Image from: Hotel Image / Shutterstock
Roomkey.com is a new hotel search engine founded jointly by Choice, Hilton, Hyatt, IHG, Marriott, and Wyndham; it launched mid-January. Room Key claims its wants to make hotel searches simple, fast and fun…but it’s also a way for participating hoteliers to minimize distribution costs and preserve booking revenue by keeping shoppers engaged with their brands. It’s gained the attention of travelers and industry professionals alike.
To measure the site’s early results, Compete assessed Room Key’s traffic volume, onsite engagement, and destination traffic of those visitors once they leave Room Key. Volume is based on unique visitors (UVs), which means no false positives from double-counting people that visit a site more than once in the same month. We also included engagement (time spent on site) and destinations (sites people visit immediately after Room Key). All of these leverage Compete’s industry-leading panel and patented normalization process.
Room Key had over a million UVs in February, up nearly 3X month-over-month. While the rapid traffic increase has been exciting to watch, Room Key visitation remains below that of most of individual participating hotel brands available on site. Exceptions are that Room Key traffic bettered Wyndham’s and approached that of Hyatt and IHG (ichotelgroup.com) in February.
Room Key’s CEO John Davis III was recently quoted saying “I’m not stealing share from anyone at this point. I’m trying to get some share.” Because the site is so new, it’s not clear yet whether Room Key is drawing new travel prospects into market or becoming a new destination for existing shoppers. And if the latter is true, unknown is whether site visitors are visiting Room Key in addition, or instead of, OTAs.
One element of Room Key’s rapid growth in traffic is via pop-under windows triggered by activity on the Room Key founding supplier sites. Specifically, a share of non-booking shoppers leaving any one of those sites is served a pop-under for the Room Key site. For example, if you leave Hilton.com after searching for a hotel but not booking, a window may appear showing details for several related hotels—including non-Hilton properties. Clicking one takes you to that hotel brand site. Naturally, only properties for Room Key creators are shown. The tactic represents a next-best-thing effort: it’s an interim step to keep consumer interest within the Room Key family of brands and prevent defection to non-family brands’ sites or to OTAs.
En Suite Engagement
While volume is up, the next question becomes visitor engagement. An average February Room Key UV spent one minute 20 seconds on the site, viewing over 3 pages and making 1.25 visits per person. One potential concern is that while UVs are up, engagement is down: average stay was down 32% and pages per visit was down 7%, which may mean Room Key is trading traffic volume (up) for quality (down), though lower average stay could mean more savvy visitors.
Keeping Interest in the Family
If the pop-under strategy is effective, the founding brands’ sites should dominate the list of Room Key destinations sites. Indeed, the leading destinations are dominating by founding companies and their brand sites (for example, Holiday Inn is an IHG brand and Comfort Inn is a Choice brand). The preponderance of hotel sites in general also suggests the Room Key visitors are true hotel researchers vs. simply being curious, another plus for Room Key.
Only time will tell if Room Key will become a viable go-to online tool for researching hotels, but it is clearly designed to be a shot over the bow of OTAs and aggregators, and is an innovative attempt to use the internet’s ability to sequentially guide consumers toward a purchase, or in this case a booking. If it works, it could mean millions of additional revenue for the founding hotels over time. Compete will be considering the following as it tracks Room Key:
- Measure whether Room Key has disrupted flow to OTAs to other hotel brands
- Compare the extent to which consumers visiting Room Key supplier sites and Room Key are less likely to cross-shop elsewhere
- Assess net lost bookings
- Quantify lost bookings to and from Room Key, for founding brands as well as other brands and OTAs
- Assess the downstream quality of Room Key traffic
- Determine how well traffic from Room Key converts on founding brand sites and other sites, and compare to other sources of traffic
Jackie is a marketing consultant for Compete with over 10 years client service and consulting experience in automotive, travel and youth marketing. Jackie holds a Master’s from Northwestern University in Integrated Marketing Communications and has been part of the Compete team for longer than she can remember. When she isn’t writing for Compete, Jackie spends her time running around after her kids, sampling organic wines and pondering life’s questions like…’can I throw this away without anyone noticing?’ You can connect with Jackie on LinkedIn or Twitter.