Forget those year-in-review articles that list the hottest trends in design, marketing, and business models among consumer-facing travel startups.
Instead, download the iOS app Stayful, which debuted yesterday. The app showcases the industry's conventional wisdom about what apps should be like today.
Some critics may say that the trend-hopping is a form of copy-catting, not to be admired.
Friends, on the other hand, may say that many successful companies take aspects of what has worked elsewhere and mix them to create something new -- and that Stayful is doing just that.
We leave the verdict to you.
But given that this app is representative of the hippest best practices among travel startups in 2014, it might be useful to review the key trends it encapsulates in detail.
Trend: Short booking windows
When you open the Stayful app, you're asked "What are your travel plans?" The default answers you see are for a hotel that is "hip" and "mid-priced" and for a reservation for a week from now in one of 25 cities in the US or Canada.
You can adjust the choices for trips for anytime within the next month. Short booking windows like that are trendy. This autumn, mobile-first pioneer HotelTonight switched to a seven-day booking window. So did Europe's Hot Hotels.
Short booking windows appeal to hotel revenue managers, who are more willing to offer discounts through third-party channels like Stayful only after their own efforts to generate direct bookings in advance have failed.
But short booking windows may not appeal to all consumers. Roughly one in three travelers use their devices to book hotels more than a month out, according to market researcher PhoCusWright.
Trend: Limit the choices, by default
Stayful defaults to a short list of hotel choices in its mobile app. That move echoes the early model of mobile-only booking app HotelTonight.
Fewer options often lead to more bookings by the types of consumers who may otherwise feel paralyzed when presented with a broad array of choices. (For the research on this, see "The Paradox of Choice.")
Many brands are experimenting with simplification. Witness TripAdvisor's just-launched HotelWatchdog service, the two-year-old hotel recommendation mobile tool Olset, and Hipmunk, the metasearch brand which has brought its signature filtering of results to mobile-only deals.
Trend: Be a Recommender
Stayful lets you choose from eight adjectives to describe the hotel style you prefer, such as "party" or "kid-friendly."
This illustrates another best practice right now: Filtering hotel search results to better reflect the personal tastes of individual travelers.
Similar startups in the trip-inspiration space include WayBlazer, IBM's Watson powered startup that launched this summer, Gogobot, which this autumn began local curation, and Nara, which aims to Pandorify hotel booking.
Trend: Payment with one touch
One of the big hurdles facing hotel apps -- especially ones from new brands that consumers haven't used before -- is getting customers to patiently type in their credit card information into the small fields on their devices.
Stayful offers a workaround to that problem by integrating Apple Pay functionality. Users can book a hotel with one touch of an iPhone button.
Within the next year, 100 million iPhones will support Apple Pay -- an install base that no Android mobile wallet can yet match. This potential audience explains why earlier this month month Priceline debuted Apple Pay integration, with other major brands expected to follow shortly.
Trend: Break with rate parity
The age of rate parity -- where the same lowest rate is available across channels -- is under attack. (See Priceline's pullback and an investigation into Expedia and Booking.com's practices.)
Stayful provides mobile-only rates that fall outside of those rate parity contracts. It does this by letting consumers bid for and instantly book rooms. Unlike the opaque model of Priceline -- where consumers don't know the hotel details until booking, or the semi-opaque model of Hotwire -- where consumers don't know the hotel name until booking, Stayful has all of the hotel property details upfront.
Stayful's average discount off of lowest available desktop rates is 16%, it says. Bookings are non-refundable.
Trend: Innovate in social
Last month, Stayful became the first travel company to enable users to book a hotel room by posting a message on social media site Twitter.
In contrast, Stayful's first couple of Facebook marketing efforts were unmitigated failures. Its first contest was poorly designed, and merely attracted drive-by giveaway hunters who weren't really interested in engaging with the brand or representing the target demographic.
Stayful persisted, though. Through trial and error, it's gotten it right. It says that its third campaign -- for a Seattle weekend getaway, in August -- met its goals. The key was finding suitable brand partners -- in this case, working with Refinery29 -- a trend-watching site for moneyed millennials and TheSkimm -- a daily e-mail list for trendy young women.
The company says that it now gets 41% of its traffic from Facebook.
Once again, Stayful is on trend. The startup is aiming to build an audience among the millennial crowd that's graduating from sofa surfing to suitcase-toting, young corporate types who have lots of disposable income. Traditional marketing channels aren't the best route for achieving a beach head among that demographic.
Trend: Keep the supplier interface simple
Hotels face vendor fatigue: they have too many third-party distribution tools they have to deal with. So travel technology startups must find ways to assure revenue managers that their solution won't take up much of their time.
Stayful has a Web-based hotel portal where managers upload their inventory. It autofills the discounted rates the company should offer, so that managers can choose not to individually make price decisions day after day.
Most of the hotels are on "pre-sell", meaning the properties set the channel to "open" or "closed." Stayful asks for trust from the hoteliers that it will only fill a reasonable number of rooms and not completely sell out their rooms.
Stayful doesn't work with any property management system (PMS). The company had assumed that this would be a big pain point, and it spent months building a bot that can drop a reservation into a hotel's booking engine.
But no hotel has used the bot. Independent hotels already have staff people manually inputting bookings from all third-party sites, such as Booking.com, and they just add the Stayful bookings to the list.
Trend: Do inventory hacking
One of the challenges of building a marketplace platform is that it takes a large effort to sign up enough suppliers to provide enough breadth to attract customers.
Stayful has signed up "hundreds" of hotels in key cities that have instant booking functionality enabled. But to grow its inventory list, it is Stayful is attempting short-circuit the door-to-door salesmanship scramble by waiting to see where its consumers want to stay first.
Stayful aggregates many hotels on its app and website that it hasn't yet contracted with. If a consumer expresses interest in a property, Stayful asks for the consumer's patience while it reaches out to the hotel to invite it to sign up to its platform and get the booking.
If the hotel declines within 24 hours, Stayful tries to tempt the consumer with a comparable property instead.
In one recent case, a Stayful customer kept coming back, day after day trying to book a particular hotel. After the third day's request, the hotel countered the bid with an alternative, somewhat higher rate.
The consumer drove a hard bargain and tried again, and the hotel then accepted the booking -- signing up with the startup in the process. The company crawls the web looking for hotels in 50 markets that meet its desired characteristics to add to its database.
Trend: Lead with visuals
Stayful's app displays a single large photo of a hotel, inside or out. Once again, it is "on trend."
Given that so many of the most popular Internet tools are primarily about visual content -- Instagram, Facebook, Buzzfeed, YouTube -- it makes for sense for travel companies to try to sum up the thousand things that could be said about any given hotel in a single image.
Stayful has an easier visual job than most other brands in ensuring that photos will be interesting than other online travel companies because it sources its inventory from hotels that describe themselves as "boutique" -- i.e., have eye-catching furniture and decor.
It doesn't work with global hotel chains, which tend to have neutral, generic designs.
Jetsetter led this visual trend in travel. But now every website and app, from Airbnb.com on down, is emphasizing the visual.
The backstory: Launched in New York City a year ago, Stayful has netted $2.4 million in a funding round led by venture capital firm Canaan Partners. (See Tnooz's Q&A.)
NOW THAT YOU UNDERSTAND STAYFUL'S NEW APP...check out these related analysis pieces:
Sorry, HotelTonight – some eye-opening data on the size of the last-minute mobile booking sector
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Everything you need to know about Apple Pay and the travel industry