If you think online hotel queries start and stop at Expedia, then you’ll be missing out on a website that has recently gathered steam.
Starting as an online flight search engine late last year, Hipmunk promptly expanded to hotels, modeling its website on speed and ease. 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 layout is just what the smartphone ordered. Hipmunk already has an iPhone app for its flight search engine, and I’d imagine a similar product for hotel queries is forthcoming.
But this post isn’t just a summary of the website. I want to lend my two cents towards how your hotel can leverage this tool to drive new business. As a companion to this, I’d highly suggest you 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.
In addition, 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.
So, when you first complete a search, you are taken to a Google maps display for all hotels in the city requested, with the hotel listings sorted in one 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 the individual criteria. First up 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 up are your Yelp reviews, which seem to play a dominant role towards the Ecstasy factor. True, these critiques are written by past guests, and you have little control over what they decide to write. However, guests are much more likely to laud your property if they are treated well and the services are the best they can be. Hipmunk uses your average score as well as the total number of reviews. It’s a quantity of quality game. So, be sure to converse with guests while they are on property and politely ask them to praise your name online. This is an unbiased system, so if your guest services aren’t up to snuff, then don’t expect improvements on Yelp.
Third up 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 average 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 hotel 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 places you in the “normal” third of properties, with the cutoff 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 pricing to optimize results in sites like Hipmunk, then the median price point will shift accordingly, and you’ll all be playing a game of attrition. Simply put, play with fire at your own risk.
My last suggestion is to look at your own hotel on Hipmunk and see where it currently stands. Are all your amenities listed and properly described on the corresponding third-party site? Have you read your latest Yelp reviews to see what people are saying? Is your price aggressive or totally unreasonable when juxtaposed with your competitive set? Then, work with your team to settle on a feasible goal for improving your placement within the next six months.