We started the new year with a lot of news regarding the online travel world. Just by reading Tnooz, I can't keep up with the new stuff coming out of new ventures and also all these changes happening with OTAs.
One of the recent news was the announcement of a new collaborative online distribution channel called RoomKey. This new venture has been launched last week in beta with major hotel groups (Choice Hotels International, Hilton Worlwide, Hyatt, IHG, Wyndham Hotel Group and Marriott).
When I heard the news, I had to pinch myself because this reminded me of 2 past failed projects in the last decade: AndBook in 2000 and TravelWeb (owned by Priceline now) in 2002.
With RoomKey,these hotels groups aim to create a direct distribution channel that competes directly with traditional online travel agents (OTAs) such as Booking.com or Expedia. They are tired of loosing out margin by giving away commission to 3rd party players who spend a lot of money in search engines in order to feature their website higher than hotel chains websites.
By the way did you know that Priceline (including their sister companies Booking.com and Agoda) have spent $700M on online advertising in the first 9 months of 2011. Well, that's exactly where RoomKey might struggle to really compete with established OTAs. I don't believe this conglomerate has this sort of money to buy all the relevant key words in PayPerClick campaigns on Google, Bing and Yahoo.
Now, RoomKey might play the innovation route and think ahead of Google. Hotel Finder, here I come! Afterall, hotel groups have learned a long way since 1998 about what to do online to make their website an increasing profit center. But they also learned a lot about what not to do with OTAs (remember when hotel GMs were dumping rates on hotels.com after September 11).
In their current version, I am afraid I can't really see any major innovation in RoomKey. It is just a meta search engine with mainly American hotel groups providing their best rate availability. Once you pick the hotel you like, you are re-directed to the hotel group website in the right landing page. And that's it folks!
Really? Is that how hoteliers bring innovation online?
And don't even get me started with the introduction on their website.
"Want the real deal on hotel rooms? Well, look no further. Welcome to Room Key, the brainchild of hoteliers on a mission - to make hotel searches simple, fast and fun (not to mention, easy on the eyes). It's a tall order, but we wouldn't do it any other way."
1/ So hotel searches are already simple on major OTAs and hotel group websites. I just don't see how RoomKey makes it more simple.
2/ Fast? Well it took me 15 seconds to get the best rate available in London for 23 hotels whereas Booking.com gives me 1073 hotels availibility and prices in 4 seconds.
3/ Fun? Well there is nothing fun in that search engine, neither are the filters. Clearly the fun element part is clearly missing. Unless it is 2nd degree happiness. In that case, I am not there yet :-)
I am surprised that hotel groups haven't embraced reviews, professional recommendations on this project. This would have been fun!
More to come I am sure. And more to review on these columns for sure.
For now, RoomKey doesnt' quite cut the mustard for me. And you?
Check out Tom Costello excellent blog post about his take on the venture and of course Tnooz article with their 27 comments (and counting).
The top 7 UK hotel chains remain at the same position in terms of their ranking based on number of followers. It would mean they are all progressing their audience at the same audience with a clear leadership from Premier Inn. But I guess when you are the biggest hotel group in the UK, you have to be the first on Twitter as well.
The most prolific account is still from Best Loved Hotels with more than 6,200 tweets.
Back in June, I was invited to participate in the Amadeus Hotel roundtable organised by Simon Taylor who heads up Product initiatives for hotel distribution in the UK. The panel was very interesting with executives from Premier Inn, HBAA, The Goring Hotel, Conferma, NetTrans, Great Hotels of the World, Total Revenue Solutions and of course Amadeus IT.
This is the first part of our discussion: enjoy and sit back as it is one hour long!
As you already know, I am becoming very selective when it comes to publish articles about all the press releases I receive on my inbox. However some drive my attention (probably 5% to be honest) and recently I came across a great story.
Meet Barry Frangipane who decided to pack his bag from the USA and decided to live in Venice (Italy) for 18 months while keeping his job as a software engineer. Barry tells his story about how valuable and relatively easy it was for him to "telecommute" himself from his home country to Venice and maintaining his same job.
According to a survey conducted by USA Today and Compuware, the American hotel group Marriott is leading the industry when it comes to provides a fast experience on their consumer website marriott.com. The study was measuring the speed, navigation and rooms details of different hotel brand websites.
Marriott website drive about 12M unique visits a month with about 3,600 hotels to offer.
