HotelTonight has confirmed a memo leaked to TechCrunch: It’s expanding from same-day hotel bookings to allow people to book up to seven days in advance.
At an event in San Francisco Thursday night announcing the news, CEO Sam Shank argued it’s still very much in line with the company’s mission. “For some people spontaneous means booking ten minutes before,” Shank said. “For others it’s deciding to go to Napa over the weekend on the Tuesday prior.”
Prices for a week in advance may not be as cheap as same-day booking, but it gives customers the peace of mind of knowing where they’re going to stay. A trade-off, if you will. With the new feature, HotelTonight also introduced themed hotels, where people can surf categories like “hotels with great bars” and “spa retreat” and “stay near the football stadium” to find one that suits their fancy.
The mobile-first-and-only application carved out a solid niche for itself over the past four years, helping hotels fill up empty rooms by offering discounts to HotelTonight customers. In turn, customers learned to rely on the app for their last minute needs. The elegant, visually-focused design of the product made it easy to book on the fly.
That mix challenged the time-honored M.O. for legacy booking companies like Expedia and Priceline. After noticing the challenger in their midst, the traditional sites introduced their same-day-on-the-go booking features. With bigger brand name recognition of its competitors, it was initially a scary moment for HotelTonight, Shank and co-founder Jared Simon admitted. But they said their business continued to grow, with revenue increasing 100 percent year over year.
Of the vanity metrics they’d release: They’ve crossed 11 million downloads, launched in 500 cities, and 30 countries. Half of the people booking a hotel are repeat customers of the app. Take that for what you will; I’d rather see number of bookings but like most private companies, HotelTonight is holding its cards close to its chest.
With the week-ahead booking, HotelTonight returns the copycat compliment, creeping – albeit very slightly – in the direction of its competitors. It’s not surprising – the bigger startups grow the more they expand beyond their niche, tackling other markets or adding new products. Just look at Uber and logistics. But Shank and Simon said this will be the last of their date-booking-extension. They’re not trying to be the next Expedia.
The duo stayed mum on whether partnerships with airlines or car rental companies were in the works. They admitted it was certainly plausible, but said such branches would never be core to the HotelTonight experience. The company has focused on cherrypicking interesting, independent hotels to feature among the chains, and it invests serious energy writing copy to bring these venues to life in the app. “There’s not such an interesting story to tell about these other options,” Smith said.