Hotel Tonight Adapts To Meet 'Promise' Of Mobile Distribution

Since its launch in 2011, mobile app Hotel Tonight has come to epitomize the last-minute hotel booking space: a sleek presentation of same-day deals for travelers seeking same-day bookings. Although this somewhat limited its utility in the corporate travel space__business travel, even outside of managed travel, does not always lend itself to waiting until the day of travel to book a hotel__the company in recent months has undergone some changes to increase its appeal to business travelers.

First of all, the "tonight" in its name has become something of a misnomer. Last September, Hotel Tonight__which now offers deals for 15,000 hotels in North America, Europe and a growing presence in Latin America__expanded its booking window to up to a week before travel. COO and co-founder Jared Simon said through discussions with both travelers and hotels, the company found there was little difference in the thought process of someone booking six days in advance compared with someone booking on the same day.

"We were the only ones who were defining it otherwise, so our big criterion to move forward was whether we could do it in a way that didn't disrupt the seamlessness and simplicity of the app," Simon said. "We realized we didn't need to change the booking flow or app at all."

The advance-booking feature has grown "substantially" since its launch, including a 55 percent month-over-month growth in volume in December, he said. Business travelers have been a large part of that growth.

"What we're hearing from business travelers is that the same-day thing helps when they're in a pinch, but often they're not in that pinch and still need to book at the last minute," he said. "Their meetings have changed, and they know that their schedule is getting changed up for the next few days, for example. It's seeing a much bigger proportion of those business travelers booking on Hotel Tonight at this point."

About a week ago, Hotel Tonight launched its latest feature, one Simon said is the new frontier in mobile booking: the ability for hotels to localize deals by geography. If a hotel in New York, for example, usually got a certain percentage of its bookings from Washington, D.C., but found it was suddenly running below that volume, it could target an offer seen only by users in Washington. Similarly, if that same hotel found itself lacking occupancy after 3 p.m., it could target an extra-discounted rate to users in the immediate vicinity of the hotel.

Hotel Tonight's mobile-only platform provides a capability for such geo-targeting that web-based booking engines cannot, he said.

"For us, this is the promise of mobile; the notion of being able to connect hoteliers with guests based on contextually rich information that makes the offers much more relevant for both," Simon said. "Hotels have never had that opportunity, a channel where they can surgically target."

Of course, Hotel Tonight's utility for managed corporate travel programs remains limited, Simon acknowledged. It's a tougher balancing act when negotiated rates are involved, and keeping the app's simplicity is a top priority, he said. Even so, Simon said there "are opportunities and conversations we're having to have our products fit the managed world."

"Employees are going to use the tools that will make them the most successful at their jobs, and in my corporate experience, where there are policies that are inconsistent with productivity, I'm choosing productivity," he said. "That kind of groundswell is going to pave the way for us to do a really interesting deal on the managed side."