outside of the UK as well. And one of those things that we're looking at doing or we are doing now, as a result of COVID, is we've bent our products. I know we've spoken before about how we can manipulate and change the way we collect reviews and data to do something that's a bit more than just a review of a hotel or just a review of a flight.
We're talking about the current COVID situation, could we build something into a review form that essentially asks a question of somebody? How were the social distancing measures in place at the hotel you into because some might be better than others? You don't know.
So we decided that we would launch a service review product. Again, coming back to your question, shortly, a little while ago, where you said, there's lots of review platforms in the market space. Yes. And there are, you know, a couple of the large notable ones, Trustpilot and Feefo, doing the service reviews. So a service review, in case someone doesn't know is essentially rather than me asking Graham: How was your experience at this hotel? I will ask you how your experience of booking the hotel was or as the current platforms currently exist, saying how was your buying experience? So how was the service you received when you bought something? So we sort of sat down, we looked at what we built in terms of our solution.
We looked at what's available to the travel industry and we said, You know what, the travel industry is using a generic retail model to try and collect a service review from their customers. There's nothing that exists within the travel industry for the travel industry. It says to a consumer, how is your booking experience? So what we've done is we've built and launched this, and actually, we've launched it for free. And the reason we've launched it for free is because
as great marketing for us it gets our brand out into the industry and answers the question how we're going to get out there.
The second part is people are struggling at the minute you know, people are cutting their costs left, right and center and I know for a fact the first budget mine did is your marketing budget, and a lot of the service review platforms are tied to marketing budgets. So we're trying to help alleviate that pain point, and we've already spoken to a lot of owners, where they say, Well, I really need to still collect these reviews, but I don't have the funds to do it.
Actually, will Mrs. Brown from down the road? Will she really care about how someone's booking experience was pre COVID anymore? Probably not. You know, we're in a new world now. We need to reinvent the way we service our customers. And that will change the way people want to rate us. So that's what we're trying to address from that point of view.
Q4: Do I have the option of putting reviews up on my own website and if so, does it help with my SEO?
A1: For the service reviews, no and yes. So with the service reviews, we've obviously got widgets and all the cool things that you can put on your website and show your rating. You will be able to pull through reviews bar a widget, but it won't be something that will be indexable. From an SEO perspective, just because of the nature of some of the service reviews come through as one liners and they don't really carry as much weight as like a nice juicy bit of text.
However, when we talk about the product reviews, the hotels, the flights or transfers, if you as an agent, were generating maybe 50 or 100 or 200 views a day for a variety of different hotels. They come into our database, we moderate them, and then we follow them back out to you by the API. The way the API is structured is that you will be able to take the SEO value of the reviews that your company has generated.
So for example, if I have 200 reviews now for the Four Seasons Hotel 50 of them you have generated those first 50 reviews that appear on your site, you will be able to have them indexed by search engines, it will count towards your page rank, your page weighting. But the additional 150, you will still be able to pull those through but they won't be indexable because they’re someone else's reviews. We will release your review content to you before it gets released into the general portal to give you time to get it indexed.
We understand that you know, if I were an agent, going back to my Sunshine days, if I was generating a lot of unique content, which we all know, content is the gold in the internet world, I would want to use it.
So yes, you are having to pay us for a service of collecting your customers reviews and to pull back on the API, but what's the ROI for the customer, the agent? The ROI is they want that content back to use as SEO. So from a product perspective flights, cruises hotels, yes, you'd be able to pull the content back for SEO. Service reviews? No because service reviews is more about just the rating and a number.
Graham: So in summary, you've got this new ish whiz bang, a year old whiz bang piece of software that will allow agents, various people to be able to get genuine reviews, and get the benefits from that from their real data. And if they're prepared to share that data with you, even if they have very, very restricted budgets as we speak today. You want to hear from them.