A cabal of online travel executives are coming together to build a new kind of hotel booking site.
Stayful launched its service in a private beta test today. It’s a service travelers use to find and bid on rooms in boutique hotels.
Stayful has built a bidding platform in which travelers and hotel owners negotiate room prices in real time. The site features an array of boutique hotels, and its pricing engine determines a fair price for the room based on current supply-and-demand in the market. This amount, as well as the needs of the traveler and hotel, are kept in account until both sides agree on a price. The traveler gets to book a reasonably priced room in a nice hotel, and the hotel gets to fill unused inventory.
“Independent boutique hotels care about finding and acquiring new customers who are interested in their unique offering — a more memorable and personal travel experience that’s set apart from a generic hotel stay,” Stayful CEO Cheryl Rosner said to VentureBeat. “Through Stayful, hotels can sell rooms that otherwise would’ve been empty to increase occupancy, while reaching new customers at a low cost. Better pricing for consumers and filling rooms that would have otherwise gone unsold benefits everyone’s bottom line.”
Rosner is the former president of Expedia Corporate Travel and Hotels.com. She said boutique hotels are the best way to experience a new place, but these businesses can struggle to keep up with large and well-resourced competitors. Unsold rooms pose a significant problem for these hotels, which run lower occupancy rates than large and chain-affiliated hotels. Boutique hotel owners cite their main struggles as raising awareness of their properties, connecting with new customers, and improving occupancy in a highly competitive and fragmented market. Selling “perishable inventory” is a consistent challenge in this industry, Stayful maintains it provides a channel to do this.
Stayful also says it provides travelers with one, central location to discover interesting hotels and book them at cheaper rates. After conducting “extensive” research, the company found that consumers are frustrated with the current options for finding hotels.
“These consumers are savvy, self-directed, experienced travelers and early adopters,” Rosner said. “They do their own research, want to customize their trips and look for local experiences, local experts, and price transparency. They want to pay a rate they feel is a great value. They do not look for the lowest price in a market; they look for the right value for them. And they typically book their trips.”
These customers also book their trips within 30 days, which sets Stayful apart from HotelTonight, another popular hotel booking app. HotelTonight offers a new set of curated hotel deals every day for people looking for a last-minute room. Like Stayful, HotelTonight provides a way for hotels to fill empty rooms and for consumers to book rooms at lower prices. However, Stayful works for people planning further in advance and gives the consumer some control over how much they pay. It combines elements from Priceline and HotelTonight to create a more dynamic system that also supports small business owners.
Stayful was founded in 2013 by Rosner and cofounder Shariq Minhas, who led engineering at Jigsaw and previously worked at Expedia and Hotwire. Advisers include the founder of boutique hotel group Joie de Vivre and Drew Patterson, who is CEO of Room 7 and previously cofounded Jetsetter and Kayak. Stayful has raised a $2.4 million seed round from Canaan Partners and a number of angel investors. It has seven employees and is based in New York City. The service is currently available in New York and San Francisco, with more to come soon.