Interview: HotelTonight targets UK growth with pioneering approach to mobile hotel bookings

Interview: HotelTonight targets UK growth with pioneering approach to mobile hotel bookings

Last minute hotel booking app HotelTonight has the UK firmly in its sights as part of its focus to grow its international presence outside of its US home.

The California firm’s app arrived in the UK in 2012, a year after it was first launched in the US, and established itself quickly among early adopters. It now has 13 million downloads globally.

With new UK and Ireland country manager Tomas Mendoza in place since the beginning of the year, efforts are being made to further increase its market penetration this side of the Atlantic.

Mendoza said the app is already seeing good growth in the UK, with the number of bookings up 175% last year and it now offers 23 destinations, including the key international destination London.

A London Underground marketing campaign has augmented the organic growth the app has been enjoying through word of mouth and being a regular feature on app store’s recommended apps.

“We have very strong relationships with the major cities in the UK and are focused on growing throughout the UK,” said Mendoza.

HotelTonight employs six market managers based in London each with a region to oversee, they are key to what the app sees as its core strength, the curation of product.

Any search brings back a maximum of just 15 results, with hotels bracketed in HotelTonight’s in-house style categories including ‘Luxe’, ‘Hip’, ‘Solid’ or ‘Basic’.

Before a property is accepted to become part of HotelTonight’s inventory it may be physically visited to assess its attributes.

“We turn hotels down,” said Mendoza. “If they don’t meet certain criteria we invite them to leave the platform or if we see they are not getting the ratings we invite them to improve.

“We believe we reinvented booking for mobile and we believe having less is more in mobile. Design and curation certainly plays a part.”

HotelTonight says the criteria for success in the mobile age are often the polar opposite to what worked on desktop.So while Expedia claimed great success in how long they tempted users to stay on its site browsing various options, on mobile the less time spent on the device the better.

The immediacy and spontaneity of mobile means users need to be taken to the right product quickly and be able to book instantly and then get on with their lives.

Mendoza believes as well as allowing hoteliers to shift distressed stock in an opaque marketplace it has brought incremental business as people opt to discover and book hotels spontaneously.

“Last minute fits very well with mobile. It’s all about being on the go. We have created a win win for both customers and hotels.

“Because we have a curated display in a competitive environment you will not see the same set of results twice. It offers hotel partners a channel to acquire new customers.

“If you come to London and see an amazing last minute deal the hotel wins by selling the room but also because they get a customer that did not know about that hotel.

“It’s a discovery mechanism. Because the display is ever-changing if a customer wants to go back to a hotel they may not use HotelTonight, they may go to its website.

“Our customers say they want to stay somewhere new.”

Recent developments to allow a more targeted approach by hoteliers, which ensure the ever-changing nature of the results, are geo-rates and super-last minute offers after 12pm and 6pm.

HotelTonight has also stretched its model to offer reservations up to seven days in advance and, more recently, Escape weekend stays.

This latter development has allowed it to extend its presence outside of the main conurbations where last minute hotel bookings will tend to be more concentrated.

Mendoza said one of the advantages for hoteliers of using HotelTonight as a competitive mobile marketplace is the partnership approach it takes.

“Our relationship with our hotel partners is completed different than with the online travel agents,” he said. “We do not compete against them of [Google] Adwords.

“Hotels can offer an additional discount to people in a particular area or after 12pm and gain after 6pm.

“It has the ability to provide more targeted, more relevant more contextual discounts and for the consumer to get an even better deal. That’s something you can never offer on a laptop.”

The growing trend towards later bookings isn’t necessarily something hotels would welcome, but HotelTonight believes it is merely meeting a demand rather than driving demand.

Mendoza said: “There’s no commitment from hotels. They can use us when they need us. Those empty rooms not being sold through HotelTonight are not going to be sold.

“It’s an amazing model for hoteliers. We are merchandising those rooms to our customers. It’s completely optional. Hotels find that flexibility very powerful.”

Instant booking capabilities are being developed by most of the big players in online travel like Google, Facebook and TripAdvisor.

But HotelTonight, as a first mover in the mobile space, believes it is well ahead of the pack and the quality if its curated content has enabled it to earn that crucial trust factor with customers.

“Technology is always changing and there is a danger in that for everyone. But there is a human benefit, not just technological. Our people’s job is to identify the best hotels.

“Curation is key and that trust that customers have,” said Mendoza.

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