Future of Travel: ‘Plan less. Live more,’ Amir Segall, VP International at HotelTonight

Founded in 2011, the Silicon Valley start-up HotelTonight has had a meteoric rise. Reaching profitability in just six short years it is now the leading platform for last minute hotel bookings with over 21 million app downloads. The latest data on the booking window for hotels shows 50% of bookings in the US are made within 3 days of check-in, and in Europe it’s 50% within 7 days, HotelTonight seeks to make it as easy as possible for customers to ‘plan less’ and ‘live more’, offering last-minute rates on unsold rooms.

We caught up with Amir Segall, VP International at Hotel Tonight, ahead of his key note presentation at our upcoming event, Future of Travel: Man vs. Machine, to give you a sneak preview of his thoughts.

HotelTonight has really disrupted the last minute hotel booking market, what are the key trends that have enabled HotelTonight to do this?

"First of all, mobile seems very obvious today; but when the company started, six years ago, it was quite unusual to be a mobile-only company. I have to give kudos to the founders that they identified that trend early on. Today, we live in a world where, about 50% of hotel bookings are made on mobile devices. Since our whole DNA as a company is ‘mobile’ we have an advantage when it comes to creating an exceptional mobile first experience."

"Having previously worked in ecommerce, at Zalando and Groupon, the objective is to keep the customer on the website for as long as possible. On mobile it is completely the opposite, you want them to be in and out as quickly as possible. With HotelTonight this is the promise of our product - you can book a Hotel with three taps and a swipe, so about 10 or 15 seconds!"

"The other key trend for us is obviously last-minute. In the US today, almost 65% of bookings are last-minute, or just one week in advance, and we see similar trends in Europe. The rise of on-demand services such as Uber means that everybody wants everything right now, available at a moment's notice. Specifically when it comes to hotel booking, this enables people to live a much more spontaneous life."

Travel companies today have more data than ever before. How does HotelTonight use put its data to work to deliver value to its users?

"The most prominent piece of data you have available on mobile is location. We have been utilising location throughout our development. A very high percentage of our customers are happy to share this data with us because we build very specific features that provide clear value."

"The most prominent example of that is a product we have which is called GeoRates. This is basically location-based discounts that hotels can give to consumers in the vicinity, that are opening the app right now, to capture their interest when intent is at it’s highest."

"The hotel industry is one of the most dynamic industries in the world when it comes to revenue management. Prices are changed several times a day, and so we try to use the data that we have to help hotels to optimise their revenue and optimise that operation, and we do that through dedicated platforms that we provide to them which echo the simplicity we have created in our customer facing app."

There is a lot of hype around artificial intelligence and chatbots in the industry at the moment. How does HotelTonight balance ‘Man vs. Machine’ when it comes to customer experience?

"We’ve actually taken quite a different approach to this, developing a product called HT Pros. It’s a personal concierge service, but it’s actually a human sitting behind the chat, that can make personal recommendations, deal with specific requests and more. The reason we didn’t go down the chatbot route straight away is that we felt at this stage, when it comes to these type of on-demand, hyper-personalised interactions, the technology is not quite there yet. It’s critical that our customers have a good experience, so this marriage of the product, with the human touch is what we think works best right now."

"That’s not to say we aren’t on the lookout for this kind of technology, we always stay very close to the trends. The biggest challenge right now is scaling this process, so that’s where the machines come in. We can automate some processes and create tools for the people behind the chat to make things more efficient, so they can focus on giving the customer the best experience."

Finally, a bit of a difficult question. For you, what is the future of travel?

Well, this might sound funny to you, but I would be very happy if we see commercial space travel become a reality during my lifetime!

Amir Segall is a contributor to the upcoming Future of Travel: Man vs. Machine report, and will be joining us on the 21st March in London at the launch event as a key note speaker.

If you’re interested in coming along, simply sign up here!