Between Expedia’s travel gnome, Priceline’s fee-chopping “negotiator”, and Kayak’s (who’s Kayak’s mascot, anyway?), the online hotel booking market is quite competitive. Among these gimmicky mascots, however, Tablet Hotels stands out for the quality of hotels on its site. Rather than listing every hotel, Tablet carefully limits the hotels on its website to those it has visited and approved. As Tablet’s CEO put it in a recent interview, Tablet hotels are “hotels with a soul”.
Now is a good time for Tablet to do some soul-searching, however. The growth in online hotel bookings is expected to slow from 11% to 7% over the next two years. While 7% growth is still significant, and would still outpace the travel industry at-large, the point is that slowing growth increases competition.
This is an especially important development for smaller companies such as Tablet, who must find new ways to stay competitive. As it searches for new ways to reach its customers (and find new customers, as well), Tablet should take care to remember its identity, and the experience it promises.
Tablet competes by guaranteeing a particular experience: “Hotels With a Soul”. Customers come to Tablet expecting a unique hotel; they go to sites like Priceline expecting a good deal. Simply put, Tablet cannot––and should not try to––compete with the major hotel booking sites on price alone (leave the fee-chopping to William Shatner!).
The explosion of the last-minute discount travel––one area with a still-increasing growth rate––presents an interesting opportunity. This development is linked to the growth of mobile bookings, as travelers on the go increasingly turn to their phones and tablets. A recent survey found that among travelers with mobile devices, 52% had used those devices to book a hotel.
In response to this growing demand, Tablet announced the launch of “Tablet Tonight” in May. This new offering is designed to compete with last-minute travel booking sites such as Hotel Tonight, as well as the last-minute deal sections found on most other online travel sites like Expedia, Orbitz, Hotwire, Priceline, and Kayak.
As Tablet enters the market for last-minute discount travel, the company must take care not to abandon its original mission. While offering a discount service line such as Tablet Tonight might be necessary to meet a growing market demand––and to remain competitive in the long run––the risk lies in alienating its existing customers, who value Tablet’s role as “curator” of great hotels.
Tablet Tonight can be a lucrative opportunity for Tablet, but it’s important that the company remain on message with its core customers.