For HotelTonight, the iPad is a great way to sell last-minute deals

by Doug Drinkwater

July 16 2012

The travel and tourism industry has been thriving on last-minute deals since the dotcom boom at the start of the millennium, but as HotelTonight explains, the future of the industry belongs to mobile.

Founded in December 2010, HotelTonight owes much of its success to the proliferation of mobile devices.

The firm's business model revolves around offering up to 70% off last-minute hotel rooms via its collection of free mobile apps, and takes - on average - a 20% slice of the money from its partnering hotels.

These deals, along with the firm's promise to get you a hotel in 'three taps', have helped HotelTonight to expand aggressively. The group now offers hotel deals in 42 US cities, and last month established its first non-US office in London.

When speaking to TabTimes recently, CEO Sam Shank explained that while the firm's commission rates and hotel relationships are not dissimilar to those elsewhere in the hospitality business, the firm's '100% mobile' focus is helping it, and its hotel partners get ahead.

"Our apps are all suited for last minute travel, and for hotels these deals are unexpected. Bookings are truly incremental so we're not cannibalizing their business; we're just bringing them new guests".

Indeed, the firm's mobile focus is perhaps unsurprising given Shank's comment on the hotel bookings industry, when speaking at the LeWeb conference in London last month. "Last-minute hotel bookings right now are about 15% of all hotel bookings, and we think that market is expanding with the prevalence of mobile devices".

App downloads have surpassed two million, the iPad app is for 'window shopping'

If figures are anything to go by, HotelTonight is bringing their hotel partners more just a few new guests. Shank told TabTimes that the firm's free Android, iPhone and iPad apps have been had 2.3 million downloads to date, with Shank hailing the iPhone as the primary ordering device.

"Most usage is on the iPhone because it's so easy for users to whip out and start using. But the iPad app is going very well and we only launched it in March." 

A brief glimpse at the iPad app makes for enjoyable browsing, and backs up Shank's claims that the app offers a slightly different' shopping experience.

It's slick and easy to use, rammed full of hi-res photos and free of annoying ads (Shank says hotels can however put in 'special messages'). And as with the other apps, hotel categories are based on whether they are 'luxury', charming', 'hip', 'solid' or 'basic', rather than one, two or three stars.

"I don't know if people are booking differently, but the iPad app is a very different experience and much more immersive", said Shank, when asked to describe how HotelTonight's iPad app and iPhone differ.

"It’s still three taps to book a hotel, but a lot more people are using it for entertainment and window shopping. We designed the app to be more of a casual, laid-back browsing experience versus the spontaneous, last-minute booking experience for the iPhone and Android.

"We really wanted to let iPad users visually visit, explore, and engage with our destinations through the high-resolution photography".

Bookings industry 'needs more apps'

Described by one blogger as the 'Path of hotel booking', HotelTonight is already setting looking ahead. The firm established its first non-US office in Shoreditch, London last month, and is looking to continue that expansion in the coming years.

"We want to be global brand. We want to be in more places, offering more deals", said Shank. Part of this focus seems to stem from Shank's view of a market which he believes will become increasingly competitive over the next few years.

"It’s a great market, but one that needs new brands with new apps. The whole experience is certainly going to get a lot more personalized, because we think these devices are not being shared among families".

Doug Drinkwater is the International Editor of TabTimes and is based in London, England.
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