HotelTonight aims for 'serendipity' in last-minute travel

There’s a “serendipity of showing up in a city and booking a hotel at a moment’s notice,” says Sam Shank, CEO of the HotelTonight. Most travelers in that last-minute predicament probably wouldn’t describe their experience as serendipitous, but this new mobile travel startup wants to change that. Following a five-week preview release, HotelTonight officially launches today in six cities — New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Washington, D.C. and San Francisco. The company works directly with hotels to vet and find the best deals (along with amenities and locations) that HotelTonight thinks will attract the greatest interest and pleasurable travel experiences.

In each city, beginning at noon local time, HotelTonight publishes three hotel deals — hip, basic and elegant — at different price points and locations spread around the city for rooms that night only. HotelTonight isn’t just doing a copy-and-paste job either. It captures all of its own photos and writes unique descriptions for each hotel intended to depict the hotel as if you were actually there while highlighting key features. What’s important to the last-minute traveler? “The really practical information,” Shank said, like Wi-Fi, amenities, room service hours and breakfast options. An iron, for example, might not be so important for HotelTonight’s customers, he added. “We want to be very direct and get that across to the user as efficiently as possible,” he said. “We want to get you out of the app and into your room as soon as possible.” HotelTonight is operating under a fairly standard commission structure for the hotel industry, ranging from 20% to 25% typically, and Shank said he’s emboldened to see a valuable business model coalescing around that traditional scheme in such a short time. “We are setting out to build the next big travel brand in mobile,” he said. Down the line HotelTonight could add the capability for multiple-night stays and do even more with its invite-a-friend feature to build up word-of-mouth interest and increase engagement. At launch, HotelTonight is offering quite the incentive to get people signed up and on their way to their first booking. New users get $25 in credit to use for their first hotel stay and can earn another $25 for each friend they refer to the iOS app. The next cities on HotelTonight’s radar are Las Vegas, Seattle and Miami.

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