Room 77 grabs $30M investment from Expedia

room77_logo_rgbHotel metasearch engine Room 77 announced last night that it has closed $30.3 million in Series C financing with participation from a brand new investor Expedia.  The company’s existing investors also participated, including Sutter Hill Ventures, General Catalyst Partners, Concur Technologies, Felicis Ventures as well as Expedia’s founder Rich Barton, former Expedia CEO Erik Blachford and Spencer Rascoff, CEO of Zillow.  This brings Room 77’s total capital raised to $43.8 million.

As most readers will know, I love the great work that the team behind Room 77 are doing – they are fundamentally challenging the way consumers search and shop for hotels and instantly search hundreds of travel sites at once to find the best hotel at the best price.  The company combine this with some great technology to enable a unique shopping experience (see previous posts here).  Since launching its hotel metasearch platform a year ago, Room 77 bookings and revenue have accelerated dramatically.  In the past nine months alone, the company has driven hundreds of thousands of room nights through its marketplace, recording significant month-over-month growth.

By combining fast and comprehensive search technology with unprecedented service, Room 77 claim they are proving it helps users save time and money whilst getting them a great room.  Based on internal analysis of more than five million hotel searches, Room 77 uncovered at least one lower price for travellers in two out of three searches, averaging $72 per stay.  The real asset to me is Room 77’s “Room Concierge” service, which leverages the company’s proprietary room data, such as blueprints and simulated RoomViewSM technology, to help travellers get in a great room when they book through Room 77.

Mobile Room 77

“We believe metasearch is an increasingly important model and complementary to our travel transaction businesses,” said Dara Khosrowshahi, Expedia, Inc. President and Chief Executive Officer. “The level of innovation and depth of content at Room 77 excites us about its future role in this important customer acquisition channel.”

COO of  Room 77 Kevin Fliess commented: “Room 77 is obsessed with helping travellers uncover the best hotel deal anywhere in one fast and easy search.  Our investors recognize the inherent value of metasearch and the importance of rapid innovation in this category, and we’re delighted to welcome Expedia, Inc. to this esteemed group. As recent events in this category demonstrate, hotel metasearch represents a massive market and huge global opportunity. This round will only help Room 77 grow our marketplace to help travellers around the world find great hotel deals which, in turn, drive incremental business and revenue to our hotel and travel agency partners.”

Room 77 expects to use the additional capital to grow its team with top talent; expand into new markets; increase investment in product; engineering and room-level content; and step up its marketing efforts to build a world-class brand.

When I first heard the news I immediately thought that Expedia were on the way to buying the company, or more to the point, buying the technology that Room 77 have built their business on, after all  their search is far superior.  But I was somewhat pleased to read that Expedia do not hold a majority stake in Room 77 and the company is retained by founder Brad Gerstner.  Congratulations Room 77 – we look forward to seeing what 2013 brings!

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Let the online travel fun really begin – Expedia pays $632 million for majority stake in Trivago

ExpediaTrivagoExpedia gave the online travel world some exciting news before Christmas, announcing their entry into a definitive agreement to acquire a 61.6% equity position in Trivago for total consideration of €477 million (approximately US$632 million) including €434 million in cash as well as €43 million in Expedia, Inc. common stock. Expedia, Inc. expects the deal to be accretive to adjusted earnings per share in 2013.  Trivago are a leading metasearch company headquartered in Dusseldorf, Germany and this move clearly is a fight back to the other big news Q4 2012 which saw Priceline buy Kayak.  Queue the online travel fight!

Commenting on the acquisition,  Dara Khosrowshahi, Expedia President and Cheif Executive Officer said: “The Trivago team built one of the largest, fastest growing and most well known travel sites in Europe conducting more than 100 million hotel searches annually through a culture focused on developing great products, building a strong brand and promoting partners’ businesses. These attributes closely align with our Expedia, Inc. strategy and values and we are thrilled to have them join our portfolio.” 

