HotelTonight Expands to the UK, Endorses App-Centric Travel

London 2012

Mike Butcher:

HotelTonight, the last-minute discounted hotels booking app, is bringing its service to the UK, with an initial service in London launching today. In addition, Heather Leisman, most recently of the troubled Jetsetter travel startup, has joined as MD for Europe. The company has also opened its London-based office in the Shoreditch area of East London, widely acknowledged to be home to the largest single cluster of tech companies in the city. Additional cities in the UK and Europe are being planned.

Although I have yet to experiment with HotelTonight, this expansion strikes me as a shrewd endeavor, indeed. Moreover, I tend to regard such scaling as a resounding endorsement of a growing trend in contemporary travel.

London is on the precipice of the 2012 Olympic Games, and is about to endure an estimated influx of 5.7 million tourists, athletes, members of the press, and contributors to the Olympic workforce. Considering the steadily rising cost of entry into the general London vicinity during the time, the last-minute grapple for space and residence is going to be enormous.

Despite missing lucrative opportunities surrounding the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, HotelTonight stands to make a solid impact upon the traveling populace if done correctly. Conversely, if the company fails to scale appropriately during such a visible event, the startup may well undermine its relevance for a broad stroke of International travelers, thereby hamstringing its growth and brand sanctity.

Beyond the immediate questions surrounding HotelTonight’s expansion to the UK, however, is the quiet endorsement of the app-centric travel model. Lacking a robust web interface, HotelTonight is utterly reliant upon its Android and iOS apps. For the traveler, such a phenomenon is not only interesting but, I daresay, truly compelling.

Having relied upon Über for the past week, my life on the road has become measurably easier. Rather than spending time searching for cabs — of which there are five in San Francisco — I simply ordered, waited for a moment, and was greeted by a town car and a bottle of water. Equally, electronic boarding passes have made quick dashes to the airport that much easier. Although there’s certainly no great hardship in printing a boarding pass at home or at a kiosk, it’s the little things in travel that can reshape an experience.

Be it shaving a moment from the wait in security, right down to the feeling of confidence in a cab, the experiential gains do wonders for your state of mind.

In this vein, I have been wholly won over by the app-centric travel model. Due to the ubiquity of my digital devices, feeling in touch with an alien environment becomes an endeavor in sheer mindless habit. In foregoing the traditionally cumbersome web interface, travel apps have — in essence — adopted the “one thing well” mentality that has become so successful in the mobile-driven experience.

Perhaps the most resounding endorsement of this phenomenon lies within iOS 6.

With the announcement of Passbook — an app designed to contain information from all of your tickets, vouchers, and gift cards — Apple has evidently identified the trend toward mobile-centric travel and commerce, and has demonstrated its eagerness for involvement. Providing a centralized repository for the work of multiple apps, Apple has inserted itself as the binding glue on the behalf of the consumer and developer, thereby ensuring the endearment of its brand, and — simultaneously — the encouragement of the development of such apps specifically for the iOS platform.

As I say, it is truly the little things that redefine a travel experience. In this sense, Apple’s seamless unification of all elements of flights, commerce, and — I imagine in future — hotels and the like, serves to further dull the traditionally jarring pain of travel in a truly unique manner.

For my part, I certainly hope this trend continues and ventures into the realms of innovative novelty. For the average airline, hotel, or transportation business, there should be a well-entrenched understanding of the distinct sense of pain that travel instills in the average consumer. Utilizing near-ubiquitous technology for the improvement of this environment — even through the smallest of gestures — will prove invaluable to the brand value of a company.

When such knowledge is coupled with Apple’s evident intrigue in the industry, there is a clear window of opportunity for increased customer satisfaction, innovation, and improvement, and I certainly hope the chance is not needlessly squandered.