Startup pitch: InnovaReviews targets independent hotels and activities with its onsite review service

These days most consumers find a hotel in a destination and then turn to a review site for validation on whether it might be the right hotel for them.

We like to see what people like us think about a place before we commit.

TripAdvisor is the one most people think although the Holiday Watchdog name also comes up here and there. But, is there space for another?

Australia-based startup InnovaReviews thinks so.

It comes from ex-Expedia employees. Here’s founder, Paul Lupson explaining the startup.

What problem does your business solve?

Independent hoteliers, hostel owners and tour & activity providers reluctantly depend on online travel agents for bookings. The commission they pay OTAs can wipe out a significant portion of their profit.

Hoteliers and activity providers need to take more direct reservations from their own websites to avoid paying commissions.

They struggle with website traffic acquisition and conversion though, often because their websites are missing key components in the travel buying process.

One of those components are guest reviews: 95% of consumers read guest reviews before booking a trip, and they’re also great for SEO and bringing traffic to a website – which is why the OTAs invest in reviews so heavily!

InnovaReviews enables hoteliers to easily publish those valuable guest reviews on their own websites. Our tool plugs into a client’s website and makes collection, moderation and publishing guest reviews easy and highly effective.

A tab with review stars appears in the bottom corner of a website. On-click it expands showing reviews and ratings to the website visitors, right there on their own website, near their ‘Book Now’ button or phone number.

We’ve also built our system to Google recommended ‘Rich Snippets’ which formats the review content so Google can find it. This is what earns the stars in the search results.

Names of founders, their management roles, and number of full-time paid staff?

We’re a team of four: Paul Lupson – product, Silvina Flores – marketing, Aert van de Hulsbeek – back-end engineering and Jason Corbett – front-end.

Three of us have a background in online travel agents (Expedia and Wotif), and we’ve all worked in the online space in startups & scale-ups, through to the largest corporates.

Funding arrangements?

We’ve bootstrapped InnovaReviews so far. Using your own hard earned money keeps you focussed on building the right product, it keeps you agile.
We’ll speak to investors in the future, for sure, but after raising capital in a previous startup, i’ve learned it’s preferable to hold off raising until your business has established a certain a level. That’s when you have greater leverage and can then pick the most suitable investor.

Revenue model?

We have a subscription model. Our monthly fee is only $6 USD per month which puts InnovaReviews at about 90% cheaper than our nearest competitors’ most basic plan. We want InnovaReviews to be affordable by any size business in any country.

Why do you think the pain point you’re solving is painful enough that customers are willing to pay for your solution?

To take more direct reservations via their website and avoid paying up to 20% commission per reservation, is a priority for independent hoteliers and activity providers. That’s what guest reviews on their websites can do for them.

If a hotelier takes just a single extra direct reservation thanks to the guest trusting the accommodation by reading the reviews we enabled, that single saving would pay for several months subscription to InnovaReviews.

InnovaReviews also helps reduce the cost of bringing traffic to the hotels websites, which again, thanks to the OTAs dominance of Adwords, is incredibly expensive. Reviews are full of keywords and they’re fresh content, both very important ‘signals’ Google look for to rank a website well.

We put our clients guest reviews into the Rich Snippet format recommended by Google. This tags the reviews as extra valuable content and can earn the stars in the organic search results.

External validation?

We’ve had more than 500 businesses sign up to use InnovaReviews over the past year or so.

We just launched our latest version at the end of July 2017. We’ve improved the product based on feedback from clients, and have a really great solution now. The account creation process takes two minutes now and the code installation is simpler.

Also the review tab is now a layer over the top of the client’s website, making the review window more visible and interactive. The beauty of the tab/review window is it can also appear on every page of the website.

We’ve made a WordPress plug-in to reach more potential customers too.

We offer a free 30 day trial, and our price point of only $6 USD per month is way cheaper than any competitor, so InnovaReviews is definitely a good deal and affordable to all independent hoteliers, hostel owners and tour & activity providers.

Tnooz view:

There’s little doubt that reviews are a welcome addition for consumers who are booking hotels and other travel products and services online.

They can also be good for travel providers hoteliers in terms of SEO as well as helping them build up a solid online reputation.

TripAdvisor is a clear leader in this field boasting millions of reviews and new ones added every minute. Some might say a newcomer would be mad to take the giant on.

InnovaReviews thinks it can corner some of the independent market with its cheaper service which encourages hotels and tours and activities providers to have the reviews sitting directly on their websites.

This is good for SEO as mentioned above and should also help convert visitors directly on the providers’ websites.

So, the question is whether there’s space for another player, at a lower price point? And, whether independent hotels and tours providers will find the proposition attractive.

Some nice features of the service include that the reviews can appear on every page as well as the development of a WordPress plug-in, which will help smaller hotels and providers.

It will be interesting to follow this startup as it gains traction.

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About the Writer :: Linda Fox

Linda worked at tnooz from September 2011 to June 2018 in roles including senior reporter, deputy editor and managing editor.



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