Twitter being the social-network-of-the-moment has managed to inspire many a company to examine how easy it might be – or not - to monetise its interconnectivity into a viable business.
Step forward Inoqo, a Twitter based, late room availability site which has got some of the consumer and tech media excited since it launched last week.
This is inevitable - Twitter has this affect on the media. But this isn’t a Twitter story at all - this is what Inoqo hopes will be a canny tale of travel distribution.
The short story is this: hotels can distribute distressed inventory (48 hours or less) via a local Twitter stream; hand over 15% commission to Inoqo; consumer walks away happy.
But the long story is inevitably far more complicated and full of risk, like any business built on a network that is still in its infancy and could be last year’s news in a short space of time.
The brainchild of a handful of tech-heads and hotel distribution (ex-Pegasus) veterans, Inoqo currently has around 100 or so hotels onboard.
The system requires hotels to sign up to the system and pump in offers for rooms available over the next 48 hours.
Inoqo then distributes the offers through a dedicated Twitter profile for that city, such as @2londonhotels or @2newyorkhotels, using technology it created similar to Hootsuite that re-tweets messages at specific points.
Each offer is tweeted with 48 hours to go, at 24 hours out and with six hours remaining.
If a deal is snapped up, Inoqo receives a 15% commission on the rack-rate for the room, rather than the offer price.
A week in and the Inoqo CityStreams page is growing rapidly.
Co-founder Bretton Putter says Inoqo hopes to have 300-500 hotels signed up within the next three weeks. It has a target of around 3,000 by Christmas 2009.
So what are the issues?
The first is how does Inoqo attract followers to a particular Twitter stream?
Putter says the company has a number of “aggressive and innovative” plans in place that will be based on using Twitter itself and other online processes such as affiliate relationships. He refuses to share any more of this particular secret sauce.
Like many an online travel business, word-of-mouth and PR will play a major part.
He does, however, believe that targeting a high volume of followers is not as important as some might believe. They are hoping that the a steady flow of people will follow and then unfollow as and when they need to find a late room, rather than constantly being locked into a particular city stream.
Another curious aspect of the Inoqo Twitter model is how it will control the potential clutter on the feed if hundreds, indeed thousands, of hotels pick up on the service.
Putter reckons the ideal format is to have 100 streams with just ten hotels featured in each. This will not be possible if the goal of 3,000 hotels by Christmas is realised, but the equation of ten properties per stream is sensible.
Clearly as more hotels are added, popular cities may have hyperlocal Twitter streams – London West End, London City, NYC Manhattan, NYC Queens, for example, to cope with the number of hotels available.
Finally, what about fulfilment and easy access to hotel systems? At the moment – and this may shock the tech purists out there – Inoqo is faxing bookings to hotels on the system, so that a reservation can be completed.
In an ideal world, Inoqo will have agreements with hotel chains at a higher and more central level, Putter admits, but for the time being contracting is carried out locally with individual hotels.
Perhaps another question to consider is whether hotels will be bothered to upload their distressed inventory into the Inoqo platform when it comes to the critical off-load time in the last 48 hours.