Focus, such as Booking.com's sole attention to lodging, has frequently been a winner in online travel. Booking Now's focus on last-minute bookings, instead of trying to be all things to all people in a multipurpose app, may produce substantial gains.
Booking.com, which has offered tonight-only deals in its app since 2011, has debuted a new, standalone Booking Now app for “spontaneous bookers,” though the company is putting an interesting spin on the definition of spontaneous by letting guests book up to 48 hours in advance.
There has been some erroneous reporting that the Booking.com app launch means that Priceline is getting into last-minute bookings with a new iPhone app when actually Booking.com is building on capabilities that it launched nearly four years ago, and sister company Priceline.com implemented the feature even earlier than that.
[Editor’s Note: GigaOm, linked to above, has since changed its headline to “Booking.com focuses on last-minute booking with new iPhone app,” though other outlets still incorrectly report this is Booking.com’s first entrance into last minute bookings.]
Household names in online travel, including Priceline, Booking.com, Expedia, and Hipmunk, to name a few, all debuted same-day hotel booking features several years ago following the much-ballyhooed debut of mobile-only HotelTonight, which pioneered tonight-only hotel bookings in a handful of taps, and the launch of HotelTonight startup clones across Europe and Asia-Pacific.
With the debut of Booking Now, the company is capitalizing on the last-minute booking trend, which the proliferation of mobile has brought to the fore.
The booking site says nearly half of all hotel bookings made via its Booking.com app are executed within 48 hours of a guest’s arrival at the accommodation, which is its argument for needing a separate app. Still, booking a room two days in advance can’t be considered spontaneous when compared with people truly booking a stay hours or minutes before they arrive at the property.
What About HotelTonight?
The debut of Booking.com’s newest app puts more pressure on HotelTonight, which has faced similar competitive juice by bigger players for years, and has transitioned into allowing users to book up to a week in advance as HotelTonight maneuvers looking for growth.
Booking.com’s approach to last-minute bookings is different than HotelTonight’s and that may prove to be advantageous or a disadvantage.
HotelTonight offers users a curated list of hotel choices in an attempt to be relevant and not to overwhelm.
Booking.com, on the other hand, is taking the personalization route, although it will still enable travelers to view its hundreds of thousands of properties.
First-time users open Booking Now and are asked to enter their preferences based on six criteria: price, parking, dining, Wi-Fi, 24/7 front desk reception, and non-smoking rooms. After selecting these preferences, the best-match accommodations are shown followed by all of the other hotels in a city in descending. That means every hotel in the city will still be shown to a guest but shown by relevance.
In addition to users manually selecting their preferences, Booking.com pledges that the app will get smarter about a customers’ hotel likes and dislikes the longer the traveler uses the app.
There are no price differences between Booking.com’s pre-existing app and Booking Now, says Paul Hennessey, Booking.com’s chief marketing officer.
Booking.com has streamlined the search and booking process in Booking Now once users enter their credit card information. The app defaults to today’s date and users can complete the booking process in four taps. Booking.com says the booking process takes two taps, but even as a returning user the process of selecting a room and booking it is a minimum of four taps. That’s a stark contrast with Booking.com’s main app, which enables customers to book way beyond a 48-hour booking window and takes multiple steps.
Current Location and Maps
Booking Now users also see their current location on their screen and can pin hotel matches they like to see where their favorite properties are in relation to their current location. This is more personalization than HotelTonight gives guests, but Booking Now still shows a large quantity of properties to the guest, making it seem as though their preferences are not truly honed in on.
The app can be downloaded on the iPad, but it is customized for the smartphone. The Android version will be available in upcoming months.
“Booking Now is perfect if you’re in town for a basketball game and at the last minute don’t feel like driving home late, you can find a room close by,” Hennessey says.
Booking.com’s focus on last-minute bookings in a standalone app punctuates the trend and gives it more momentum.
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Photo credit: Booking Now is Booking.com's answer to the last-minute booking game, but lets users book up to 48 hours in advance. Skift