Last-minute accommodation booking service HotelTonight today announced that it would be offering its services to UK residents and visitors, starting in London ahead of the 2012 Olympic Summer Games. This is the first time HotelTonight has entered the overseas market, and the startup is also opening offices in Shoreditch, East London to help support its continued UK and European growth.
HotelTonight’s arrival couldn’t be more timely, as the Olympics are expected to draw some 5 million visitors to London. Not all of those people will have arranged accommodations beforehand, and anyone left without shelter will likely welcome another route to a warm bed and running hot water. While it may seem like a difficult time to be sourcing available rooms, HotelTonight founder and CEO Sam Shank told BetaKit that the startup has inventory lined up, and won’t be caught empty-handed for the big event.
“We’re going to have some really good inventory all the way through summer and through the Olympics,” Shank said in an interview. “We wouldn’t be launching now if we weren’t confident about having great stuff through the Olympics.” Some of the hotels that HotelTonight has lined up for its London launch include The Langham, St. Martins Lane and The Cadogan to name just a few, all establishments that have secured high praise on social travel recommendation site TripAdvisor. But London is just the start.
“We’ve opened an office there in London that we’re going to be using as the beachhead for launching in other cities in Europe and the UK,” Shank explained. “A big use of [our last round] is to expand internationally. The recipe that we’ve built, and the formula for HotelTonight, we feel very confident that it’ll scale and do very well in Europe, maybe even better than it’s done in the United States.” Shanks says that’s because there’s a lot of amazing hotel inventory for the startup to take advantage of, and also because European travelers seem to be much more prone to taking spontaneous trips than their North American equivalents.
HotelTonight will run into some competition as it expands across the pond, including French company ReallyLateBooking and Spain’s Blink Booking, which recently secured $2.5 million in funding and has presence in France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain and the UK. Shank isn’t too worried about the competition, however, since he believes that of all the competition, HotelTonight has best shown it has the knowledge and backend to scale properly and aggressively.
“It’s fairly easy to launch and build an app, what’s really hard is to scale an operation like HotelTonight,” he said. “If you look at the code base that we’ve written for HotelTonight, about 90 percent of the code isn’t in the apps itself, it’s on the back-end to support all the operations, all the logistics, all of the rates, making sure the customer support team has what they need. That’s not trivial, and that’s not something that you can just easily look at and copy.”
It’s also worth noting that HotelTonight has the most funding of anyone tackling mobile last-minute booking, thanks to its recent $23 million Series C round. And with plans to continue expanding in both existing markets of the U.S. and Canada as well as in Europe and the U.K., momentum is definitely on the side of the San Francisco startup.