Founded seven years ago, Trivago quickly grew into a consumer champion for hotel accommodation featuring comprehensive search results from over 600,000 hotels across over 140 booking sites in over 30 countries in 23 languages.  Through its primarily cost-per-click revenue model, Trivago profitably doubled revenue each year since 2008 and currently expects to deliver approximately €100 million in net revenue for 2012.

“We are very excited to join the Expedia, Inc. portfolio and eager to learn from their experience, having built-up some of the world’s most trusted travel brands,” said Rolf Schromgens, Trivago co-founder and Managing Director. “Our passion and focus will remain on independently evolving our comprehensive and individualized hotel search. We will stay committed to our mission: To empower consumers to find their ideal hotel at the lowest possible rates.”

The deal is anticipated to close during the first half of 2013 pending approval from relevant competition authorities.  Post close, the Trivago co-founders and management team will continue to operate independently based out of Trivago’s headquarters in Dusseldorf, Germany – very much as was announced in the Kayak/Priceline deal.

Expedia already house big travel brands such as Hotels.com, Hotwire, Egencia, Venere and Classic Vacations, adding Trivago adds even more power to the hotel side of their business and makes for an interested landscape in giant OTA’s.  On the news, Priceline’s shares were down a fraction and Expedia flat in late trading during that Monday’s trading session.

As Google Hotel Finder ramps up, what do consumers think functionally?

Google Hotel Finder has been on most of our lips over the last twelve months, as we eagerly (and in some cases, nervously) await to see just how adoption of Google’s latest foray into travel goes.  This week brings about Google’s next phase of the project, opening Google Hotel Finder up to other markets outside of the US.  You can now visit your Google homepage and append /hotels to be taken right into the tool and start searching for hotels all over the world.  Exciting move.

But how will we as an industry measure the success of Google?  Of course, we will look at volumes of unique visits, searches and booking conversions, but what about pure usability?  What do end consumers think of the search process and is it what they have been looking for to rival the service provided by online travel agencies?  Let’s take a look at the tool in more detail.

So first up, we have the welcome page.  A nice idea from Google, and not something you’ll find in traditional online travel websites or chain brand.com websites.  Of course, it’s less needed in the later, but Google choose to start with a welcome and explanation of the tool because it’s new and because they are potentially collating a lot of results – the emphasis is on the power of their search and trying to understand travellers current search pain points.

There are four boxes on the left hand side detailing how you could use the tool.  Firstly, and probably the best part of the tool, is the ability to interact with the search results, displayed on a Google Map to be very specific about your hotel location draw any shaped area to automatically filter results.  Secondly, there is a location search designed so you can look at common tourist areas.  Thirdly, users are able to create a short-list of hotels, particularly useful as Google Hotel Finder will aim to return vast numbers of results and lastly, highlighting that you are able to compare hotel results to get the best value for money.

Then come the results….

For the purposes of this post, I’ve based my search on London.  Interestingly, when I start out with Google Hotel Finder, I’m not asked for any search criteria, only my destination.  This is really unusual in the online search world, but it actually works very well.  Google then take me to their map display, showing pinpoints of all the hotels in the given city, with more detailed hotel descriptions and options listed in a scrollable side panel to the left.  This is working on a principle that we will show the user every possibility, then given them to the chance to strip back the results to exactly what they want.  First of all, you are automatically prompted to enter a date and duration on the calendar.

Each time you apply a search criteria / filter, the results map and hotel listing dynamically update, and we begin to see a customised display.

Next comes the clever bit, and my favourite feature of Google Hotel Finder.  Here is the chance to set a search radius.  The user is no longer governed to search in or around a or attraction, but can actually draw an area over the map results to specifically ask Google to only recommend hotels in that geographic area. You are also not restricted to use a box of circle, you can draw any shape at all to cover any area of the city you wish to view, as shown below.

I really think this a great feature of the tool, especially for large cities that have numerous hotels.  No longer does a traveller have to be price or brand lead.  Sure, many OTA’s and even brand websites utilise map displays, but all tend to rely on a very generic “I want to be in New York” logic rather than being able to specify your very own, unique location demands.

