Tuesday, October 13, 2009

FlipKey rates vacation homes as TripAdvisor does hotels - almost

Many vacationers rely on TripAdvisor for reviews of hotels written by authentic travelers just like themselves. Now, as more tourists choose vacation homes as their accommodations rather than hotels, FlipKey, a TripAdvisor-owned service, welcomes the same type of peer reviews of thousands of properties.

"We have over 100,000 authentic guest reviews on our site," a spokesman for FlipKey wrote me in an email, but he added that "coverage can vary quite a bit depending on the area."

What makes TripAdvisor so valuable is, in part, its sheer quantity of hotels and reviews. It has 450,000 hotels from around the world in its listings, according to its press material, with millions upon millions of reviews. (TripAdvisor also lists and ranks restaurants and attractions. It is owned, as is FlipKey, by Expedia.)

FlipKey is not there yet. Many properties listed have just one or two reviews. It will take a while before scores of guests judge and post reviews for a single vacation home or condo. Nevertheless, it's making progress toward a critical mass. Some properties in such locations as Disney World and Gulf Shores, Alabama (where the condo pictured above is) have up to 19, when I checked today.

To make properties trustworthy, FlipKey offers a verification program for professional property managers. To make reviews trustworthy, it only allows verified previous customers to post reviews through an email invitation system. However, owners or managers pay for a property listing itself. Properties in a given area -- Disney World, Lake Tahoe etc.-- are not shown ranked by popularity as hotels are in TripAdvisor. And a huge number of reviews I looked at were super-positive (5 stars.)

Still, feature-rich FlipKey provides details of rooms, baths and amenities in each property plus photos, prices, location, availability It indicates whether homes are managed by the homeowner or by a management company.

Given time, FlipKey could develop into a must-check website for discriminating travelers, just as TripAdvisor is.

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