Q&A: Geoff Lewis, CEO of Topguest

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Geoff Lewis
Geoff Lewis

There's no shortage of geolocation apps these days, but relative newcomer Topguest aims to stand out for travelers. Topguest allows users to check in on Facebook Places, Foursquare, Gowalla, Brightkite and Twitter all at once. The service launched in June and already has 25,000 users.

Much like other location-based services, Topguest has some reward partners — all hotels for now, but other travel-related companies are expected to be announced in the coming weeks. Unlike other location-based services, Topguest integrates with existing loyalty programs. For example, if you're a member of InterContinental Hotels Group's Priority Club Rewards program, you can add points to your account by checking in at a Holiday Inn.

CEO Geoff Lewis recently talked to DMNews about Topguest and the future of geolocation apps.

DMNews: How does Topguest work?

Geoff Lewis: It's basically the easy way to get real points, miles and travel awards for your geolocation check-ins regardless of which service you use. So whether it's Facebook Places — which is really quickly becoming the big one now — Foursquare, Gowalla or Twitter geotag tweets, you only have to visit Topguest one time to “check in.” You can access our mobile Web interface from any mobile device or sign up at topguest.com. It connects to your account from whichever geolocation check-in service you're using… And then following that, we will automatically give you rewards from hotels, airlines, other travel-related businesses, restaurants and nightclubs based on where you're checking in.

DMNews: We're seeing so many geolocation services pop up. There seems to be this sentiment that one of them is going to rise to the top to become the next Twitter or Facebook. Do you think there is room for several of these services to survive and be successful?

Lewis: No. My sense is there won't be many forever. It will take a little while for the market to really aggregate. But I think that Facebook is emerging as the clear winner right now because it has basically launched check-in functionality as part of Facebook. It's still in early rollout, but it will soon be available everywhere.

I think eventually the market will aggregate behind Facebook and Foursquare. I think Foursquare has done just an outstanding job of executing and building a really engaging experience, and I don't think Foursquare's existing users are going to abandon the site, but I think it is going to now have a tougher time scaling and getting new users. And at some point, Facebook is also going to offer rewards for Facebook check-ins.

DMNews: Foursquare has reward partners. I imagine Facebook is going to do that as well. But Topguest also has its own reward partners. Do you consider Foursquare or Facebook Places to be a competitor to Topguest?

Lewis: We don't worry about that. The question we always ask is, “What's the right thing for our users?” And our target users are frequent travelers, so we're laser-focused on frequent travelers going to a lot of hotels, checking into a lot of airports, checking in at train stations, renting cars and traveling all the time. And the right thing for that user is to have one place where they can manage all of their existing loyalty point programs and also other sets of travel rewards that they're getting for checking in. We think there's actually a space for Topguest to carve out a niche and be the traveler's rewards wallet for their geolocation check-ins.

In the long run, there's always this risk where our partners could leave Topguest and go somewhere else. But we've integrated with their systems, and we're not just another rewards application. We actually work with your existing point programs, which involves a lot of integration with the partners, so we think it's pretty durable.

DMNews: Who are some of your reward partners and what kind of benefits can your users get from Topguest?

Lewis: InterContinental Priority Club, which is the largest hotel program in the world. You've got Standard Hotels. So you check in five times at any Standard Hotel in New York, L.A. and Miami, and you get your choice of rewards, including 25% off a room reservation, which is basically a $70 value based on their average rate. That's a pretty high value. You also get a free round of drinks at the bar at a Standard, spa treatments.

We have Viceroy Hotels, which is a high-end chain in Palm Springs, L.A., Miami and some other places. Then we have the SoHo and TriBeCa Grand in New York.

We tried to keep it small for the initial preview launch stage, since we've only been around for two and a half months. Now what we're doing in September is launching about 16 new partners over the next five weeks, including a large national airline, some of the big hotel companies, some restaurant chains, etc.

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