What does Simonseeks.com do?
We're encouraging travel writers, travel enthusiasts, local experts, concierges, ski guides and celebrities to write 800-word travel guides on their favourite places, sharing all of their inside tips – like which are their favourite hotels and why, which rooms to stay in, what the price is, where to eat, and the best things to do. It's categorised for a particular holiday – romance, culture or whatever – and the focus has to be on the budget, whether it's no-frills or luxury. We've integrated links into the editorial copy, so if a hotel, restaurant or attraction is mentioned then we compare prices to find the best deal. Any revenue made from the guide will be split 50-50 with the writer.
The site is being described as the 'YouTube of travel', yet unlike the video-streaming site you're trying to make money from content. How will that work?
YouTube is looking to integrate a monetised version of their site; I think that we've actually achieved what they're trying to do. I've learnt these skills from moneysupermarket.com [Nixon founded the price comparison site in 1999, floating it on the stock exchange in 2007. He stepped down as CEO in February, but is still vice-chairman of the company.] Don't get me wrong: we're not going into the price-comparison business, but we'll link to the best price-comparison sites and send users there.
What we're doing is inspiring people and giving them very relevant ideas for their specific circumstances. If you read a travel piece offline then you don't have the tools to book it immediately.
Are you interested in new travel writing, or is it the destinations themselves that interests you?
I want to attract the best quality writing globally. That's the absolute goal. Simonseeks transcends geography very easily. We could easily launch this in America – and we will do very soon – with thousands of guides written by British people and then encourage local American writers to publish their own guides, because people have different preferences and expectations.
How much could an Independent reader earn from having a review on your website?
We've only just launched so I can't say for certain how much a writer would earn from the website. But a booking generally will generate for us something in the region of 8-10 per cent of the total booking value, and then the writer would receive half of that. We've got over 300 professional travel journalists who have already written on our site. They've got belief in it as a concept, but also because I'm involved and I've got a history with moneysupermarket. This isn't just a hobby for me; my reputation is absolutely at stake here.
How do you vet submissions?
Anyone can upload a guide, with pictures. But rather than it going live immediately we put it through an editorial process, which is noted on our website. It's mainly vetting to check that it meets our editorial standards, because when someone reads a review on our site we want it to be of a certain quality. We publish information on how to write a guide, because if the quality and content of the writing isn't really, really good then people aren't going to go and book anything. It's also the responsibility of the writer to keep their review up to date. They're earning revenue from the guide, and if things go out of date people are going to give the review poorer results.
Won't your reviews be biased towards what's popular?
If your favourite place is the Himalayas and you write a passionate guide on the Himalayas, then it's going to be more of a niche interest. There aren't many hotels, so there's not much monetised value for that. We give people a list of all the places that are making a lot of money – like Paris and London – in our weekly email. But we also say that if people still want to write about other less-popular places then they will be published, because it's not all about money: people still want to do research on the Himalayas. It's the detail that counts. We need to know what the best room in the hotel is; why it's amazing; if the President always stays there. And you've got to include the prices. My view is that some of the top destinations, like Paris, are going to get a lot of traffic, so to get onto the first page of Simonseeks you're almost certainly going to have to include video. Photos just aren't enough; if you're going to book a romantic trip then you want to see it properly.
What's your advice for the budding Simonseeks reviewer?
We've published a section of top tips with examples of really good guides, good headings for your guide and how to break it up. What we're trying to do is to make average writers into really good writers. We're thinking about running seminars around the country, like eBay does for its Power Sellers.
Does this mark the demise of the traditional travel guide?
I don't think so. If you're going to go and tour Spain then I think you're still going to go and buy a copy of a travel guide because you want a hard copy – something you can read in bed at night. I think travel guides are going to decline as more and more info is available online, but there's always going to be a place for them. They have that sort of nitty-gritty detail that you probably wouldn't get in an 800-word guide.
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