Nov. 2, 2011 at 8:35 AM ET
Looking for a hotel at the last minute? If you’re one of the millions of Americans with a smartphone or tablet, look no farther than the device in your hand. Between new apps and a better understanding of the mobile market, finding an empty bed is getting easier all the time.
“Mobile is really opening up a brand-new channel for hotels to sell rooms for tonight and tomorrow,” said Pedro Colaco, president and CEO of GuestCentric Systems, a developer of reservation systems for independent hotels.
In fact, according to GuestCentric’s data, 60 percent of people who booked a room at the company’s client hotels via a mobile device were booking for the same day or the day after.
“We’re seeing a lot more last-minute travel,” said Lindsey Wise, operations manager at the Aiken Hotel in Aiken, S.C. “A lot of our guests don’t book ahead anymore because they don’t know if they’ll need a room for the night or not.”
And third-party booking sites have taken note. Last month, Priceline launched Tonight-Only Deals, a same-day booking app for the iPhone designed to compete with HotelTonight, which went live last year.
The tool, which was recently expanded to the iPad, is bundled into the company’s Hotel & Rental Car Negotiator app. It offers same-day booking capability at select hotels in 34 cities and promises discounts of up to 35 percent off other published rates.
HotelTonight has also augmented its offerings recently, extending its network to include resort-style properties within a two-hour drive of select major markets. Currently, the app offers day-of-travel deals in 27 cities, plus so-called Getaways near Boston, New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.
Not surprisingly, both Priceline and HotelTonight make much of their discounts, which, depending on the day and the deal, can range from insignificant to impressive. As with all such claims, it’s always worth comparing the deals with other options before booking.
Ultimately, though, savings are only part of it; the real benefit may be the growing recognition that when you need a room right away, mobile is increasingly the way to go.
“When you’re on the road, you don’t really want all the bells and whistles that go with the usual booking experience,” said Colaco. “You want to be able to book your hotel with the least amount of clicks.”
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Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him at Twitter.