With $1.1 million in funding recently secured, the team behind automated hotel booking platform Olset now is pursuing partnerships with travel management companies, online travel agencies, expense management suppliers and travel app developers.
Olset claims to find personalized hotel recommendations for travelers by matching traveler preferences against data from such sources as TripAdvisor reviews and Facebook posts. It attracted funds from investors including Montage Ventures and Digital Garage 500 Startups, and added former American Express Global Business Travel vice president Hervé Sedky to its advisory board. Now, the company's goal is "proving out that this model really works," said Olset founder and president Gadi Bashvitz.
Olset currently has pilots in place with a few OTAs, which Bashvitz would not name. In those pilots, Olset is enriching data on hotels in the OTA databases with its own "sentiment data," he said. At the same time, Olset can use historical traveler data automatically to build profiles for travelers, so when those travelers search, those OTAs can use the sentiment data to weigh results and provide explanations as to why a hotel is a match—a traveler whose profile ranks fitness as important would see that a hotel’s gym received stellar marks, for example.
Those partnerships now are moving into their third phase, which is "live production in some countries," according to Bashvitz. Olset in those cases is running “completely in the background,” he said.
Bashvitz said he similarly is pursuing relationships with corporate TMCs, as Olset's algorithm can consider corporate travel policies. "It's pretty basic right now, but we can first find hotels that are a match for a traveler, then overlay the company policies, which hotels you prefer and have agreements with," he said.
Olset also is looking for ways to integrate with expense management systems and use "data on what you've booked in the past to integrate the whole booking process from there," Bashvitz added.
Olset also continues to seek partnerships with app providers—particularly productivity apps. It already has integrated with personal planning app Any.do.
Olset also has expanded upon its initial booking concept—integration with calendars and virtual assistants to drive bookings. Knowing that not everyone will want to give access to those, Bashvitz said the company now is developing other booking methods. Travelers, for example, can email booking metrics or send a calendar invite to Olset to receive booking suggestions. The company also is exploring Twitter, texting and other methods to manage bookings.
Total booking automation in the corporate travel space likely will face some resistance from travelers themselves. Steven Mandelbaum, vice president of information systems for The Advisory Board Co., said he had once tested in focus groups the idea of an automated wizard that let agents book based on information from calendars. It did not go over as he expected. "I thought there would be ticker-tape parades and they were going to erect a statue of me, but they were ready to throw stones at me," Mandelbaum said. "They don't want to dig and dig and dig, but they do want to see choices."
Bashvitz from the start acknowledged that most travelers were not yet ready to completely cede booking choices to a virtual agent, which is why Olset offers a few options for booking rather than automatically booking a single property. It also has integrated with travel comparison technology supplier ClickTripz to allow travelers to see pricing from various sites so that "they are comfortable they are getting the right pricing," Bashvitz said.