Digital Booking Sites

Interview: HotelTonight’s CEO on user photos, copycats and Priceline

@denschaal

May 08, 2013 9:07 am

Skift Take

As a first-mover, HotelTonight is in an enviable position. The company faces competition from imitators, including big brands, but there absolutely will be more than one winner in the same-day booking sector. There is a whole big world out there.

— Dennis Schaal

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HotelTonight

These are some user-submitted photos, part of a new Snap Your Stay feature in HotelTonight's updated iOS app. In the case above, the user happened to be the CEO. HotelTonight


Sam Shank, co-founder and CEO of same-day booking app HotelTonight, knows more than a little about user-generated content since he signed-on a decade ago to head up hotel-review site TravelPost, and was still around when it was sold to SideStep.

HotelTonight today updated its iOS app to include a “Snap Your Stay” feature, enabling hotel guests to submit realistic photos after their stays of the guest room, hotel lobby, or whatever shot or angle they want to take.

These user-generated photos supplement a mix of HotelTonight-taken and hotel-submitted photography of each property, and hopefully will depict properties in the HotelTonight lineup, warts and all.

Screen Shot 2013-05-08 at 11.20.24 AM (2)

TripAdvisor has long enabled users to submit hotel photos, which it uses alongside written reviews to bring a better understanding of the property.

Guests photos on HotelTonight don’t include any complementary text at this point. “It’s easier than writing text,” Shank says, referring to the photos. “There’s nothing wrong with text reviews, but it doesn’t take advantage of the medium of the phone.”

One big question about the new Snap Your Stay feature, which will be rolled out later for iPad and Android, is how honest HotelTonight will be in displaying unflattering photos of the rooms and amenities of HotelTonight’s partner hotels.

TripAdvisor does a great job with this; let’s see how the HotelTonight user-generated content operation works out.

In tandem with the new photo-feature, which also enables guests to share their pics on social media, HotelTonight unveiled a HT Price Guarantee. There won’t be any cash refunds, but HotelTonight will offer booking credits toward a subsequent stay.

The profit question

Shank declined to provide any details on HotelTonight’s financial situation, and the implication was that the company, which has more than $35 million in funding, is focused on growth and isn’t profitable yet.

Shank deflected the profitability issue, saying the company sees “a big global opportunity.”

With offices in San Francisco and London, HotelTonight currently offers properties in nearly 100 markets.

The HotelTonight app has been so ground-breaking that many existing online travel agencies have done their best to complement their existing product with tonight-only deals.

Shank isn’t necessarily too concerned about the startup imitators.

“We did launch HotelTonight in 10 weeks with a team of three,” Shank recalls. “In terms of startups, the hard part is marketing it and scaling.”

Competition from huge rivals such as Priceline, which offers Tonight-Only Deals, albeit with a much more cumbersome booking process than through HotelTonight, undoubtedly will be a more significant problem.

“We sort of planned for them to enter the market,” Shank says, referring to established brands such as Priceline. “Our hotel partners are extemely happy, especially in mature markets.”

Just as HotelTonight’s bookers start focusing their smartphones and tablets and begin taking hotel photos, Shank argues that HotelTonight has its own focus.

Shank believes HotelTonight’s focus on same-day hotel bookings will be an advantage against larger rivals, which have many additional products to worry about.

Facing such competition, though, HotelTonight’s road ahead certainly won’t be a snap.

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