Room Key Could Be the Answer, But It Needs All the Brands

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The fact the six founding partners of Room Key are going to be directing an equal proportion of consumers from THEIR booking websites to Roomkey.com showing five of their biggest competitors' offerings tells you plenty about how important this venture is to them. The fact Marriott, Hilton, Wyndham, Choice, IHG and Hyatt all got together in the same room and wrote significant checks to make this happen tells you how much they want to decrease their reliance on OTAs. (Check out a full story on what Room Key is, and how it will work.)

Sure, it's not just about that, but there's little doubt that is the driving force behind this. Over the past year and longer it has been hard not to see the writing on the wall, as one brand company executive after another talked about how they had to wean themselves and their franchisees from relying on bookings from the Expedias of the world and especially from costlier opaque channels like Priceline.

Let's be clear, those channels aren't going away, and hoteliers understand that. But as demand continues to increase, the focus has to be on maximizing revenue through the most profitable channels. And besides someone walking in the front door and booking a room at check-in, the brand.com site is about the easiest and most lucrative option available.

Room Key was created to provide consumers with an OTA-like shopping experience that directs them to the brand.com site for booking the same and best price they'd find anywhere else. Most of the hotel companies have spent the better part of recent years working on lowest-rate guarantees that have resulted in rate parity no matter what channel a traveler books through.

The key to Room Key's success will be getting the entire universe of hotels to offer shoppers, who by definition like to shop by comparing prices and offerings. Sure, the current inventory will draw some consumers, but to really move the needle and draw a share of business from powerhouses like Expedia, Room Key must have all the branded properties and even the independents, especially in markets like San Francisco, South Beach, New York and Las Vegas.

Can that happen? Time will tell, but launching with six of the heavyweights and then adding Best Western a day later is a great start. Adding the Starwood and Carlsons of the lodging world, and the economy brands mostly absent now, like Americas Best Value Inn, Magnuson, Motel 6 and Red Roof, will give customers a reason to shop on Room Key.

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