#edGY: HotelQuickly gets into hot hotel booking game

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HOTELQUICKLY, a mobile app-based online travel agent, is attempting to carve out a large slice of Asia-Pacific’s hotel booking market by focusing on unsold rooms and increasing mobile commerce.

The Asia-Pacific market is said to be fast-growing and promising with a vibrant travel industry and growing acceptance of mobile commerce, especially for non-physical items like air tickets and hotel rooms.

In the region, the volume of transactions in the hotel market amounted to about US$3.9 billion in the first half of the year, up 6.5% from the same period last year, according to a recent Jones Lang LaSalle Hotel Investment Highlights Report.

HotelQuickly, a Hong Kong-headquartered Internet company, is eyeing a piece of that. “Mobile is at the very heart of our business and as the first provider in Asia-Pacific, we excel in this segment, bringing guaranteed best deals to our customers.

“This results in on average 30% better rates than what our customers would find online at the moment,” HotelQuickly co-founder and CEO Tomas Laboutka tells #edGY via email.

The company was launched in Malaysia last week.

HotelQuickly has raised a total of US$4.5 million in funding, according to TechCrunch. And in the past year, it has quickly expanded across the region. The business is run by a team of 40, including its five co-founders, two of whom are former Rocket Internet guys.

The travel agent rolled out last March in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. It has since added Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Cambodia, Macau and, more recently, Myanmar and Laos to its list of markets.

According to Laboutka, HotelQuickly is now working with about 4,000 hotels — with a three-star rating and beyond — in over 120 destinations across Asia-Pacific. It could add more destinations, depending on customer demand.

Popular hotel destinations for HotelQuickly are Bangkok, Singapore and Hong Kong. In Malaysia, the more popular destinations are Kuala Lumpur, Johor Baru and Penang.

But for the moment, Laboutka says HotelQuickly will remain focused on expanding in Asia-Pacific. “The region is such an exciting place with the potential for exponential growth. The market of very last-minute mobile bookings itself is estimated at a minimum of US$5 billion this year. We love the fast-paced growth that comes with the region.”

How the app works
HotelQuickly’s mobile app allows users to book rooms on the same day or for the next day for anywhere between one and five nights. This means one can only book a room for tonight or tomorrow onwards and nothing earlier.

Payments can be made via debit card, credit card or a PayPal account.

The HotelQuickly app is available for free download for iOS, Android and BlackBerry 10 devices.

The app curates nearby hotels and sorts them by several categories: Best Deal, Budget, Average, Luxury, Near Me and Getaway. It supports several languages, including English, Bahasa Melayu, Bahasa Indonesia, simplified Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese.

HotelQuickly’s targeted users are business travellers, those on spontaneous holidays and staycationers.

But besides serving travellers, HotelQuickly, like its competitors, also helps hotel operators offload vacant hotel rooms that might otherwise go unsold, especially during low season.

“HotelQuickly solves a very real problem of vacant hotel rooms defined by the seasonality of the hospitality industry. My partners and I researched that on average, 25% of hotel rooms in Asia-Pacific are empty and unsold every night,” Laboutka says.

He observes that HotelQuickly’s customers start booking hotel rooms as early as 8am all the way to 4am.

In Malaysia, the majority of HotelQuickly’s customers are business travellers who need to pack up and go at the last minute or those who may need to stay on a little longer. There are also those who have missed or delayed their flights. Another group of users are those who use the app for leisure bookings.

“We also see a solid portion of travellers who may want to go on a spontaneous trip during the weekend with friends or family to take their minds off their busy business schedules and aren’t bothered to spend hours searching for the ‘right’ choice,” Laboutka says.

On the whole, HotelQuickly’s users are mostly between 25 and 34 years of age, followed by those in the 21 to 24 age bracket. By gender, they are quite fairly balanced with male customers at 51% and female at 49%.

The competition is online
A relative latecomer, HotelQuickly is operating in an already competitive landscape. The field is dominated by big online travel agent players, such as Agoda, Expedia, Booking.com, and numerous other websites. Recently, many of the larger hotel groups have starting facilitating online bookings and special deals via their own websites.

There are a number of direct competitors to HotelQuickly in this vertical, websites dedicated to selling last-minute hotel rooms, such as lastminute.com or laterooms.com.

What’s more, Agoda, Expedia and Booking.com have their own apps as well as sections that highlight last-minute room deals.

HotelQuickly will need to compete against these players, and it intends to do so by focusing on three core areas: Asia-Pacific, last-minute reservations and mobile transactions.

Playing the price game
HotelQuickly pledges that its prices are on average 28% cheaper than the best available hotel rate online. A quick look at its Best Deals section at press time shows rooms with the biggest discounts. At the top of the list is Grand Millenium Kuala Lumpur at RM338 or a 44% discount. But this excludes taxes and fees, which come up to RM54.07 at the point of check-out.

The app does not specify what type of rooms they are but gives a brief overview of the hotel’s amenities.

By comparison, rooms at Grand Millenium for the same date were priced higher. On Agoda, rooms started at RM594.37 to RM892.50, depending on the type of room and whether breakfast was thrown in. On Bookings.com, rooms at Grand Millenium ranged from RM431 to RM905, excluding taxes and service charge.

But for those who have the time to bother, platforms like Agoda and Booking.com offer a price guarantee — they pledge to match or beat any rates lower than those published on their sites.

For now, savvy consumers are winning the game.

This article first appeared in #edGY, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on November 24 - 30, 2014.