Monday, February 28, 2011

A New Hotel Website Makes Its Debut, But Frankly I'm Skeptical As To Its Utility

Longitude and latitude: two extremely important issues for travelers when they're choosing a hotel room, right? 

(Photo by Rich Anderson)
The folks who are behind the new hotel site Room 77 are betting that consumers care deeply. They will have this info, as well as the altitude of rooms, their square footage, whether or not they have connecting doors, how many feet they are from the elevator and more minutia in their new online database.  The site is being billed as the first for rooms in hotels and not just hotels. It will be a "Seat Guru" for accommodations, if you will, with the added bonus that currently rooms are priced at the same levels, if they're in the same category (ie queen-sized bed rooms vs suites or king-sized rooms). 

At this point, the site does not sell rooms, but will instead hand off consumers to their partners at Orbitz or the hotels directly, when it comes time to book. Room77 allows users to input a handful of criteria (view, how far from the elevator, etc.) to choose the appropriate room. To gather its info, the site will rely on crowd-sourcing, floor plans that are already in the public domain, info from the hotel chains directly (they hope they'll verify the info online) and Google Earth views. About a dozen US cities and London are currently represented on the site (and its app), 3-star and up properties only.

Here's why I think that all of this effort will likely come to naught: most people don't actually want this type of information. 

What is REALLY important in a hotel room: 
  That its quiet enough to sleep in (and being near an ice machine or a noisy neighbor will be much more disruptive than a nearby elevator. The thickness of the walls is also key); 
   That the mattress is good; 
   That room smells okay and is clean. 

None of these questions are being addressed by Room77 and I don't know how they could be, without turning it into more of a straightforward review site. 

View will be important to some folks, but you don't need this site to ask for a view! You just tell the hotel before check-in what you want and hopefully a high room, pointing in a scenic direction, will be available. Getting a view ain't rocket science. 

As for the info on room size: except for much older properties, most modern hotels have standard room sizes within each category  and they vary, at most, by a foot or two. In fact, when I was toggling around on the Room77 site, I found there to be NO difference whatsoever in the square footage listed for the room categories I chose. 

Finally, the location of the hotel itself is usually the key decision when looking for accommodations. It trumps all other considerations, in my view.

Sure, there are some super-picky travelers who might like the idea of this site. But I'm guessing that even they will be disappointed by it in the end. These are the folks who make a habit of requesting to see several rooms before they settle. How will they be able to substitute looking at online stats for their own in-depth, on-site snooping? I don't think the experience will be as reassuring for them. 

Who knows? Maybe I'm being too pessimistic. I hope I am as obviously a lot of creative, driven people have poured hours of work into this new site. One can only wish them well. (Even if I can't think of any reason I, personally, would ever use this new site.) 

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