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!

Is Hipmunk one of the cleverest online travel companies in the world?

Yes… I think they could well be.  If they are not, they certainly will be very soon.  What do I mean by clever?  Well I talk a lot and openly criticise a lot of travel brands selling online travel in very boring and unhelpful ways.  Travel should be passionate, that’s what I believe in any case.  Travel shopping should be inspirational, fun and easy.  Choosing the perfect hotel for example should be a pleasurable experience, after all, it’s going to be the place you kick back and relax and enjoy your time.  But more often that not, I find OTA’s all offering the same shopping experience – enter a city, date and duration and pick a hotel from a list of 200 options.  This is not a shopping experience.  This is not helpful.  This is not enjoyable.  Most importantly, this zaps the life out of me when I should be inspired and happy that I’m booking my hotel of trip.

Hipmunk is a remarkable new travel search site that aims to take the agony out of travel planning.  Their website is designed to help people who are overwhelmed with pages of irrelevant search results – something I find myself with every time I use an OTA – flight results are presented in a visual “timeline” that allows people to select the best flight for them at a glance, and hotel results are shown on a map so that people can view where in a destination they will be staying and the landmarks near them.  Hipmunk also have a business travel planning service in beta which could revolutionise the self booking tool approach.  Imagine having your search results embedded over a copy of your Outlook calendar – pretty cool, hu?

“At Hipmunk, we want to make your experience a lot better and put the fun back into travel planning”.

The following video will gives a great overview:

So why am I writing about Hipmunk?  Simply because they are different.  Because they have opened their eyes and not just copied the masses – innovation springs to mind.  They haven’t looked at travel and joined the thousands on online travel agencies and tried to sell flights and hotels as quickly as possible, simply plugging in content and forgetting user experience.  They have looked at people’s existing pain points and decided to make travel shopping fun.  From using price graph searches for air fares (so you can see where a price changes) to the great Google Map based hotel search with fully integrated TripAdvisor review scores and price banding, you will enjoy the shopping experience of using Hipmunk.  Check out the usability of the hotel search results – especially the “heat maps” function – instantly guiding a user to the right area of a city, for example landmarks, restaurants etc.

I really am impressed with the usability and true shopping experience of Hipmunk.  They have got search spot on.  Why do I want to go to an OTA and be overwhelmed with irrelevant search results?  I want to choose the results my self, and Hipmunk let me.  Why do I want to read glossy marketing text the hotels written?  I don’t – and Hipmunk how me the TripAdvisor Reviews instead.  The list goes on. I’m left excited by online travel search for the first time in a long time.  Excited about what they will bring next.  Check it out today.

Super creative Room 77 launch free Wi-Fi summer [Hotel Insight editor falls in love]

As regular readers of my blog will know, I love to see companies in the hotel industry innovating and bringing something new to online technologies and search.  I also have a real pain point of hotel Wi-Fi charges.  I talk (some would say, moan) about this a lot, and it’s certainly a topic that will not go away and makes travellers frustrated.  So when I saw that the creative team at Room 77 had launched a free Wi-Fi campaign, my heart melted ever so slightly and I had to write a quick post to share it with you.

Quite simply, once you’ve booked your hotel stay through the Room 77 website users can log in with their account details and submit a rebate request for their Wi-Fi charges.  What intrigued me was how an OTA, who doesn’t own the hotels they are selling, or control a local Wi-Fi charge was going to pull this off and why they would do it.  But it’s actually quite a simple process and quite simply, Room 77 are doing this because they truly understand what a traveller wants from a hotel stay, and the pain points for booking that stay and the threat to their enjoyment once they’ve checked in.  Charges for Wi-Fi in hotels will remain a hot topic for travellers, so Room 77 have listened and acted.

Examine your customers pain points.  What is it about a hotel stay they most annoyed them.  In your top three answers, paying for Wi-Fi is one of them, making such a promotion is engaging and of immediate interest to Room 77’s clients – promotions like this bread loyalty.

For those who are yet to discover Room 77, you can take a look at my recent post on this super initiative company by clicking here.  Room 77 are literally taking B2C hotel search to another level with their technology and shopping approach – take a look at their site and you’ll see what I mean.  This promotion is another simply example of actually understanding your customers needs.  Design a website that the user will want to be on – making booking a hotel fun and taking the hassle (and often boredom away), then take it a stage further and target them with something dear to their hearts.  This simple recipe will end in success.

I joined about.me – take a look and claim your name before it goes!

I discovered about.me a few weeks ago and have been meaning to reserve my page.  Tonight, I was lucky enough to find it was still available.  So you can do the same, take a look at the video below which explains the idea behind the site.  This is not just another social network, about.me is a free service that lets you create a one-page website that’s all about you and your interests. Upload a photo, write a short bio, and add your favorite social networks to show the world the big picture of you.

This is a great way to put all your social networks together in one place so people can get to know you on your own personal page. Take a look!

Everything you need to know about Pinterest [Infographic]

I’m a big fan of Pinterest. You can check out (and of course follow) my Hotel Insight Pinterest Boards by clicking here.  But for those who want to know exactly how Pinterest works and if it’s a social channel that your hotel should be present in, take a look at this infographic, courtesy of TechCrunch.

World Wonders Project by Google [video]

Quite by accident I noticed the announcement from Google about their World Wonders Project and it really intrigued me.  I’ve been talking about it with some technology friends on Twitter today and it’s pulled all of our attention, so I found the promotional Google video about the project to share with you.  I bet you’ll take a look after you’ve seen this.  It really is Google doing what Google does best.

