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?