Next, you are able to really start homing in on your perfect hotel by applying a range of filters and criteria, from filtering results by price, star rating (both ascending and descending  user rating, amenities and ‘price compared to usual’.

At any point in the process, you can browse for hotels via the detailed list on the left hand side.  Clicking on  a given hotel will replace your map display with a detailed view of the chosen hotel where you can start to look at photos, general information about the hotel and look at Google’s user-generated content.  You can also start adding hotels to a favourites list so you can flick between properties you are trying to choose between.

In all of my searches, when I try to book, I have no alternative to facilitate my booking with Booking.com and certainly outside the US, I’ve struggled to find over OTA’s where I’m directed to make the booking.  Most hotels also have their brand.com website listed, but a lot of the independent hotels out there are missing this information, so here’s out first action point for the smaller hotels out there.

In fact, a lot of people complain about multinational hotel websites (TripAdvisor springs to mind) saying they can’t get access to their own hotels content or update details.  Google Hotel Finder actually make it very clear how you can do this and ways to improve and add your content – for any hoteliers reading this post, I’d really urge you to take a look at this early and make sure your details are up to date.

This tool really was made for complex city searches… when I tried to plan a trip to New York, I entered the same search on Google Hotel Finder, Booking.com and Expedia – guess which was best to use?

So, functionally as a search tool, I think Google Hotel Finder ticks a lot of the boxes. I’ve been very impressed with the content and usability of the website, especially the map shopping, and for this reason I think it will be a success.  Quite how quickly, I’m not sure as there are lots of ‘quirks’ that need to be ironed out, but this will come in time. One thing’s for sure – Google want to succeed in travel and have invested heavily to do so.  This is one piece of the jigsaw, and we, the hotel community would be naive to close out eyes to it.  Whether we are hoteliers, working in distribution or we are online sellers of hotels, a brand new, free tool like this will have implications for us all.  I include in this statement the word ‘sellers’.  What’s to say that Travel Management Companies don’t start sourcing best available rates with Google Hotel Finder?  Or high street travel agencies and hotel booking agencies?  In fact, at a recent HBAA Technology conference, this notion was being explored.   This tool really does have a proof point for all sectors.  As such, I’ll be writing more posts on Google Hotel Finder shortly, looking at the commercial aspects of the tool and seeing how hotel chains, independents and third-party companies can, and are working with Google in this intriguing new platform.

I’d love to hear what you think of the tool, the project and how you think it will impact the hospitality industry.  Please do leave a comment.  Thanks for listening.

Hipmunk launches new hotel search

This is why I love Hipmunk.  As you probably know, I’ve blogged about this company several times in the past, and their latest product enhancements are well worth a mention again today.  This time, they have introduced location-based searches.  We are not talking enter the city or airport and off we go – we are talking detailed locations and neighbourhoods e.g. “I want to be in the shopping district” or “I don’t want to be near the nightlife areas”.  Essentially users can now filter hotel results by traveler type and review curated neighbourhood guides to find the best hotels in the best neighbourhoods for their unique interests.  Here’s Hipmunk’s positioning video:

Clever isn’t it?  What I like is that Hipmunk once again try to solve a problem that travellers trying to find hotel accommodation on numerous OTA websites struggle with time and time again – and this one’s pretty hard to get right.

For those who’ve not read my previous posts, Hipmunk is an online travel website using new technologies and search approaches to offer various travel options.  They created “Agony” search and sort options, claiming to ease the pain of searching for and booking flights using their rather different approach to the normal OTA formats.  Similarly, and as I’ve blogged about before, Hipmunk also have an “Ecstasy” sort to find the best hotels and home rentals.

To add some context to the latest announcement, Hipmunk announced its new hotel search product which now helps match travellers to the best hotel in the ideal neighbourhood or area for their specific interests and provides detailed neighborhood guides and local information making it easier for travelers to imagine staying in a given location.  Hipmunk’s new tailored hotels product will not only give travellers more context into booking their stay, it will also allow users to make their hotel reservation faster than any other competitive travel search site.