Now if you investigate further on the Gomez website (US chains only) you will see that other hotel brands are leading in their own category where the latest benchmarch study was made between July and August 2011.
Some of you may already know that I have decided a month ago to join one of the Chandlers.
Others might think what does he mean?
In plain English, I have joined HouseTrip.com as their Business Development Director to grow inventory (meaning apartments, villas, houses…) and contribute to become the world's leading holiday rental site with an online booking engine.
My first acquaintance with HouseTrip was in November 2009 at the GetFunded Show at the World Travel Market. I did cover the event there and was one of the happy few invited to hear startups pitching their next disruptive idea to compete with the likes of Priceline, Kayak or TripAdvisor. At that time, HouseTrip was bootstrapped by their founders Arnaud Bertrand and Junjun Chen (both graduates from Lausanne hotel school in 2009).
I have been very surprised to see how a well-designed product can disrupt the conventions of a boring product such as headphones.
Electronics usually become redundant and out of touch within months because of new features that brands try to sell us all the time (TV, HiFi, Phones...). When it comes to headphones, it is more difficult as it only serves up to 3 functionalities: listening privately your music, cancelling noise around you and being fashioned. This last aspect was totally ignored for decades and now we can see two leading brands that were not in the market a few years ago: Beats by Dr. Dre and SkullCandy.
These two brands took a dull product and made it ‘In” and interesting by disrupting what we knew. Red became fashionable.
International hotel groups have given a lot of thoughts in the last two years about what they should be doing with Twitter. As always, they came a bit late to join the social media tool because they were not sure if the conversation had to be operated from the head office, hotels, PR company, marketing department and so on.
Let's look at what the top 10 international hotel groups ((in terms of rooms* ) in the world are doing on Twitter. When did they join the conversation. And how influential they are.
Marriott is still leading with more than 124,00 followers. There is quite a gap between this hotel group and others. Not sure if there will be another hotel group to reach this fan base anytime soon.
Wyndham is still without any Twitter account set up for the head office. Maybe Twitter is not in their communication strategy.
*The new ranking of international hotel groups has been recently revealed by MKG
A lot of people are still wondering how Facebook makes any money apart for the advertising bit. Facebook Credits is a new revenue stream that was officially launched earlier this year for people who want to purchase stuff on the social networking site like a truck on the game Farmville. Facebook Credits are part of what we call virtual currency in the same way we had Linden dollars in Second Life.
You would need to buy Facebook Credits with real money via PayPal or credit card. For instance you could buy 50 Facebook Credits for $5. With this money, you could vote for your favourite candidate on the X Factor, or watch movie on PayPerView.
Premier Inn is now the leading hotel group in terms of followers with more than 6,000 followers and recently took over Traveldoge from previous months. The number of tweets has also increased compared to other months.
The most prolific account is still from Best Loved Hotels with more than 5,400 tweets.
Von Essen is the hotel brand who follows the least people on Twitter (45 accounts in total).
Ask the Hotelier is a new series of interviews that I am launching on HotelBlogs. You probably get the idea with the title. This section will be about spending conversations on videos with hoteliers. We will cover topics like branding, social media, reputation, technology and so on.
This week I am spending some time discussing Social Media with Charles Yap, Social Media and Global Brand Communication Director at IHG (Intercontinental Hotels Group), the largest hotel group in the world with brands like Holiday Inn, Intercontinental, Indigo, Holiday Inn Express and more. Charles Yap is addicted to Twitter and has grown a good solid base of followers on @hotelPRguy.
Best Western UK has initiatated last week a campaign to ask hoteliers to give away freen internet access to their guests.
A petition has been launched and can be viewed on Facebook and on a separate website hosted by Best Western. 42 people have signed the petition online which seems a bit low considering how big this hotel brand is and also how many guests stay at their 270 hotels across Great Britain.
The hotel chain reckons that free internet access in their hotels will save their customers more than £28million annually and now wants other hotels to do exactly the same to help the British economy.
This evening, I am participating in a interesting debate with hoteliers (mainly revenue managers, finance and sales directors) where we would discuss this question:
"Given the ever increasing accessibility and complexity of Benchmarking Data and public on-line Customer Reviews – do you believes that Hotels cannot realistically take full advantage of all the information available?"
I would be very interested to hear your view as a hotelier whether you are independent or part of a hotel group. I believe answers will be different depending on the status of your hotel and also your responsibility in the organisation.
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