After a successful launch in India, HotelBids will soon launch in the U.S. with a $7 flat online booking fee, exclusively for AAHOA members.
Q&A with Inder Sharma
Hotel.com founder Inder Sharma has created what he considers a paradigm shift for the hospitality industry with HotelBids, a service that features a flat online booking fee of $7 for hotels. HotelBids launched in India last September, now with more than 3,500 hotels in 100 cities and growing. The official U.S. launch is scheduled for July 2017, although HotelBids has started registering hotels in the U.S. This market will be the first country outside India in which HotelBids will have operations and presence.
Sharma, a serial entrepreneur and die-hard environmentalist, has been associated with the hospitality industry for more than 25 years through his close ties with AAHOA. AAHOA members contribute billions of dollars to the U.S. economy and pay more than $5 billion to online travel agencies (OTAs) in booking fees. According to Sharma, HotelBids will save AAHOA members more than 50 percent in booking fees. In addition, it is expected that AAHOA members will regain control over their room inventory as well as customer databases, which will help them market their properties and packages directly to their customers, he says.
Sharma acknowledges that it will be an uphill task fighting well-established OTAs that have millions of dollars in their marketing budget and millions of loyal customers in their databases. But he believes it is doable.
He says he is excited about the platform because the HotelBids app solves three problems in the industry. First, it allows customers to book last-minute rooms at their own price while hoteliers fill empty rooms without parity issues, as prices remain private between the customer and hotel. Second, all hotels receive these ‘virtual walk-in leads’ rather than third parties making the decision for hotels. Third, hotels pay only a flat booking fee of $7 per night rather than 15 to 30 percent. Hotels also will have better control over their own inventory, he says. Customers can use the app or website to book rooms.
Sharma’s long-standing ties with AAHOA have brought him immense knowledge about the hospitality industry and especially the problems members face. After year of planning, HotelBids was founded with a simple mission: To reduce booking fees and fill empty rooms while connecting hotels to their customers directly. HotelBids is funded by many AAHOA members, including elite founding member Mike Leven, who has blessed the venture. HotelBids is a founding member of AAHOA and will be attending the AAHOA convention in San Antonio, Texas, in April 2017.
HotelBids plans to launch in the U.S. with 7,000 to 10,000 hotels and ultimately have all 24,000 hotels on the system. In the coming years, this initiative is expected to save AAHOA members $2 billion annually in booking fees.
Q&A with HotelBids founder Inder Sharma
Please tell us a bit about the HotelBids (HB) mobile app and how it works.
Customers are overwhelmed with so many hotels apps and, second, they were not getting the best hotel deals despite every night, 25 percent to 30 percent rooms go vacant. Thirdly, OTAs are charging hefty booking fees (15 percent to 30 percent). To solve these problems, HB was founded with a simple mission: To allow customers to book last minute or future hotel rooms at their price and empower hotels to fill their empty rooms at lowest booking fee of 10 percent or less, and all this with just two clicks.
It is a user-friendly app. First, guests click to select city, area, rooms, date and the price they want to pay. HB takes the customer bid to all the registered hotels, who will respond by simply saying yes or no. Once the customer receives multiple bids, he or she reviews and selects the best one and makes the payment. This will be the second click to book a room at the customer’s own price.
How is HB app different from other hotel booking apps or other OTAs?
HB is a unique app that is customer and hotel-centric. It empowers the customers to book not only last-minute rooms but plan future rooms at their price, whereas other hotel apps have standard room rates where the customer has no choice but to book whatever is published there. At HB, we take the customer bid to multiple hotels where hotels accept to fill their empty rooms. Thus, customer does not have to go to multiple sites to compare the hotel rates. On the other hand, HB is helping hotels to fill their rooms without disclosing these bids publicly as these bids remain discrete between customers and hotels. Another big difference is HB charges the lowest flat booking fee of $7 compared to 15 percent to 30 percent.
As far as hotel management and other hotel aggregators are concerned, HB works with them to fill their empty rooms.
How is the response been so far in India?
HB has received positive response, not only from hotels but customers as well. It started registering hotels last mid-year, and today HB has over 3,500 hotels in over 100 cities. HB is also grateful to channel partners such as Treebo, Vista Rooms and AxisRooms, who saw value in our platform. We did a soft launch last September, and we are doing transactions every day. We also managed two major events, which created bulk room bookings.
Sri Sathya Sai baba Education Trust Foundation chose HB to book hotels for its 500 national/international guests last November. In December, HB managed accommodations for a pharmaceutical event in Hyderabad for over 200 people. HB is getting attention of price-conscious customers.
Why should one download HB mobile app?
- Budget. If you are looking for last-minute rooms at your price or your budget, HB gives you that.
- Saves time. It is a two-click booking process, providing indstant gratification for customers on the go.
- Future growth. HB will also be launching its platform in Sri Lanka, Australia, London, Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong and Canada by the end of 2017.
Can we expect some new trends in this online hotel booking space in near future? Is there anything left to explore?
I think the travel industry has been evolving dramatically for the last 10 years or so. Technology has brought great tools such as maps, reviews, guides, great pictures, videos, travel blogs and even sites that compare rates between travel vendors. And it will continue to evolve in the future. Customers are now very tech savvy and have easy access to solutions for every problem. But sometimes even the customers also get overwhelmed – there are 10–20 such applications, but most are not consistent with pricing. That’s the reason we thought to empower the customer by creating a platform that empowers them to get hotels at their own price, and with simple two clicks. I see more customer empowerment tools coming to make travel smoother, more economical and full of wonderful experiences.
Where do you see the HB app in three years? Any new features that you are working on?
I truly believe in God, destiny and Karma, and the only thing we can do is give our best. That being said, I foresee HB becoming one of the most popular hotel brands globally. We will be one of the largest hotel aggregators in the U.S. This will be a huge inventory to sell eventually. In the next three years, we have plans to be a full-fledged OTA with access to 360,000 hotels globally.
To keep HB on the technology forefront, it will be soon be launching a special hotel package tool, which will give customers even more value for their money. Customers will be able to share their experiences and connect to each other via social media. We have plans for more such features based on what customers are looking for. ■
Hotel.com founder Inder Sharma, a serial entrepreneur and die-hard environmentalist, has been associated with the hospitality industry for more than 25 years through his close ties with AAHOA.
AAHOA member exclusive (AAHOA member fees):
- $7 flat fee for under a $70 room rate
- $7 flat fee plus credit card fee for over a $70 room rate
- Non-AAHOA members are not currently eligible to sign up for the HotelBids platform, and once it’s eventually rolled out beyond AAHOA’s membership, nonmember fees will be greater.