Many frequent travelers and most good travel agents who book airline tickets have become very familiar with Seatguru.com. While not perfect, the site gives seat maps of most aircraft with major carriers and points out particularly good and bad seats on the plane. Is there room for a site that attempts to do the same for hotel rooms?
Seatguru.com is slightly subjective, for example bulkhead seats are often considered problem seats due to no floor storage and/or reduced legroom, especially in first class, but for some travelers that is offset by being able to put their feet up on the wall during flight.
When it comes to hotels, however, travelers can read reviews that may mention particularly good rooms, or particularly bad rooms. But, in general, the hotel’s descriptions of room categories and generic room pictures are as detailed as it gets.
Now a new company, Room 77, is trying to fill a niche by becoming a search engine for hotel rooms.
The company, founded by a combination of industry and technical people, uses a combination of algorithms and good old fashioned photos, along with data supplied by the hotels and Google Earth, to help travelers identify the best rooms at their chosen hotel.
Room 77 aims to eventually have floor plans and pictures, or virtual pictures of hotel rooms, in major cities around the world. They will focus primarily on four to five star hotels, presumably where travelers will care the most about their location and where the differences can be most pronounced.
(And yes, even a roadside motel has some quieter rooms than others and some with better views than others, but the company is not focused on travelers just looking for a generic place to sleep. Besides, it’s not hard to ask at checkin for a room furthest from the freeway, for example.)
I spoke with Kevin Fleiss, General Manager and VP of Product, for Room 77, just before they launched the site. Initially they include information on many hotels in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Honolulu, Las Vegas, London, Los Angeles, Maui, Miami, New York, Orlando, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C. Other cities and more hotels in these initial cities will be added as their site grows. Room 77 is also available in a mobile app.
Room 77 says they will rank the best rooms for each traveler based on individual preferences for high or low floor floor, distance from elevator, view importance and need for connecting rooms. Each room will be scored and listed with a color-coded match percentage indicating: “strong” (green), “fair” (yellow) and “weak” (red).
It’s a fascinating idea, and the site shows rooms with a view — in some cases photos, in some cases virtual views — along with floor plans for each listed hotel, by floor.
From initial impressions, it appears that Room 77 is doing a good job. Some Hawaii hotels are famous, or rather infamous, for the generous terms they apply to their categories — partial ocean view, ocean view, deluxe ocean view, ocean front, for examples. Currently, many travelers have no idea exactly what those terms mean, especially since they vary so much between properties.
But scrolling through rooms at any random hotel will show just what that variation means. Room 77 provides travelers with a chance to check out participating hotels before getting to the hotel and have an advance opportunity to request the rooms. I found it fascinating to choose parameters and seeing just how many different views were in the same room categories.
On a trip to Honolulu years a few years ago, I stayed at the Sheraton Waikiki, and stopped by the front desk agent asked me, “Did you like your upgrade?” (I had booked a city view room.) Her question surprised me. I hadn’t notices any upgrade. The room was fine, on the 20th floor, but it faced busy Kalakaua Avenue. That was what I expected.
When I looked confused, she explained, “We put you in a partial-ocean-view room.” Later, I went upstairs and looked hard for the ocean. Finally, by going out on the balcony and leaning over, I could see a patch of blue.
Another example: Hyatt Hotels in Hawaii, while all deluxe properties, use the term “ocean view” to describe rooms that have a view of the ocean — from the lanai, not necessarily inside the room. The same is true for the otherwise deluxe ocean-view rooms at the Ritz Carlton in Maui.
Unlike seat assignments, knowing the best room, at this point, doesn’t mean the ability to reserve it. The site will make suggestions for getting ideal rooms, including calling the hotel directly. During my conversation with Mr. Fleiss, I pointed out that if John Doe calls the hotel and asks for the best room, he will likely get a different response than say a tour company or travel agent who books many nights a year at the property.
Similarly, as the site will point out, travelers who book on Priceline and other deeply discounted sites will still generally be out of luck, when it comes to snagging one of the best rooms. These sites guarantee a room, period; not even bedding type (1 king or 2 doubles, for example). Realistically, a hotel clerk is just not that likely to give one of their best rooms to someone who has paid a deep discount rate.
One scary application might be that hotels may try to charge a fee in future to guarantee a “prime” room or a specific room number. (Some hotels are already trying, or have tried, to charge for special requests, including connecting rooms and types of bedding.)
Having this kind of information available will no doubt be a boon to many travelers, since it will give them the kind of knowledge that might otherwise only be available by talking to experienced agents and returning guests.
Room 77 might also end up being a boon to travel agents and tour operators. Especially those who aren’t purely competing on price. Most of us have had to go through the spiel of “Yes, you can book online or through ‘name your rock-bottom-discounter,’ but you may not get the best room. If Room 77 takes off, clients will be able to see just how good, or bad, an ocean view room can be. Which means they may be more inclined to book through someone who can really help them get a “good” room.
The same applies as well to city hotels. While some travelers may like quiet interior facing views, many Manhattan hotels, for example, have rooms with amazing views. Others might look directly into the building across the street, or worse.
As for the website name — Room 77? The founder, Brad Gerstner, used to keep a list of the best hotel rooms he had stayed in, which he shared with family and friends. Then he got a room in the Caribbean with a fancy title, that was one of the worst rooms in the category and very disappointing. He decided to make a business out of sharing “inside” information with the public.
No word whether the room that disappointed him so much was room 77 or 78. But his new site might make it easier for travelers to avoid the same fate.