“Travellers are used to the hassle of toggling between hotel sites, maps, reviews, and online destination guides in order to find that perfect hotel,” said Adam Goldstein, Hipmunk CEO. “Hipmunk now serves as your hotel matchmaker, and we’re thrilled to be the first travel site to offer all that information in one place to provide faster and more insightful booking decisions.”

Features of Hipmunk Hotel Search include:

  • Map-based Results — Hotel results are displayed on a map so users can visualize the destination and hotel options within that destination.
  • Neighborhood Guides – Proprietary information sourced by travel writers local to the destination, which recommend the best places to stay in a given destination based on personal travel style and needs.
  • Traveller Type Filter – Traveler type filter is incorporated into the search, allowing users to find neighborhoods best for business travel, romance (straight and gay), exploring and families.
  • The Best Hotels — Top hotels ranked by a combination of rate, amenities, and reviews, are highlighted on maps.
  • Options – Multiple booking options, including directly with hotels.
  • Calendar Integration – User meeting and event locations are plotted on the map alongside hotel results in that destination, allowing users to find hotels with the best location relative to a user’s meetings.
  •  No Dates Search – Users can search for hotels within a city without entering a specific date range, allowing them to explore a destination without certain travel dates in mind.

Didn’t see this coming : Priceline buys Kayak for $1.8 billion

Wow, big news breaking here and I truly didn’t see this coming – and what a link-up it will make.  Priceline have agreed to acquire Kayak.  Priceline.com Incorporated announced today that it has signed a definitive agreement for the Priceline Group to acquire Kayak in a stock and cash transaction.  Under the terms of the agreement, the transaction values Kayak at $1.8 billion.

We hear that he Boards of Directors of Priceline and Kayak have unanimously approved the transaction, which is subject to customary closing conditions, including a vote of Kayak’s shareholders and regulatory approvals, and is expected to close by late 1st quarter 2013.  Kayak’s current management team will continue to manage operations independently as part of the Priceline Group of companies.

For those who don’t know, Kayak is a leading travel research site that allows people to easily compare hundreds of travel sites at once (metasearch) dealing with airline flights and fares, hotels and car rental.  The company processes over 100 million user queries each month through its global websites and best in class mobile applications.

“Kayak has built a strong brand in online travel research and their track record of profitable growth is demonstrative of their popularity with consumers and value to advertisers,” said Priceline Group President and Chief Executive Officer Jeffery H. Boyd“Kayak also has world class technology and a tradition of innovation in building great user interfaces across multiple platforms and devices.  We believe we can be helpful with KAYAK’s plans to build a global online travel brand.”

Steve Hafner, Co-Founder and Chief Executive of Kayak, and someone we’ve spoken about on this blog many times commented: “Paul English and I started KAYAK eight years ago to create the best place to plan and book travel.  We’re excited to join the world’s premier online travel company.  The Priceline Group’s global reach and expertise will accelerate our growth and help us further develop as a company.”

Priceline are a leader in global online hotel reservations, with over 270,000 participating hotels worldwide.  The Group is composed of four primary brands: Booking.com, priceline.com, Agoda.com and Rentalcars.com operating in over 180 countries.

The Trivago webinar – What did you think?

On 30th October I wrote a post about Trivago and more specifically the fact that they were reaching out to hoteliers and offering a webinar to explain how the company works and offer tips on how to represent their hotel effectively on the website.  This post proved incredibly popular and today, the webinar took place.  I caught up with Helena, Hotel Relations UK & Ireland for Trivago about how the session went and asked her to summarise the key takeaway points for anyone who couldn’t attend:

“The first in this series of Trivago webinars went really well. We had a very good attendance with hoteliers from both independent hotels and chains getting involved. It was a great opportunity for them to learn how to use the Hotel Gateway and how to represent their hotel most effectively to trivago’s 20 million monthly visitors.  After demonstrating the key functions of the service, I gave advice on what type of photos to add for the best impact and how to respond to customer reviews to show off an open attitude and dedication to customer service. Some important points to take away from the webinar are:

  • Make sure your listing is complete, with comprehensive information, a well-written description and at least 10 high quality photos
  • Encourage guests to review your hotel on Trivago and always respond to reviews as they come in
  • Always ensure your listing is up to date
  • Make sure you have uploaded a main photo and match it to the season if you can!

