Tech Entrepreneur Eyes Next Level Of Hotel Booking Automation

Travel technology entrepreneur Gadi Bashvitz aims to move hotel booking automation beyond online booking into what he calls "proactive booking," in which rooms are booked for travelers without the need to enter any information or search through results.

As a step toward that ideal, Bashvitz in recent weeks launched the beta version of hotel booking platform Olset (pronounced as "all set"). Primarily targeting unmanaged, frequent business travelers, the platform uses an algorithm developed by Bashvitz and his team to match traveler preferences with just three hotel options that best fit those preferences. If a traveler demands a hotel with fast Wi-Fi or a well-equipped fitness center, for example, the system searches for hotels that have those amenities.

To make that determination, Olset scours such "unstructured data" as TripAdvisor reviews or Facebook posts to aggregate what other travelers have said about properties. If travelers frequently praise a hotel's gym or pan its sluggish Internet service, that property will be scored accordingly. Travelers also can indicate preferences to certain brands.

The hotels Olset returns include the one with the best rate, the one that is closest to a traveler's destination and the best fit to his or her preferences.

"For frequent travelers and unmanaged business travelers, it takes way too long to really get the information that you need," said Bashvitz, who estimates he logged about 2.1 million miles and 1,000 hotel nights as a traveler in his previous career as a tech company executive, most recently for Merced Systems. "If you want to spend a day or two reading TripAdvisor reviews or Facebook posts, you can find it, but who has the time?" Bashvitz asked.

An earlier version also included a feature that automatically built profiles for travelers. It could examine past trips booked through Expedia or Orbitz, for example, or look through a traveler's Facebook activity to see what they "like" as well as other indicators of hotel preference. Ardent swimmers might want hotels with large pools, for example. Bashvitz said he plans to reintroduce that feature in the next couple of months.

Using preset preferences to filter content so that travelers need see only a few choices is not a new concept. Rearden Commerce took that same approach a few years ago with the Deem Platform and its "relevance engine," which matches inventory to a traveler profile. Bashvitz, however, also wants Olset to alter the booking process itself.

Originally, Bashvitz sought to tie the tool to voice-activated assistants__the iPhone's Siri, for example__but found that "speech-enabled tools are not mature enough today." Instead, he decided to tie into calendars and virtual assistants to automate bookings. If a traveler puts a meeting into an iPhone calendar that takes place at a certain address, for example, Olset automatically will send three hotel options to the traveler available for those dates. Olset also is partnering with virtual assistant technology suppliers to integrate with their planning tools. It already has a partnership with and is in discussions with others including Dextra's Friday portal, EasilyDo, Tempo and Sunrise.

"We can automate the entire booking process where you never search for the hotel," Bashvitz said. "It comes to you, because it knows you're traveling."

Additionally, Olset is eyeing online travel agency partners__it's already partnered with GetGoing__as well as traditional agencies that have expressed interest in providing the tool to their agents. It also still is talking to partners on the voice-activated side, Bashvitz said.

Olset is HTML5-enabled and works on any mobile device; Bashvitz purposely avoided creating a native app. "We wanted to be able to serve our content within our partners' native apps," he said. "The HTML5 content is white-labeled, so it looks like their content."

Ultimately, Bashvitz said he'd like the tool to simply book a hotel automatically based on need and preferences, though travelers for now overwhelmingly still prefer a chance to choose from a few properties.

"People are not yet ready to hand over the reins to an automated virtual agent that will pick the one for them automatically. They want to be involved," he said. "In three to five years, as our technology improves and as people become more comfortable with the process, we will get there, to the point where people do not even initiate travel and their confirmations will pop up."

As Olset still explores its potential angles, it also has designed a tool for the managed corporate travel environment and has been in discussions with some mega travel management companies, Bashvitz said. On the managed side, the tool would layer travel preferences with company requirements, such as preferred properties or maximum rates.

"We haven't implemented that design yet, and we won't in the next couple of months, but depending on how some of these talks go, we might get there soon," Bashvitz said. "It's still a juggling act, as to which angles we pursue and which we don't."