For the last year-and-a-half, Room Key, a new venture owned by six of the world’s largest hotel companies, has been flying under the radar, and CEO John F. Davis III says that’s exactly as he intended it to be. Not so anymore. Today, Room Key, founded by Choice Hotels International, Hilton Worldwide, Hyatt Hotels Corporation, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), Marriott International, and Wyndham Hotel Group, launched Roomkey.com, its booking website and search engine designed to help hotels distribute rooms more easily, accurately, and directly in the vast universe of Internet booking engines.
According to Davis, the website is designed to increase the simplicity and transparency of hotel bookings for consumers while increasing the personal relationships hotels have with their guests.
“This is a great boost to the hotel industry. It’s new and obviously different,” Davis told Lodging this morning in an interview. “There are an overwhelming number of sites out there. It’s confusing. In many ways it’s hard enough to figure out how to even book a room.”
Roomkey started when three of the hotel companies got together and began discussing the confusion that is in the marketplace. They were looking at how to make booking a hotel room a better experience for the consumer. “It’s different than booking an airline. There’s much more choice than a window or aisle when it come to hotels,” Davis said.
And, of course, the hotels were looking at ways to reduce the cost of distribution. “More and more rooms are being sold online through various third-parties and their market share continues to go up as does the cost,” Davis said. “Hoteliers have got to figure out a way to reduce the cost of distribution thereby improving their own margin. Roomkey is a lower cost distribution channel for hoteliers.”
Roomkey.com will allow consumers to book directly from the hotel. In the near future it will also offer independent reviews and the ability to compare, plan, and share with friends and family. Davis says Roomkey will initially focus on U.S. travelers, but will soon expand to English-speaking regions outside of the United States.
“You’re not going through a third party; you’re booking directly with the hotel and its website,” Davis said. “So the hotels can do what they do. They can take care of you as a guest. They know who you are. They can give you loyalty points. If you have a problem you can deal directly with the hotel. There’s none of the ‘I don’t know who you are, go back to the third-party you booked with to solve the problem.’ That’s not in the hoteliers’ DNA. Their DNA is to take care of guests, not give them the runaround. They can only do that if they know who you are and you have a relationship with them. That’s what we are providing.”
The site uses a technology platform from hotelicopter, which it acquired in an asset deal last year.
With the backing of top hotel companies working together, the site shows promise for battling the increasing expensive distribution costs being experienced via third-party agents, according to Davis. Getting six competitors to work together is a significant accomplishment, he said.
“Getting six competitors to work together for the good of the industry is a challenge, but they all have stepped up and they’ve committed their money and resources,” he said. The hotel companies each have a board member at the company and Davis reports to them. They’ve also committed their own people to be involved to bring the site to market.
Davis says a seventh major hotel company is involved but the timing was not right to include it in the initial announcement. He expects a separate announcement to be distributed very soon. He also says the company is in talks with several other hotel companies to join the group
“We need to extend the inventory of course,” Davis said, indicating that the company would like to increase the number of hotel companies involved. The site currently offers approximately 23,000 hotels. Davis would like to see upward of 80,000 hotels by the middle of the year.
UPDATE: On Jan. 12, Best Western
International announced today that it has signed on as the first
commercial partner to supply hotel inventory to Room Key. “Best Western
is in the business of maximizing revenue delivery to our member hotels,
while enabling our guests to book effectively through their preferred
channels,” said Dorothy Dowling, senior vice president of marketing and
sales, Best Western International. “By providing direct access to our
brand’s inventory, Room Key is in effect an extension of our branded
website, one that strengthens the business case for our individual
hotels. We see this venture as an important tool to enhance Member
value, and another example of our 360 degree thinking on behalf of the
entrepreneurs who make up our brand.”
The site is currently in beta form. “We’ve got a number of enhancements to come. We wanted to get it up and start explaining it from an owner’s perspective,” Davis said.
He said the consumer outreach will begin in March. “We have a number of creative ideas to get the name out there,” he said. “Quite frankly, we’re going to leverage the marketing strength of our owners.”
He declined to give details at this point to protect the company’s launch plans. He did indicate that the reviews are one of the enhancements that the site needs before the consumer push.