As this was the first webinar, it has been great to receive such positive feedback and I’m really looking forward to hosting our next one next month. Our next webinar will take place on Wednesday 12th December at 11am GMT and the topic will be “Managing Your Online Reputation”. Anyone wishing to attend can register free by clicking here “.

If you missed the session, the full presentation can be found by clicking the image below.

I think this is a really good initiative from Trivago to help hoteliers improve their online profile.  There is still a huge amount of confusion around this topic and how you can improve what’s being displayed about your hotel.  Many of these points are transparent to other OTA’s and serve as a good baseline to consider when you want to control how your being represented online.

If any hoteliers reading would like to contact Trivago, they should email:  hotelier-uk@trivago.com   – if anyone attended the webinar, please leave a comment on this post and tell us what you thought.  Did it help?  What did you learn?  Do share your thoughts with us.

Worried about how to optimse your hotel on OTA websites? Trivago offer a helping hand

I was interested to hear that Trivago, the  largest hotel price comparison and information website, will be holding a webinar for hoteliers to introduce the ‘Trivago Hotel Gateway’ and give an insight into how a hotelier can optimise their online presence.  I found this particularly interesting as I’m often asked how a hotel can control, change and  improve their reputation and increase bookings on OTA websites such as Trivago.  Hoteliers often feel powerless to change content that OTA’s are displaying and are desperate for a way to do so more easily, so I think it’s a great idea for Trivago to start such an initiative.

Put simply, the premise of this webinar is to invite hoteliers , both from small independent properties and hotel chains, to attend an online seminar to equip them with the knowledge needed to optimise their hotel’s listing on the Trivago, covering the main functions of the ‘Hotel Gateway’ portal, such as uploading new photos, writing a description of the hotel and responding to a customer review.

Trivago attract over 18 million unique visitors to per month so you can see just how important it is for a hotel to ensure that they’re giving the best representation and perception of their property as possible.  The webinar will also include information on the importance of having a comprehensive and up-to-date listing in order to attract customers and the importance of online reputation and how a hotelier can monitor and improve it on Trivago.

Of course, this may be a Trivago initiative, but much of the information that will be given I am sure will apply to multiple OTA’s so this is a real opportunity for you to gain a greater understanding of how this part of hotel distribution works and what you can actively do to help your property shine amongst so many hotel results.

This event takes place on the morning of the 7th November and you can register for free by clicking here.

Over the last few years, Trivago have really grown and become one of Europe’s most well-known online travel brands.  You may have seen their recent TV campaigns (show below) as the company really try and grow their name against the established names of Booking.com and Expedia.

Trivago is a pure search engine – they don’t actually sell anything – in my view, they aggregate hotel content from different sources, combine the result sin a powerful search tool and they direct you to the best place to make the booking.  They only show prices that hotels offer on the own websites or third part booking websites are already charging if you visited them directly, Trivago purely bring all of this together.  Trivago make their money with a kind of advertising fee, and are proud to say that they do not offer any promotional space – they stay independent (a real key selling point for the travel shopper, if you ask me).  Clearly the technology strategy that Trivago have in place has to be highly sophisticated – with prices changing every minute and room rates and availability varying from day to day its a tough business to be in, so I’m hoping that this webinar enlightens us a little more on how they are doing this effectively.  What we do know is that Trivago’s live search tools scans over a hundred different hotel booking sites for information (prices, availability, images, reviews etc.) within seconds.  Here’s the impressive stats – With close to a million searches a day, Trivago classifies, structures and compares roughly 5 billion hotel deals a day.

For those who can’t attend but are interested in this initiative, Hotel Insight will be in attendance and will report the key takeaways on this blog.