This is a maudlin time of year for us football fans living in Cleveland. As the Super Bowl approaches, it gives us time to sit back and reflect on the wasted year that was and the unlikely prospects for the year ahead. Still, we wait, we wonder, we hope.
I was discussing the subject with a long-time friend of mine this week who also happens to be a long-time season tickets holder for the Browns. I asked if he was going to renew his tickets for next year, and he gave an interesting answer:
“I don’t know. They just never put anything on the field worth watching.”
He was right, of course. The team lacks a solid defense or offense, their special teams are suspect, and they’re devoid of any playmakers whatsoever. And, as this particular friend has pointed out on more than one occasion, we don’t even have cheerleaders. (I have to disagree with his protests on the last point; I pay to watch the action on the field, not off.)
In short, the Browns lack a value proposition—which brings me to Room Key.
(We’ve covered the new brand-led distribution platform extensively since it was announced in early January, so this will be the last time I touch on it for a while. Consider it my final thoughts, for now …)
When six of the globe’s biggest brands got together to form the platform, which allows customers to search and shop rooms before being directed to the property-direct website for booking, they did so thinking it was a win-win—a win for the owners who would pay less of a commission than to a standard online travel agency, and a win for consumers who had the promise of a easy-to-use site.
But is ease-of-use enough to win the day?
The company’s founders sure think so—even without the multi-billion-dollar marketing budgets of competitors Expedia, Priceline and Travelocity. I’ve heard several reps from Room Key and the big brands say the platform will succeed without a big ad spend. The concept alone is enough to generate interest, they say. Google and Facebook never had to advertise, they say.
To which I say: bull.
First, comparing Room Key to two of the most successful companies of the Internet age is as unfounded as me comparing the Browns to the perennial powerhouse Patriots. (And in both cases, I hope I’m proven wrong in the future.)
Second, Google and Facebook found success because each had as strong a value proposition as you’ll find. Room Key’s “ease of use,” on the other hand, leaves something to be desired.
As Michael Shannon, managing director of KSL Capital Partners, said during the Americas Lodging Investment Summit: “I don’t think there’s anyone who woke up this morning and said, ‘I really need a new website that’s designed for owner profitability.’”
Does that mean Room Key is a bust? Hardly. The platform’s founders just need to focus on what makes it a true win for consumers. (Forget owners for the moment; in the end, it’s consumers who are going to make the bookings.) Here are a couple for starters:
• Last-room availability: Talk about a contentious issue in the tumultuous marriage between hoteliers and OTAs. The major brands have been cautious to sign the right of last room distribution to their third-party counterparts, lest they yield complete control of their inventory. However, because Room Key is a property-direct referral platform, it should boast last-room availability as a key differentiator—one the OTAs will never be able to match.
• Loyalty points: The lowest rate might entice some cost-conscious leisure travelers, but for many road warriors, it’s all about the loyalty points. Because Room Key directs consumers to book property direct, loyalty programs remain intact—something that’s stripped away during the third-party booking process.
I think the above differentiators are enough of a value proposition to attract some consumer interest—provided Room Key gets smart enough to share them with the market. They haven’t done enough yet in that regard to generate buzz in the consumer sector. But like we say in Browns Town, there’s always next year …
Stat of the week
1,758%: The percent increase in room rates at the Knights Inn Indianapolis during Super Bowl weekend, according to a survey from Cheaphotels.org. The hotel is charging US$725 a night instead of its usually affordable US$39.
Some context from my reporter-in-arms and HotelNewsNow.com colleague Stephanie Wharton: 91.3% of rooms already were booked in the city as of 1 February, according to TravelClick data. Additional data from TravelClick shows rates in Indianapolis are up 199.6% over the same time last year.
Quote of the week
“They are able to do this because the immediate victim does not vote; no politician cares about tourists. So they are presented with short-term gains to set against medium-term consequences. It is a temptation where local politicians are ill-equipped to make the right choice.”
A frank and honest assessment of proposed hotel bed taxes in Europe, compliments of Tom Jenkins, executive director of the European Tour Operators Association, as reported in “Broke Europe calls for hotel bed taxes.”
Comment of the week
Commenter “A customer” responding to Gavin Landry’s column “The lost art, science of front-desk yielding.”
“I will provide feedback as a customer, not an owner/manager. I am skeptical of the methods described above for 2 simple reasons: 1. I never stop at a hotel out of my price range. If I want to pay 50, I stop at a 50/night hotel and get my 50/night room, not at a 100/night hotel and start negotiating with the clerk. 2. There is nothing that turns me off more than these "managed conversations" that are so scripted everybody with an ounce of common sense wants to make them end ASAP. If marketing people think they are adding value this way, they are really fooling themselves. Get off the stupid script and act like a human being would be my first recommendation to my clerks. Bottom line, I am so turned off by marketing and clerks these days that I would be very happy if a hotel merely displayed its offering on a board with the prices (3 kings at 89/each, 2 queens at 79/each, etc.) and let me, the customer, pick what I want without unnecessary annoying chatter. My 2 cents.”
I’m going to have to disagree with you, “A customer.” While your point is valid—a robotic, scripted conversation is always a turnoff—I don’t think it’s ever a bad idea to coach your team members and give them the strategy to yield in person. What Gavin provided is a solid framework that allows you to do just that. Customers are getting increasingly savvy about negotiation tactics, and hotel associates must step up their game. But that’s just my 2 cents as well.
Email Patrick Mayock or find him on Twitter.
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