Reserving a hotel room at the last minute is about to get a whole lot easier.
Booking.com, the top online travel agent for accommodations, introduced a mobile app on Thursday called Booking Now for people who had a flight canceled, need to stay an extra day for business or are leaving town for a family emergency. And some travelers just prefer not to plan in advance.
Booking, which is the primary revenue engine for Priceline Group, is diving headfirst into real-time mobile as consumer preference shifts from desktop to smartphones. Priceline Chief Executive Officer Darren Huston cites the mobile experiences of Uber, Starbucks and OpenTable (now owned by Priceline) as the inspiration for the new app.
"With millennials and the way they travel, the big new thing is you land in London and you wander into secondary, tertiary cities and do everything in a very spontaneous way," Huston said in an interview via video conference. "We're emphasizing this new way of booking."
It's a new model for Booking, but not for some competitors. Whereas Booking vies with companies like Expedia and Orbitz in traditional online travel, San Francisco start-up HotelTonight has been working on the last-minute reservation problem since 2010 and raised over $80 million from venture capitalists. Jetsetter, owned by TripAdvisor, also offers deals on short notice.
For Booking Now, a user downloads the app and provides some contact information and personal preferences. From there, the app immediately starts offering deals in the area for that evening.
In San Francisco on Wednesday, a traveler who prefers moderately priced rooms could have stayed at the two-star Grant Plaza Hotel for $122.55, or swiped left on the phone to find the Post Hotel for 44 cents more. The luxury traveler could have chosen the five-star Omni San Francisco for $595, and for the budget conscious the Pontiac Hotel was available at $49.
Booking is trying to avoid the fate of so many past tech companies that failed to adopt new technologies fast enough to keep up with changing behavior.