Room Key rolled out in January. It’s been met with, what I’ll charitably refer to, as mixed reviews. The most common question I’ve seen people ask about it is, “What advantage does this give me as a customer?” The fairly tepid response has been, “You can use your loyalty points.” To me, and I’d wager a lot of other people, that’s not really enough. While I wouldn’t call it a misfire, Room Key is still an underdeveloped idea.
At its heart, Roomkey.com, a venture that includes Choice Hotels International, Hilton Worldwide, Hyatt Hotels Corporation, InterContinental Hotels Group, Marriott International and Wyndham Hotel Group and Best Western International, is a step in the right direction in addressing the significant financial impact of the online-travel agencies. It’s an attempt to gain back some of the ground lost in the 25% to 35% commission now claimed by OTAs in the 10% of overall hotel market they control. In some ways, it’s a bit too late for Room Key to be making this move. In the years they’ve been around, OTAs have spent billions in advertising to make sure the general public associates booking online with getting the best deal on a hotel room. At this point, it’s been so ingrained in the minds of potential customers that it seems as though it’s almost common sense for people to go with an OTA. The hotel industry really can’t re-educate the customer at this point. Not without spending an equally large amount of money over a similarly long period. So, that leaves one option: competing at their level.
Roomkey.com, as it is laid out, is a very straightforward website that does one thing well: displaying hotel options at a destination. The options for narrowing your search are clever, and the whole thing has a very Google-esque look about it. It very clearly displays cost comparisons and ratings from TripAdvisor, so people searching the site get more information about choosing a hotel. A user then clicks on the hotel they’re interested in and is sent to the brand’s website. However, I found that it’s a bit slow to load, taking the user out of the experience a bit. I understand the reason for the decision to make it a portal to the brand’s website rather than a platform on which to perform transactions; you avoid the legal mess OTAs have gotten themselves into, and you don’t need to set up a service to handle payments. It’s just all a bit strange to me.
The way it proposes to collect information as you browse a brand website may provide a “last chance” to book as they’ve said, but that feature seems like it would be—I don’t know how to say this politely—like a pop-up ad, and nobody likes those. They feel intrusive. And while most major websites are actively tracking you to figure out what you like and dislike so they can sell you things in a better way, it’s really aggravating when they remind customers about it.
As it is, I’d use it once or twice. If I learn about a room on Roomkey.com, it will be easier to drift back to full-service travel sites to book my hotel and car and flight. It’s just easier, in general, to do everything from one website if you’re going to be booking online.
If Room Key is trying to compete with OTAs, it’s not doing a very good job of it. If it wants to compete with OTAs, then Roomkey.com needs to provide the same range of services OTAs do. It needs to be able to link to air travel and car rental easily. It would help to expand the list of hotels offered and get the other brands on board, so that you get the same options you could elsewhere.
As I said earlier, the question remains, “Why would I use this over another travel site?” Right now the answer seems to be, “It’s not built to present you with all the options, it’s built for the brands to pull you back in.” In other words, like on Facebook, you’re not the customer, you’re the product. I hope you have loyalty points.
Ric Mandigo is the senior consultant for TR Mandigo & Company, a Chicago-based hospitality consulting company with more than 40 years of consulting experience.
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