If you think that online hotel queries start and stop at Expedia, then you’ll be missing out on a neat website that has just recently gathered steam. Before I divulge on the nuances of this search engine, let me first digress and explain that the term “hipmunk” describes bringing a new sense of simplicity and suaveness to an otherwise established industry, delighting customers in the process. And Hipmunk.com does just that for online hotel searches.
Starting first as an online fight search engine late last year, Hipmunk promptly expanded to hotels, modeling their website on speed and ease. The creators don’t want you to waste any time finding what hotel is right for you, and when you visit the site, this aspect becomes quite apparent. The only criteria for you to choose are the city, arrival and departure dates, and the number of rooms and guests.
“If it’s so simple, why bother?” you might ask. Well, this type of clean, efficient layout is just what the smartphone ordered. They already have an iPhone app for their flight search engine, and I’d imagine a similar product for hotel queries is forthcoming. So, with a rapidly growing contingent using their smartphones to manage more and more of their day-to-day activities, you’d be wise to hop on the bandwagon and address customers through this emerging channel.
But this article isn’t just a summary of an innovative website. I want to lend my two cents on how your hotel can effectively use this tool – or leverage this tool I might say – to drive new business. I also highly suggest you open up an Internet browser and play around with the site just to get the hang of things.
For starters, Hipmunk is a search engine, not a booking site. It relies on a mash-up of online partners filtered through what I imagine are some very complex algorithms. Hotels are judged on three categories: price, reviews and distance. Distances and location data are gathered via Google Maps, reviews are compiled from Yelp, and price is obtained mostly from Hotels.com, but also from Bookings.com, Getaroom.com, Hrs.com, Otel.com and Skoorsh.com. As well, Hipmunk collects information about your hotel’s amenities from these third-party booking sites. The site’s fourth scale is dubbed ‘Ecstasy’ and is based on a combination of price, reviews and amenities. You can further delineate hotel queries by any of these categories or by individual amenities.
When you first complete a search, you are taken to a Google Maps display of all hotels in the requested city, with the listings sorted in a column on the left-hand side. Your goal is to be at the top of that column. The default landing category for searches is ecstasy, and because this is a compilation, let’s focus on its parts.
First is distance. The pinpoint center of a city is predetermined by Google, and your property is where it is, so there isn’t much you can do about this one. No doubt this inherent rigidity is part of the reason why distance is not tabulated for the ecstasy score.
Next are your Yelp reviews, which seem to play a dominant role in the ecstasy factor. True, these critiques are written by past guests and you have little control over what they decide to write. But guests are more prone to laud your property if they are treated well and the services are the best they can be. For this, Hipmunk uses your average score as well as the total number of reviews. It’s a quantity of quality game. Be sure to converse with guests while they are on property and politely ask them to praise your name online.
Third is price, which is where it gets tricky. This category is sorted in ascending order, which means the cheapest rooms get priority at the top. However, the site lets you query results based on three demarcations: cheap, average and pricey. These can also be overlaid for ecstasy, reviews and distance searches. The numerical cutoff points for these delimiters are calculated based on the median price of all listed properties in the city. Thus, if you want to play around with price, your goal is not to become the cheapest place around, but merely the least expensive in your snack bracket.
For example, if your base room rate is listed on Hotels.com as $150 per night and this puts you in the ‘normal’ third of properties with the threshold for ‘cheap’ at $115, then you might aim to get as close to $115 as possible. But you wouldn’t want to dip below $115 because then you’d show up as a ‘cheap’ hotel and appear at the bottom of the results column. One other caveat here is that if your entire competitive set starts to lower rates to optimize their results in sites like Hipmunk, then the median price point will shift accordingly and you’ll all be playing a game of attrition. Moreover, lowering your price will cut into the bottom line and set expectations for future sales periods. Simply put, play with fire at your own risk.
My final suggestion is to look at your own property on Hipmunk and see where it currently stands. Then, work with your team to settle on a feasible six-month goal for improving your position. Are all your amenities listed and properly described on the corresponding third-party sites? Have you read your latest Yelp reviews to see what people are saying? Is your price aggressive or totally unreasonable when juxtaposed to your competitive set? These are all things to consider, and Hipmunk does an excellent job of streamlining such questions.
(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, published on Hotel Interactive on July 18, 2011)