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!

The future of big data [infographic]

Here follows a very interesting infographic, produced by Online Business Degree all about big data.

The Future of Big Data

IHG becomes 1st global hotel company to launch Windows 8 app

InterContinental Hotels Group have announced that its Holiday Inn brand has become the first major hotel brand in the world to launch a travel app for Windows 8 – the newest version of the Windows operating platform for PCs and tablets.  We’ve previously explored how important mobile and consumer technology has become in IHG’s growth strategy and picking Holiday Inn, the world’s largest upper midscale hotel brand, seems a sensible brand to kick-off this latest venture.  The new app allows guests to find and book rooms at any Holiday Inn hotel, as well as at the more than 4,500 IHG hotels worldwide, including the InterContinental, Crowne Plaza, Hotel Indigo, Holiday Inn Express, Staybridge Suites and Candlewood Suites brands.  Through the app’s tile on the Start screen, guests can directly search for hotels, see property photo galleries and descriptions as well as view existing reservations.  Priority Club® Rewards members also can view their status and check their points balance through the application.

“Holiday Inn has transformed the hospitality industry with its innovative and modern approach to guest services, and has a rich heritage of firsts in the industry, so it was a natural fit for our first app for Windows 8 to be rolled out with this industry-leading brand.  “Developing an easy-to-use e-commerce app furthers our commitment to identifying and leveraging emerging technology to drive satisfaction for our guests, while optimizing revenue delivery for our hotels”  said Michael Menis, vice president, Web and Interactive Marketing, IHG.

The Holiday Inn app can be downloaded free of charge from the Windows Store and builds upon IHG’s existing developments and consumer-facing technology that facilitates guests’ access to e-commerce tools for hotel stays.

Microsoft app developers have always provided rich functionality and value for our shared customers, and Windows 8 gives them the platform to deliver.” said John Richards, senior director of Windows App Marketing for Microsoft Corp “The re-imagining of Windows keeps our app developers ahead of the competition and gives our shared customers flexibility and choice.”

 

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.

TravelClick wins over 60 awards for hotel web design

I was impressed to learn that representation and distribution solutions company TravelClick have won an incredible total of 63 awards for website design in hotel and lodging categories from the IMA AwardsWebAwards,W3 Awards and Adrian Awards in 2012 – more than any other website development company specializing in the hotel industry.  This seems a very impressive number and something I wanted to share with you for when you’re looking for inspiration or ideas on who to talk to when contemplating how to optimise your hotels website.

TravelClick are one of the leading provider of revenue generating solutions for hoteliers and offer hotels reservation solutions, business intelligence products and media and marketing solutions to help hotels grow their business and are currently helping around 30,000 hotel clients in over 140 countries.

“A hotel’s website is an extension of the property, and a key source of bookings,” said Jason Ewell, senior vice president, e-Commerce for TravelClick, “TravelClick continues to be a leader in developing best-in-breed web properties for hotels, helping them to increase bookings and revenue. This year, TravelClick was recognized over 60 times in the nation’s top website competitions for our superior design and performance.”

I’ve listed the full award winning websites below – there are some great examples and I hope you find this a useful reference point to check out some inspiration and different ways of designing your hotel website.

IMA Awards
Websites Designed by TravelClick That Received Best in Class Awards:

•  Edison Hotel (http://www.edisonhotelcp.com/)

•  Le Blanc (http://www.leblancsparesort.com/)

•  The Rendezvous Hospitality Group (http://www.rendezvoushotels.com/)

•  Sentosa (http://www.thesentosa.com/)

•  Opus (http://vancouver.opushotel.com/)

•  Umstead (http://www.theumstead.com/)

Websites Designed by TravelClick That Received Outstanding Achievement Awards:

•  Makena Beach & Gold Resort (http://www.makenaresortmaui.com/)

•  Turnberry Isle Miami (http://www.turnberryislemiami.com/)

•  Paradise Island Harbour Resort (http://www.paradiseislandbahama.com/)

•  Chandler Inn Hotel (http://www.chandlerinn.com/)

•  Sivory Punta Cana (http://www.sivorypuntacana.com/)

•  Don Hall’s Guesthouse Hotel (http://www.donhallsguesthouse.com/)

•  Sun Palace (http://www.palaceresorts.com/sunpalace/)

•  Hotel Windsor (http://www.thehotelwindsor.com.au/)

•  Puente Romano (http://www.puenteromano.com/)

•  Castello del Nero (http://www.castellodelnero.com/)

•  Titanic Hotels (http://www.titanic.com.tr/)

•  Pacifica Host (http://corporate.pacificahost.com/default-en.html)

•  Blue Doors (http://www.bluedoorshotels.com.co/)

•  Palace Resorts (http://www.palaceresorts.com/)

•  Royal Group (http://www.royalgroup.it/)


Web Awards:
Websites Designed by TravelClick That Received Outstanding Website Awards:

•  The Sentosa (http://www.thesentosa.com)

