5 standout innovations from PhoCusWright
5 standout innovations from PhoCusWright
22 NOVEMBER 2011 9:23 AM

A few technologies caught my eye at my first-ever PhoCusWright Conference. Should you consider adding them to your distribution strategy?

It took some convincing for my boss to send me to my first PhoCusWright Conference in Florida last week, and looking back I’m glad he finally gave me the OK. Sure, there wasn’t a ton of hotel representation in the crowd. But I knew going in that distribution and channel management were major challenges for hoteliers to wrap their head around, and I was hoping to hear how third parties can offer benefits. I’d heard a fair share of OTA bashing while attending hotel conferences, and I wanted to hear the other side of the story.

I got a good lay of the land as I exchanged business cards during the opening night cocktail reception. One source I’d met at previous events compared PhoCusWright to ALIS, except instead of developers looking for financing for their projects, PhoCusWright is all about startup technologies in the travel distribution space looking for their piece of the pie. At PhoCusWright, startups can either make a name for themselves and get put on the investment community’s map or they can spark interest from an established company, such as an Expedia or Google, and reap the benefits of an acquisition.

Over three days of meetings, presentations and keynote addresses, a few technologies caught my eye. This list isn’t intended to be my version of the Innovation Awards but rather notable technologies that piqued my interest and might cause you to consider adding them to your distribution strategy as well.

Not a new company by any stretch, but their newest technology caught my attention: Now when travelers are searching for a hotel on Travelocity, the OTA has implemented an “ask and answer” feature. Potential guests can ask questions about the hotel that are not answered in the description and either the hotel or the social community can provide answers. For instance, guests could ask if pets are allowed at the hotel, what the parking fees are or what is included with the continental breakfast. Shoppers can also poll their Facebook friends to help them make a decision about a particular booking.

Noreen Henry, senior VP of global partner services at Travelocity, said the features still are in “soft launch,” but the Travelocity community already has received more than 13,000 questions from shoppers on topics such as, “What should I tip my cocktail waitress?” she said.

Hotel Tonight
This distribution startup has received plenty of press since its launch in February, and rightly so. Hotel Tonight allows shoppers to book only on the day they want to stay and offers hoteliers an avenue to unload discounted inventory at the last minute.

Hotel Tonight CEO Sam Shank promised me the company is different than your typical same-day channel. “If you think about Expedia on one end of the spectrum, we’re on the other,” he said. “We operate on the concept of respect.”

Hoteliers who choose to partner with Hotel Tonight are asked two simple questions: How many rooms do you want to offer for sale and what do you want to sell them for? The agent will then determine how big the discount is compared to the hotel’s own website and when the last time the hotel was listed. From those criteria, three hotels will be featured in each market on the Hotel Tonight app.

There are no last-room availability requirements or binding contracts. If a hotel has sold enough rooms and wants to turn the channel off, the manager can do so with one click via the app’s user interface. Commissions are approximately 20%.

Hotel Tonight just last week secured a US$9 million Series B investment, led by Battery Ventures and including Accel Partners and First Round Capital. The app has been downloaded 1 million times on iPhone and Android devices already. It serves 28 cities and will be in 35 markets by the end of the year.

Stash Rewards
Nothing new here either, except additional partnerships with some of the country’s most famous independents, including the Royal Sonesta New Orleans, Yotel New York, The Strand Hotel in New York and—ironically—the Modern Honolulu (formerly Waikiki Edition).

Stash Rewards launched in May 2010 and provides a loyalty reward program for independent properties. There are 159 partner hotels in Stash and that number is growing rapidly, said CEO Jeff Low. All the properties appear near the top of their respective TripAdvisor ratings list.

Stash members earn five points for each dollar spent on eligible room rates and can redeem them at independent hotels across North America. Stash points never expire and there are no blackout dates or category restrictions.

Admittedly, I wasn’t impressed when Room77.com debuted its pick-your-own-hotel-room feature earlier this year. I thought it was cool in theory but that ultimately hotels weren’t going to have the time or resources to participate. I deemed it an operational headache.

Then last week VP of products Kevin Fliess explained it to me in a way that hit home: It’s like the seating chart when you book a flight, only for hotels.

And now Room77 has rolled out a hotel comparison-shopping service where you can book through them or through partners like Expedia, Orbitz or Hotels.com. It closes the communication gap a little bit because now Room77 is committed to doing most of the legwork, including contacting the hotel 24 to 48 hours in advance of your check-in to ask that you be placed in a specific room.

“We have the ability to email the front desk and from time to time we’ll call,” he said. “It’s a combination of science and service. We want to make sure the request is honored and the guest will get an update letting them know the status of their room request.”

Fliess said Room77 currently has complete content—including floor plans and views from each room—for about 3,000 hotels. It is adding “dozens” of properties each week. While the world certainly doesn’t need another OTA, it will be interesting to see if Room77 can get buy-in from enough hotels to make it as relevant as an airline’s seating chart.

This innovative—and potentially scandalous—distribution agent definitely caught my eye.

How Backbid works, according to promotional material: Travelers book a room and then send their confirmation number to Backbid. Hotels in the surrounding area are then able to bid, or pitch, to that traveler with value-adds and private rates. The consumer can pick his or her favorite bid and change their reservation. The new reservation is pre-paid and non-refundable.

“Backbid empowers hoteliers to proactively create online bookings with confirmed travelers, ensuring that each transaction secured is new business and enables hoteliers to compete for consumer business far more effectively without undercutting revenues or brand image,” according to a flier.

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  • Jay T November 22, 2011 5:39 AM

    PhoCusWright - worth attending. I find it beneficial to attend conferences that are related to our industry, in addition to the "primary" favorites. You meet different people, hear different viewpoints and learn from both. Your experience and quick read report are validation - thanks for sharing.

  • Virendra Jain November 23, 2011 5:58 AM

    Thanks for sharing Jason. I am one of the staff members and we have our own fair share of responsibilities while at the conference. I was a party to 12 TIS presentations but have missed 3 of what you have covered above. And I agree with Room77. Met them in China earlier this year and had got my questions clarified on how could this be operational. Rgds, Virendra Jain

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