There’s a not-so-dirty little secret about room-specific hotel bookings — most¬†Hilton Worldwide brands have been enabling HHonors members to pick their room number in advance for several years.
Virtually all Hilton Worldwide brands — with the exception of upscale Waldorf Astoria and Conrad Hotels — allow HHonors Gold and Diamond VIP members to reserve specific rooms online 36 hours or less before arrival, says Julie Cunningham, director of brand marketing at Homewood Suites.
That includes Hilton, DoubleTree, Embassy Suites, Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton, Home 2 Suites and Homewood Suites.
And, Homewood Suites takes the feature a step further than the rest, including allowing all HHonors members and anyone who’s completed an online profile to get in on the action.
There’s been some chatter among travel industry wags and some road warriors following the beta launch of Room 77 that hotels would resist room-specific bookings, that the technology to enable it is lacking, and that some travelers are largely uninterested.
All of these points may be true to a degree.
But Hilton brands have been enabling these types of bookings for years, and Homewood Suites, which is largely an extended stay brand with three basic suite types, has taken the process a little beyond what its sister brands are doing.
Homewood Suites enables all HHonors members and guests who’ve completed an online profile to enter their preference and desired suite type, and then click a View Rooms on a Floor Plan tab to view the available room numbers.
The floor plan shows the room locations; ¬†the floor number; proximity to the fitness center, lobby or restaurant; and also whether the room is on the north, south, west or east side of the hotel, which may be important for guests who want some sun in the morning or want to be close to the gym, for instance.
When you click on a particular room in the floor plan, a window pops up with a description of the room, plus several generic photos of the room type, although not the specific room. They look like this:
You can’t actually book the specific room at this point in the booking process, but after making a reservation at the property, you can log in again to your HHonors account 36 hours or less before your stay. ¬†You’ll view a function key next to the reservation indicating you can use Suite Selection for your eCheckin. Then you follow the prompts, select a room and upon arrival, you merely have to pick up your key at the front desk.
Homewood Suites offers the floor plans as part of the booking and room selection process while other Hilton brands merely list the available rooms.
Cunningham says the Homewood Suites IT department obtains an interactive jpeg of the floor plans, which hotels must post near fire exits, from vendor Rising Signs, and then the local properties fill in elements such as the room numbers, the direction the hotel is facing and the location of the adjacent Kmart.
For Homewood Suites, where 50% of guests stay a week or more and most properties have only three basic room types, the room-selection process is easier than it would be for a more complex brand, Cunningham acknowledges.
Hilton Worldwide brands also have a competitive advantage in technology, Cunningham argues, because the CRS and property management system have been integrated into an OnQ system, enabling real-time access to inventory.
“It pretty much works seamlessly each and every time,” Cunningham says of the room allocations, although periodically a guest’s room request will not be fulfilled if the current occupant of the room prolongs his or her stay at the last minute.
At this juncture, however, despite the online capabilities, there aren’t massive numbers of guests using the room-specific bookings option across all Hilton brands.
“Consumer adoption isn’t where it needs to be,” Cunningham says.
For Hilton brands, the technology is there, “but we need to promote it and our competitors need to be doing it, as well,” Cunningham says.
Homewood Suites does promote the feature to a certain extent — but not full-throttle.
HHonors members can sign up on their confirmation page to receive an eCheckin email reminder about room-specific bookings.
And, HHonors members even get 500 bonus points each time they book a specific room.
“Travelers want to be in more control, it gives them security,” Cunningham says. “You want one thing that will be a sure thing when you get to your destination.”
But, eCheckin isn’t on the Homewood Suites homepage and guests generally have to know about it to take advantage.
Cunningham says promoting the eCheckin room-specific bookings isn’t a high priority this year as the brand pursues “low-hanging fruit.”
There are many reasons for lack of adoption, she says, acknowledging that it is a much simpler process for airlines, which have all their passengers departing at the same time in similar seats, to get travelers to book premium seats.
“We [the hotel industry] is usually on the heels of the airline industry anyway,” Cunningham says.
She concedes that some hoteliers will feel that room-specific bookings pressure operations as properties seek to place groups all in one section of a hotel or mix and match rooms with late-arriving guests.
“I totally understand the apprehension there,” Cunningham says. “But, with the right platform in place like we have with real-time inventory, it is much easier and there is much less risk in not being able to take care of that customer properly.”
Of course, despite Hilton Worldwide’s integrated OnQ platform, the technology hurdle would be a huge one for the hotel industry and many travelers could care less about their room views and floor plans.
Still Room 77, which is providing data and images about specific rooms and hopes to propel room-specific bookings, takes some comfort in the Homewood Suites approach.
“The fact that Homewood Suites sees the value in offering their most-valued customers’ specific room guarantees really validates what Room 77 is doing,” a Room 77 spokeswoman says.
Still, Cunningham of Homewood Suites appreciates the merits of room-specific bookings, but doesn’t see widespread adoption until, well, there is widespread adoption and most of the hotel industry gets on board.