We all know that booking a flight months in advance could fetch us a great deal. But, the equation with hotel booking is entirely different. There are lot of hotel rooms that get cheaper as the booking window reduces.
This is not true in all scenarios, but it is where the capacity exceeds demand.
Hotel rooms are perishable inventory, an unsold room is a permanent loss that cannot be recovered. A room-night lost is lost forever.
Across the globe, there exists significant opportunity for technology providers to expose these (potentially) unsold rooms to people who are looking for last-minute/day or same-day hotel rooms.
A growing list of companies provide this service, including the pioneer in this space - US-based HotelTonight. A lot of these players are focused on a particular region while global brands like Orbitz, Priceline and Expedia span the globe providing same-day bookings.
In the Asian market, is there a dedicated provider for same-day hotel bookings? CheckInTonight claims that they are the only player in this space in Asia.
"At the moment we see no real competition as there is no other true comparison to what we are offering. Although the traditional hotel booking sites such as Expedia, Agoda etc do offer same-day hotel bookings, our rates and personalised selection of hotels ensures that our users get the very best deals.
Our business is mobile only, where as other major OTA’s have an application as an extension of their traditional website business, we are focused on mobile, all product decisions are focused on making it the best mobile experience for our customers."
Cambodia-based CheckInTonight, founded in August 2012, provides the ability to book same day hotels, via their native mobile app.
The company is self-funded and the main team includes Mark Southby, managing director; Jo Elford, marketing manager and Ciaran Doyle, digital manager; development team.
The company is looking for first round investment in the coming months to expand its operation throughout Asia.
We had the opportunity to interview Mark Southby, MD, of CheckInTonight, to discuss the company's core value offering, differentiation and more:
Tell us how you founded the company, why and what made you decide to jump in and create the business.
From owning hotels we saw a real hole in the market in Asia for offering a service for very last minute hotel bookings. We also saw customers booking close to arrival and the amount of bookings coming from mobile devices increasing.
We saw an opportunity to offer customers an easier last minute booking solution than what was currently available in the market. As well as providing an avenue for hotels to move their distressed inventory without impacting their loyal customer base and negatively affecting their brand.
Describe what your start-up does, what problem it solves and for whom?
On average one in three hotel rooms go empty in Asia every night. Hotels are motivated to sell this distressed inventory at a reduced rate but are not willing to do so through normal distribution channels. Hotels that regularly use the major OTAs to deeply discount last minute inventory run the risk of impacting on their loyal customer base and negatively affecting their brand.
Hotels in each location compete every day (up until 11am), through our self service extranet, to be one of the three best deals to be featured on our app at 11am.
Why should people or companies use your startup?
For hotel partners:
We are only focused on same day bookings, so unlike other distribution channels we never compete with the hotels for advance purchases. We only look to help hotels sell inventory they know they will not sell today.
CheckInTonight is an online mobile marketplace for them to be able to safely move their last minute distressed inventory, without running the risk of having a negative impact on their brand and loyal customer base.
For our customers:
First and foremost we offer users unbeatable rates on quality hotels in Asia. The rates are better than anything else that can be found out there. We are mobile only, so the whole user experience has been optimised to make the selection and booking process seamless for the last-minute decision.
Other than going viral and receiving mountains of positive PR, what is the strategy for raising awareness and getting customers/users?
We believe word-of-mouth advertising is key to our model. We know that our offering is so good - people won’t be able to resist telling their friends about us.
We are completely focused on the customer experience - from the first time they launch the app through booking, resolving any issues, to post stay follow ups. As a start up we do not have the constraints the other more established OTAs are bound by, we are able to provide a more personalised touch.
Our referral program encourages our customers to become ambassadors, by sharing their personal promo code that is generated for them; they are able to earn $10 anytime someone makes their first booking with CheckInTonight. Potentially a gold mine for the early adopters of this.
What is your revenue model and strategy for profitability?
We work on a commission basis; we get a % of the room nights booked through our application. Profitability will come with scale, we have built a system that is extremely scalable, and we are already extending our reach throughout the region.
How did your initial idea evolve? Were there changes/any pivots along the way? What other options have you considered for the business if the original vision fails?
The initial idea came about from owning hotels and seeing the shortening of the customer booking window, we also were seeing a large percentage of the bookings coming via a mobile device. We have built an app that bridges those two together to make the perfect solution for making that last minute booking.
At this stage, there have been no deviations from the original idea, we are laser focused on mobile only and last minute bookings.
We have not considered other options; however we believe that we can easily adapt our technology to other parts of hospitality if we need to shift focus.
Where do you see yourselves in 3 years time, what specific challenges do you hope to have overcome?
In three years time we would like to see ourselves as the number one choice for customers in need of a last minute hotel room.
To be operating in more than 20 countries and partnering with some of the very best hotels in each class.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
Rate parity has become a real issue for hotels, as they have lost ownership of their product in how they are able to market and position themselves. We look to put some of the power back to the hotels by being able to offer our solution. Hotels own the product they are selling and we never get in the way of them selling directly to their customers, we only look to drive incremental demand for their hotels on the last day. From there the hotel has the opportunity to turn this one time guest into a loyal customer.
CheckInTonight's focus is the Asian market. We have to agree with the company that there are not many Asia-focused, mobile-only, same-day-hotel-booking providers.
On a global scale, there are companies like HotelTonight (US major), BlinkBooking (Europe), JustBook (Europe), Hot Hotels (Europe), LastRoom (Mexico), Booking.com Tonight (Global), and the likes of Expedia, Lastminute, Travelocity, Hotwire, Priceline that serve same day bookings.
In India, the major OTAs Cleartrip (through its Quickkeys feature) and MakeMyTrip offer same day hotel bookings.
Fundamentally, all companies listed here and CheckInTonight provide the same core service of booking same day hotels. The difference lies only in the features of the app such as the number of hotels that are displayed as deals per day. For instance, JustBook displays only five hotel deals per city per day, where as CheckInTonight displays only three hotel deals per city per day.
From our detailed analysis, we can say that CheckInTonight is the Asia's HotelTonight app. Almost every feature is similar between these two apps.
In this generation, there cannot exist a single company that does something unique that nobody else does. Success is multiplied by replicating that success. In the travel industry, the replication factor is steep.
CheckInTonight says that ~15% of all Asia hotel bookings are made on the same day, 65% of which comes from mobile devices. Booking windows are becoming shorter as guests become more confident that they will always find a last minute hotel.
As long as someone sees potential in a market and delivers value to people, does it really matter whether two apps are looking alike or not?
NB:TLabs Showcase is part of the wider TLabs project from Tnooz.