Hotel Tonight International Expansion
Hotel Tonight has seen huge growth yet it still hasn't expanded into Asia with hotel's like Starwood's St. Regis hotel, which opened in late 2011 in Lhasa, Tibet.Starwood

The Hotel Tonight app was a simple idea. Connect hotels who have rooms to sell in the next 24 hours with customers who need to book a room at the last minute.

Add heavy curation, on-demand customer service and a slick mobile experience and what you have is the antithesis of websites like hotels.com and booking.com, where everything is a race to the bottom.

Hotel Tonight doesn't promise you the lowest price, but what it does is give you that personal touch which has not been seen in the hotel booking industry since before the internet age.

And that, says co-founder and COO Jared Simon, is the crux of the problem with the current way the industry operates.

"The relationships hotels have with the online distribution services are pretty poisonous in reality. The relationships traditionally have just not been very good. I would say it is pretty bad," he said.

Expansion

Simon, co-founder of the app, which launched in 2009, spoke to IBTimes UK in London during a whistle-stop tour of Europe ahead of this week's announcement of an international expansion with four new offices in Berlin, Paris, Toronto and Sydney.

This announcement comes on the back of Hotel Tonight last week launching the ability to book up to seven days in advance rather than 24 hours.

This, Simon says, will increase the app's addressable market from around 15% to more than 50% of hotels bookings. To help with this expansion, and its growth internationally, Hotel Tonight has also just appointed a team of executives under the leadership of Oliver Jung, who most recently oversaw the international expansion of AirBnB.

Bludgeon

Simon is clearly passionate about this new way of dealing with hotels, and customers, and believes that the old way of doing things just does not work anymore.

"What these online sites have done is taken their market power, in terms of having online eyeballs, and they really used it as a bludgeon with hotels to force them to play whatever game these online site want them to play."

This, Simon says, means that hotels have had their control taken away over how they run their businesses.

Hotel Tonight wants to change that relationship, wants to give the power back to the hotel industry and Simon says it is doing that through "complete flexibility and complete information empowerment" to allow hotels to run their own businesses as they see fit.

Marketplace

Hotel Tonight is less a hotel booking app and more of a platform or a marketplace, allowing hotels to connect with the people, who want to book rooms at the last minute. If they don't want to put there rooms for sale on the app, then they don't have to.

The advent of mobile computing and the ubiquity of wireless connectivity has made "pure-play mobile" businesses like Hotel Tonight and Uber a possibility says Simon, as people are finally using smartphone apps to do the things, which traditionally they did at their desks or over the phone.

Simon says that by working with hotels constructively allows Hotel Tonight to get "much better inventory" because hotels appreciate getting back control.

The expansion to seven-day booking poses the obvious question about whether or not Hotel Tonight will soon be offering bookings months or even years in advance, just like those online reservation sites, which Simon says have poisoned their relationship with hotels.

"If there is a way we could do that [12-month advance booking] and we feel like we are remaining focused on providing a really focused product then we would do it, [but] we haven't figured out that way yet. Seven days was easy for us."

Kicking hotels out

As the company expands, it is going to get more and more difficult to make sure it remains a polished and personal experience for users. There are now 10,000 hotels signed up to the use Hotel Tonight and making sure that each of these meets customers expectations is something the company takes very seriously.

Simon says that every day he and his team reject many hotels who are looking to work with Hotel Tonight, as they don't meet the exacting standards needed. And those standards are maintained even after a hotel is accepted.

"We measure user reviews, we measure guest issues, we measure every aspect of out relationship with the hotel and the guest relationships with our hotels and we are constantly putting hotels on probation or taking them off the app if they are not performing at the level we need them to perform," he said.

Aggressive

The service is now available in 20 cities in the UK, 500 cities worldwide and the app has been downloaded more than 11 million times. This year the app will book double the number of hotel rooms it booked in 2014, with 50% of those booking on the app now being repeat customers.

Despite this significant growth, the opportunities for further expansion are huge. Hotel Tonight is yet to expand into the Middle East, Africa or Asia as well as a huge number of cities in the countries it already operates in.

Simon says he has set "aggressive internal goals" and in five years time sees Hotel Tonight "becoming the de facto booking destination on mobile", the first place people turn to when they think about booking a hotel.

"Our ultimate goal is to be ubiquitous, we want to be wherever you are, wherever you might need a hotel, we want to be there."