•  Castello del Nero (http://www.castellodelnero.com/)

•  Amrath Hotels (http://www.amrathhotels.nl/)

•  Umstead Hotel & Spa (http://www.theumstead.com/)

•  Blue Doors Hotel Website (http://www.bluedoorshotels.com.co/)

•  Turnberry Isle Miami (http://www.turnberryislemiami.com/)

Websites Designed by TravelClick That Received Standard of Excellence Awards:

•  Titanic Hotels (http://www.titanic.com.tr/)

•  Royal Group (http://www.royalgroup.it/)

•  Rendezvous Hotels (http://www.rendezvoushotels.com/)

•  Hotel Windsor (http://thehotelwindsor.com.au/)

•  Westbury Hotel (http://www.westburymayfair.com/)

•  Sun Palace (http://www.palaceresorts.com/sunpalace/) 

•  OPUS Hotel Vancouver (http://vancouver.opushotel.com)

•  Le Blanc Spa & Resort (http://www.leblancsparesort.com/)

•  Edison Hotel Website (http://www.edisonhotelcp.com/)

•  SivOry Punta Cana (http://www.sivorypuntacana.com/)

•  Chandler Inn Hotel ( http://www.chandlerinn.com/)

•  Paradise Island Harbour Resort (http://www.paradiseislandbahama.com/)

•  Makena Beach & Golf Resort (http://makenaresortmaui.com)


W3 Awards:
Websites designed by TravelClick That Received Gold Awards:

•  Amrath (http://www.amrathhotels.nl/)

•  Sivory Punta Cana (http://www.sivorypuntacana.com/)

•  Umstead (http://www.theumstead.com/)

Websites designed by TravelClick That Received Silver Awards:

•  Blue Doors (http://www.bluedoorshotels.com.co/)

•  Chandler Inn Hotel (http://www.chandlerinn.com/)

•  Don Hall’s Guesthouse Hotel (http://www.donhallsguesthouse.com/)

•  Edison Hotel (http://www.edisonhotelcp.com/)

•  Le Blanc (http://www.leblancsparesort.com/)

•  Makena Beach & Gold Resort (http://www.makenaresortmaui.com/) 

•  Paradise Island Harbour Resort (http://www.paradiseislandbahama.com/)

•  Puente Romano (http://www.puenteromano.com/)

•  Royal Group (http://www.royalgroup.it/)

•  Sun Palace (http://www.palaceresorts.com/sunpalace/)

•  The Westbury (http://www.westburymayfair.com/)

•  Turnberry Isle Miami (http://www.turnberryislemiami.com/)


ADRIAN Awards
Websites designed by TravelClick That Received Silver Awards:

•  Royal Group (http://www.royalgroup.it/)

•  Kenzi Group (http://www.kenzi-hotels.com/)

•  Crown Hotels (http://www.crownhotels.com.au/)

•  The Westin Leipzig (http://www.westin-leipzig.com/)

Websites designed by TravelClick That Received Bronze Awards:

•  AThe Strand Hotel (http://www.thestrandnyc.com/)

•  Umstead (http://www.theumstead.com/)

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.

Pegasus evolves Utell into Pegasus Connect

Some hotel distribution news for you – Pegasus Solutions has evolved Utell into Pegasus Connect. The new offering combines Pegasus’ powerful distribution, booking and business intelligence solutions with Utell marketing-related services.

“In the time that I’ve led Pegasus, I’ve had many meetings with hotels and brands around the world,” said David Millili, chief executive officer of Pegasus Solutions. “One consistent theme I’ve heard from independents, groups, and chains alike is that they all need help driving guest room demand and sales. Aligning our impressive range of hospitality solutions as logical tiered packages under Pegasus Connect benefits hotels, allowing them to identify and use only the services they need without being expected to keep track of an encyclopedia of sales solutions.”

Pegasus Connect is being offered at three levels.  Pegasus Connect delivers affordable connectivity to the global distribution systems (GDSs). Pegasus Connect Gold combines this foundational distribution with connection to TravelSky in China and more than a thousand online channels.  It also includes PegasusView Market Performance business intelligence, a new monthly reporting product augmenting global data provided quarterly in The Pegasus View.  At this level, hotels will also tap into the OpenView booking engine, a customised tool to engage guests on the hotel’s website, as well as sales consulting and improved access to and representation with the travel consortia.  Finally, Pegasus Connect Premium builds on Pegasus Connect Gold with the addition of a mobile site developed using Open Hospitality’s OpenFlex with responsive design, along with additional sales support targeting three sources of demand business from corporate buyers or Travel Management Companies (TMCs).

“Pegasus Connect allows hotels to simply make a property available on the GDS and through online channels at an affordable price if that is all that is needed, or to upgrade to another level to create new ways to drive business,” added Millili. “This extends from identifying sales opportunities in the local market and making the brand website work harder, to delivering access to corporate buyers around the world to fill the gaps in the sales channel.”

Pegasus currently provides connectivity to nearly 100,000 hotels globally.