It’s a banner day for the folks at Room 77, the new search engine that could become the ‘SeatGuru of hotel rooms.’ Not only did the company officially launch its website and free iPhone app today, but it also won the Best Overall award in the 1.0 Competition category this evening at the Launch conference, which took place Feb. 23 and 24 at the San Francisco Design Center.
“Six hundred companies applied to the Launch conference. Forty were selected to present. We are thrilled and honored to have won,” says Kevin Fliess, general manager and VP of product for Room 77. “The fact that Room 77 won validates the power of platforms and transparency. Our singular focus now is to have every three-star and above hotel featured in this game-changing hotel search solution.”
So what does Room 77 offer?
The chance for travelers to optimize their hotel-room choice before they check-in. It’s that simple.
The focus is on three-star and above property categories, and the site provides data, floor plans, descriptions and simulated views for more than 425,000 hotel rooms from 2,500 properties in 16 destinations, all in U.S. markets save for London, with more in the works. Currently, about 500 hotels are up on the site, with the others marked as “coming soon.” Some of the hotel companies already working with Room 77 include Starwood, Hyatt and Kimpton.
Basically, you choose a hotel and room category, then set your room preferences—options include high or low floor, view important or not important, elevator near or far, and whether you want a connecting room—and Room 77 lists the “Best Matching Rooms” from high to low—strong, fair to weak—based on percentages calculated from an algorithm that takes into account collected data points matched to your preferences.
Returned room details include floor and number, distance from elevator, type of view, bed type, room size, if it’s a smoking room, and whether it’s a corner or not.
It’s pretty straightforward. Rooms on high floors away from the elevator will rank high for people looking for those attributes, with the match percentage decreasing per lower floor and the closer to the elevators. Vice versa for guests preferring the opposite. The insider “Heard in the Lobby” tidbits are a nice touch, as is the “Request a Room” link, with suggestions on how to actually get the hotel to assign you to the room you now want—key information considering how you can’t specify rooms through online bookings yet, and you need to call the hotel directly for room requests.
Some cons: You can’t chose more than one room category at a time, and a few of the hotels I spot checked have incorrect information in their descriptions—a common problem for sites that license such data or rely on internet research to parse together content. Some of the virtual views also don’t quite match up to reality. Case in point: Last September I stayed in the corner room in the photo above (or one a floor just above or below it), but the actual view stretched all the way up the center of Manhattan, with the Empire State Building right in the middle. Although having even a general idea of what your hotel-room view will be is clearly a positive.
I’d also like to eventually see more categories added to the preferences, such as distance to emergency exit stairs (currently users can see where stairs are located on floor plans), ADA rooms and kitchenettes. As the site grows, it would be great to pinpoint amenities too, including coffee machine, mini bar and bathtub—items that have become less common in rooms in recent years but that are nonetheless desired by many travelers.
Including photos of each room and not just views from the rooms would be great perk too, though plenty difficult to pull off. But Room 77 is banking on its app users to help fill its database with that information and more. Read more about the Room 77 iPhone app in UpTake’s Friday’s Traveltechnology Weekly column.
The company so far has raised $3 million from more than a dozen investors, including founder and chairman Brad Gerstner, who’s also the founder and CEO of Altimeter Capital; Rich Barton, founder of Expedia and Zillow; Erik Blachford, former president and CEO of IAC Travel; Bob Pittman, founder of MTV; Hugh Crean, former president and CEO of Farecast; and Fliess, founder and former CEO of TravelMuse (full disclosure: I worked with Fliess at TravelMuse).
How well Room 77 succeeds depends on how many hotel room plans the company manages to add to its database and whether enough properties can (or will) accommodate guests’ requests for specific rooms. For a brief period last year, I attempted to gather floor plans and room details for the company from some hotels in New York, and none of the properties I approached would cooperate. While Room 77 has since gotten some brands on board, it also ended up gathering information from some hotels without their permission by simply taking photographs of floor plans from the backs of hotel-room doors or other public displays.
A few individuals in the hotel industry that I’ve spoken to regarding Room 77 agree that providing micro-level room details is a great service for travelers—and one they personally would be interested in—but acknowledge that it’s a challenging proposition for many hotel companies, particularly larger chains, and it could disrupt how room allocation processes are handled.
Still, transparency is everything these days, and it could mean a big shift for how the best hotel rooms are booked. In addition, the desire and the demand from the traveling public seem to be great enough to support such a change. In a survey conducted early this month by Harris Interactive, 84 percent of online adults say they would be interested in an online service that reveals details about specific hotel rooms, such as size, layout, amenities and views before check-in.
But as the adage says: Be careful what you wish for. A major downside could be the unbundling of the hotel-stay experience, not unlike in the airline industry, with potentially each service, perk and amenity assigned a cost.
Photo: screenshot from search on Room77.com
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