Room77 has a view to shake up online hotel shopping
Room77 hopes to build the world’s largest global database of hotel rooms — yes, the rooms themselves — and in the process change the way consumers shop for hotel stays.
These are lofty goals for Room77, which launched a website in beta and an iPhone app Feb. 24, and uses patent-pending technology to plot each hotel room’s latitude, longitude and altitude, and with an assist from Google Earth creates a virtual view outside from each hotel room in its database.
The company currently has 425,000 rooms at 2,500 properties, 3-star and above, in its database, covering 15 U.S. destinations plus London.
Many hotel floor plans in the U.S., at least, are public records, but one way Room77 plans to build its rooms’ database is through partnerships with hotels and crowd-sourcing.
The Room77 iPhone app enables users to take photos of exit floor plans, which can be found on the back of most hotel room doors, and to forward them to Room77 to add to its roster.
“Hotels will price each room type identically, but it’s a total crapshoot what you end up with,” says Kevin Fliess, general manager and vice president of product at Room77, explaining the company’s mission.
Room77 enables users to decide whether they want their hotel room on a high or low floor, near an elevator, with a connecting room or whether the view is important or not.
The website then ranks each hotel room on the percentage basis of whether it is a strong or weak match for the user’s criteria.
So take a look at the following two Room77 displays of Rooms 2705 and Room 3914, both ocean view double rooms and presumably priced identically at the Hyatt Regency Wakiki Beach Resort and Spa.
Room77’s depiction of Room 2705 shows an obstructed view. Not much ocean there.
But, the view from another ocean view double, Room 3914, shows that you can see some beach.
If you’ve just spent the past few months planning your Hawaii vacation, the difference may be crucial.
Of course, if you want to take no chances and plunk down a few extra bucks, there’s always Room 3907, a deluxe ocean view double.
“At the end of the day, there is scary great stock photography from Expedia,” says Brad Gerstner, founder and chairman of Room77 and an Orbitz Worldwide board member. “The lobby of the hotel is fine, but I don’t stay in the lobby of the hotel.”
Room77 is not just about the view from the rooms’ windows.
It will tell you that the elevator is 61 feet from the room, whether there is a connecting room and that your room has 450 square feet, for instance.
For a business traveler looking to conduct some meetings in the room or in combination with an adjoining room, these may be important factors to consider.
Room77 sees itself as a room search site, doesn’t process bookings itself, and is agnostic about where the consumer books the room.
For now, Room77 connects you to the hotel website or to Orbitz for bookings — for traditional hotel bookings. You can’t yet use the site to book a particular room.
And there currently is a Request a Room link and an informational pop-up, which provides tips for contacting a hotel’s front desk and lobbying for a particular room.
Room77 says it is working with several hotel chains and individual properties to validate and expand its data, and plans on soon displaying Hotel Verified badges on hotel pages that have been vetted by the properties.
There certainly will be varied reactions from hotel chains and individual properties about Room77 as some will see a merchandising opportunity and others may view the increased transparency into hotel rooms as an operational nightmare.
One major chain — Starwood — is in discussions with Room77 about ways to work together.
“We support consumer empowerment and believe that the more information guests have access to when comparing hotel options, the more our brands and hotels stand out as great destinations,” says Matt Avril, hotel group president for Starwood Hotels & Resorts. “We look forward to working with the Room 77 team as they launch their new service.”
In the beginning, Gerstner says, Room77 hopes to build an audience and use an advertising model as Room77 sends consumers to advertisers’ websites for bookings.
But, he also believes that Room77 can become a merchandising platform for hotels where, similar to airlines selling premium seats, hotels would be able to guarantee at the time of booking room 343 for an extra $25.
There also could a business-to-business revenue model, Gerstner argues, with hotels and travel agencies seeking access to a Room77 API to enable their employees to better assist customers.
Room77 is currently focusing on expanding its database and features.
In addition to enabling users to help build the Room77 rooms’ database, the iPhone app will allow guests to review individual rooms and share their critiques. There is no monetization of the free app at this juncture.
And, there currently is no destination search on the site; you can search by hotel name and then room number.
Destination search is on the way, officials say.
Room77 has backing from a laundry list of travel industry veterans and venture capital companies, including Expedia and Zillow founder Rich Barton; Erik Blachford, ex-president and CEO of IAC Travel; MTV founder Bob Pittman; former Farecast CEO Hugh Crean; Par Capital Management [ITA Software, Farecast and Orbitz); and Sutter Hill Ventures (Farecast); and Felicis Ventures.
Gerstner is a travel industry investor and former co-CEO of National Leisure Group.
Part of the technology to create the room views is a byproduct of Room77’s acquisition of OpTrip and the hiring some of the developer team.
Fliess, formerly head of TravelMuse, sees Room77’s core target customers as “power users,” which might include road warriors and some leisure travelers.
And, the approach is skewed toward the upscale. Room77 will be focusing on 3-star properties and higher.
Says Gerstner: “We’re not doing this for a Super 8 in Topeka.”
Dennis Schaal was North American editor for Tnooz.