It’s an experience any frequent traveler is familiar with: You make a hotel reservation, check-in at the front desk, and proceed to your room — only to find you lost the hotel lottery, with you being relegated to a room with a leaky sink, a view of a concrete wall, or an awkwardly-positioned desk on which you won’t be able to work.
This is the travel headache that Room 77 seeks to cure. The website, launched in February, contains a searchable database of hotels across the United States, with information about individual rooms. It’s where hotel and attraction review site, TripAdvisor, meets airline seat intel tracker, Seat Guru, said Kevin Fliess, general manager and VP of product at Sunnyvale, California–based Room 77.
“Almost everybody can recount at least one time in their life when they have just been totally disappointed by the room,” Fliess said, “On the flip side, once in a while you are pleasantly surprised, and wouldn’t you like to have known what the right room was for you?”
Room 77 currently has 500,000 rooms in its database, out of what the company estimates are 5 million rooms worldwide of three-star quality or higher. The amount of information available on each room varies. All entries include a map with the room’s location in the hotel, and some also feature photographs and reviews. The site stores data about attributes including distance from the elevator, noise level, and view, and helps travelers find the room that best matches their preferences. Users can access Room 77 through its website or via its iPhone app and soon, an Android app.
The site gets its revenue from commission on leads delivered to either booking partner, Orbitz, or the individual hotels that offer direct booking links. Users cannot request specific rooms when booking online, but Room 77 offers a tipsheet for increasing the chances of getting what you want — book through the hotel’s own site rather than a third party, call the front desk (not reservations) 48 hours before you check in, and be nice. In case you cannot get your top choice, Room 77 generates a list of 4 others that best match your criteria.
“At least in the US, every hotel will honor room requests,” Fliess says. “They know that a consumer who cares to request a specific room is a discriminating traveler, and if they make that consumer happy, it is going to drive repeat business and greater guest loyalty.”
Fliess hopes that this desire to drive repeat business will lead hotels to cooperate more closely with Room 77. “Today we deliver leads, but if a hotel has a white label booking connection, and if they can give us price and availability, we’ll take it,” he said, “Today you don’t see price and availability on Room 77. That’s something that we are currently working on. We want to deliver as seamless an experience as possible for the consumer, and we have had conversations with a number of hotel chains about working more closely with them on offering a tighter booking integration.”
In addition to improving satisfaction among a discerning segment of customers, hotels also might be able to turn room-selection into ancillary revenue. If travelers want to choose a particular room before they arrive, might they be willing to also pay a fee to guarantee that room? According to Fliess, Room 77’s market research showed that 40% of travelers would be willing to do so.
“I don’t think there is any question in the world that this is the way the industry is headed,” he said, “The question becomes how do you create the consumer demand? If I don’t know what I’m buying, how can you charge me? So we are creating the transparency that is going to create the demand. You’ll be seeing some pilots coming out this year with a couple of hotels.”
To realize its founders’ vision, one thing Room 77 still needs is more data — a more comprehensive selection of rooms, and more information on them. It has about 10 percent of the world’s three-, four-, and five-star rooms, and is adding two or three destinations per month. Information on most entries still seems to be limited, and its growth will depend on the cooperation of hotels and the contributions of early adopters, who have already helped shape the product by requesting the inclusion of Wi-Fi signal strength as a measurable attribute of each room.
As it takes its next steps, Room 77 has a little help from its recent round of funding — US$10.5 million raised in June, led by General Catalyst Partners. Fleiss said that the new funds will be invested primarily in hiring more engineers and doing some online marketing to expand its user reach.
While the site is currently focused on a couple dozen US cities, Room 77 has global intentions, with expansion into markets including China. “The possibility exists for both adding Chinese hotels and then making the content available to Chinese travelers,” Fliess said, “One of the things we are looking at is potentially syndicating our content to partners. I know that a lot of US online travel companies have failed when they have attempted to make inroads into the Chinese market, so we are very interested in finding partners who can help us with that, and are open to making our content available to those partners so that they can distribute it to their audience.”
Mr. Kevin Fliess will speak at the upcoming TravelDaily China Travel Distribution Summit, which will take place at Guangzhou from September 21 to 22, 2010. For more information, please visit the event website at http://summit.traveldaily.cn/16/index_en.aspx .