It was 1995 when Paul Graham -- who has since become famous by creating the Y Combinator startup accelerator -- helped to build the first tool to enable mom-and-pop businesses to build online stores. Users could load inventory and take payments without needing to know how to program.
Now it is 2014, and it is bizarrely only today that owners of small hotel, bed-and-breakfasts, and vacation rentals have a way of doing the same thing without having to take part in an affiliate program with a third-party travel company like Expedia Affiliate Network.
Well, not exactly. Free publishing tools like WordPress have long had booking engine plug-ins. But you've had to know a bit of code to host the sites on your own servers, and you've had to have some design chops to make the sites shine.
An easier and equally inexpensive solution became available this month.
Wix, a website builder that raised $122 million in a November IPO, has debuted a tool meant to appeal to the owners of bed-and-breakfasts, small hotels, and vacation rentals: a "commission-free" booking engine widget.
Wix, an Israeli firm, hosts the websites of 50 million users worldwide -- about 30% of which are in the US. More than 10,000 of those users are marketing small hotels, B&Bs and vacation rentals.
A few of these properties have beta-tested Wix's booking engine, including the Reina Mora resort in Andalucía, Stardust Villa Rentals in Florida, and Baymont Inn & Suites in Cordele, Ga.
Members subscribe to Wix's web hosting and site-design services for a recurring fee. The new booking engine widget, called WixHotels, can be integrated with a single click into an existing Wix website.
The widget lets users manage room inventories. It has booking, reservation, and payment management capabilities. It lists rates in 11 currencies.
Targeting the long-tail of hospitality
Nir Zohar, the company's president, said in an interview:
"We expect Wix to become one of biggest sales aggregators worldwide for bed and breakfast and boutique hotels."
This is aimed at the so-called "long-tail" of the market. The tool does not integrate with property management or central reservation systems.
But that shouldn't bother many mom-and-pop operations that are practically still using pencil and paper to track details. The Wix dashboard can do double-duty as a bare-bones inventory system. It lets users manually add reservations made outside the system to the ones made through it.
At launch the booking engine widget is free, but Zohar told Tnooz that the company will eventually add "a nominal recurring fee", without taking any commission on the booking. Total cost for a typical bed-and-breakfast would likely be under $50 a month, once you factor in all the other subscription services one is likely to add as well for a property website.
The company doesn't offer design guidance, though it has a blog that showcases best practices in website-making.
That model would be cheaper for owners than the 15%-to-30% commissions and fees charged for bookings made via an online travel agency or the 10% costs that are typical via a holiday home or peer-to-peer rental platform.
Unlike other hosting services, Wix works on a user's own webpage.
Zohar says the company's main marketing effort will be emailing its users to tell them about the product's existence. He said it wasn't clear if WixHotels would add, eventually, a $1 million a year or $20 million a year contribution to the company's bottom line.
He added that Google's search engine algorithm changes have in recent years begun to favor a property's own webpage over the webpages of intermediaries in local search results. The Wix product doesn't offer much in search engine optimization on its own.
UPDATE: Wix has responded by asking us to note that:
Wix provides a plethora of rich tools to allow website owners to optimize there sites for SEO including our SEO Wizard (short video here).
MORE: 7 critical elements for a successful hotel website (which often get forgotten)