Taking hotel search to a whole new level – how Room 77 create an online shopping experience all of their own [with Interview]

With so many online travel agencies selling hotel content to the public, along with hotel chains own websites, it always strikes me that very few actually provide a true and enjoyable shopping experience.  To me, I find this very strange.  When you think about all of the travel related products you need to purchase to book your travel arrangements, the hotel part should be the most interesting, and the part the consumer spends the longest choosing (they should also find this a pleasure!).  Personally, I can’t get excited about browsing the web for hundreds of different air fares, car rental deals or insurance.  They are all essential parts of my holiday or business trip, but the hotel is by far the most important.  It’s has to be the place that I want to spend my precious vacation time at, to sleep at, to eat at – to recover in even!  It has to fit all my requirements.  Because of this notion, I find it bewildering that so many OTA’s don’t deliver what I would call a shopping experience to their consumers.

Since the beginning of time (well, when OTA’s started to appear at least), a hotel shopping process has been the same.  Enter a destination, stay dates and then choose from a list of hotels which you want to go to.  Hardly inspiring.  Enter Room 77.

That’s why I am so impressed with a relatively new company called Room 77.  I urge you to pick your destination and give Room 77 a try – this is a true hotel shopping experience.  You’ll see what I mean.  Their focus is on search – to summarise, you don’t just pick a hotel and hope for the best, you can actually get the view from each floor of the property, and even each room number, so you can pick the perfect bedroom for you!  Of course, they also incorporate the more traditional decision making tools – TripAdvisor, Google Maps etc.

Beyond these advances shopping techniques, the key to what’s different about Room 77 is their focus on bringing some transparency back into the market and building a product that best serves the needs of the traveler first (something so many OTA’s and direct chain websites forget completely).  At the very start, they spent the time talking to people about their hotel shopping experience and looked at the market in front of them.  Unsurprisingly, Room 77 kept encountering poor user experiences and a general disregard for doing what was in the traveler’s interest.  This was to be the basis for what followed on their own product.

I was lucky enough to interview Roger Wong, Room 77’s Director of Marketing.  Our conversation is shared below:

Q: How did Room 77 begin and what’s the inspiration behind the concept?

Room 77 began with a simple idea: the room you get matters and the existing hotel sites weren’t doing enough to help travelers get into a great room.  From there, we built a database of exclusive room content (floor plans and room views) which now covers over one million rooms worldwide and collected intel on the best rooms at thousands of top hotels, helping travelers pick quiet rooms and secure rooms with a view.  Next, we built a comprehensive hotel search and booking engine that gets prices from hundreds of sources so travelers can get a great deal and a great room on over 200,000+ hotels worldwide.

Q: How would you describe Room 77’s position in the market?

Room 77 aims to deliver on the promise of “best room, best price” and we differentiate ourselves from other hotel sites by focusing on giving travelers a faster search experience, a clear and transparent view into pricing from many different sources, unique search filters like filter by view, and an easy way to get into a great room with our complimentary Room Concierge service on eligible bookings.  We also recently added the ability to search for AAA and Senior discounts on our fast, pop-up free, search experience.

Q: Is the product just available in the US?  And what are the expansion plans to roll this out to the world?

Our website, Room77.com, can be accessed worldwide but our focus right now is on US customers.  We expect to expand our language and currency customization options in the near future to appeal to a broader audience internationally.

Q: Most OTA’s have exactly the same way of shopping for a hotel, but Room 77 clearly takes this to another level. What was the original reaction to this when you launched and how has this changed?

At launch, people really connected with our mission to help them avoid getting a bad hotel room.  We kept hearing the same horror stories from travelers who found themselves in hotel rooms with a view of a dirty alley or being kept awake all night by the ice machine situated outside their door.  We haven’t changed our mission to deliver travelers into great rooms, we’ve just added a really fast and clean hotel shopping experience on top of it.  Today, instead of simply finding information on the best rooms, we also get travelers the best deals and deliver them into a great room with our Room Concierge service.

Q: Do you see other hotel websites (direct or OTA’s) trying to adopt similar functionality?

We work with many OTAs and hotel chains to deliver on our promise of providing price transparency and many of them have expressed interest in providing similar levels of insight down to the room level so I wouldn’t be surprised to see more room data integrated on hotel and OTA sites in the future.

Q: How do Room 77 see search?  Other OTA’s see it as a commodity, a simple city search, select a brand and book, with little or no shopping or guest interaction

We see search as the core of our competitive advantage.  Being a metasearch engine means that we’re going out into marketplace and finding as many prices, options, and choices as we possibly can for consumers so they feel confident that they are getting a great deal and the best selection of hotels.  Our technology team has built a fast search engine that also is comprehensive, getting rates that are normally missed by other search engines such as AAA or senior rates that millions of travelers qualify for but never take advantage of.

Q: What’s next for Room 77?

We’re always working on new features and product enhancements to help make the hotel shopping process more pain-free.  We recently introduced an update to our app for iPhone so travelers can get a great deal on-the-go anywhere they may be.  We’ve got some other exciting product features that we can’t quite share yet but keep an eye on us and let us know how we can build a better hotel search experience.

My thanks to Roger for taking the time in talking to me about Room 77 – I’m sure you’ll agree that his company are really leading the way in re-defining hotel search and it will certainly be interesting seeing how the rest of the worlds responds to their search concept in the future.  One final point – check out the free Room 77 mobile app – available for iPhone and Android.  Why do I mention this?  Because the world of hotel mobile booking apps are the same as online – presenting un-inventive search.  But that’s for another post, another time…