Q&A: Bob Diener, getaroom.com
Bob Diener, an early Internet entrepreneur, is the co-founder and president of the hotel booking site, getaroom.com. Before that, he co-founded the company that became hotels.com. He talked with us about how technology is changing travel and shared his insider tips.
What’s your travel forecast for the coming year?
As everyone gets more mobile, small group and individual bookings are last minute. There’s been a real surge in speed with handheld devices and tablets, and we expect it to grow dramatically as prices go down, especially on tablets, and more people use them.
How is the economy changing booking patterns?
There will be continuous and various types of promotions by hotels to convince visitors to book in advance, which allows hotels to be more efficient and plan rates. You’ll see more incentives to make consumers change their behavior. Rates also will encourage travelers to stay longer.
Does this hold true for meeting space as well?
There’s no question that it applies to meeting space. Meetings and groups are booking short. There will be a push in terms of the negotiation process; rates will be different depending on length of stay and other factors.
What other changes do you expect?
The check-in process is changing due to technology. The front desk will disappear, along with the long lines when your group arrives at the same time. There’s an app for room keys, allowing hotel guests to open their rooms using their phones. They’ll be able to head straight to their room as soon as they arrive.
Do you see hotel rates going up overall?
The economy has been going sideways for an extended period of time. There will be a slow rise in demand [for hotel space] because not a lot is coming on the market. Rates are going up in bigger cities, but are expected to stay the same in second-tier cities and smaller markets. We’ll see increases in 2013. Hotels won’t be slashing rates at the last minute.
What’s in your crystal ball?
I see much more personalization. When someone books through the meeting planner’s software program, more preferences will be remembered and responses will be custom tailored to the individual.
What about air travel?
The tremendous amount of consolidation means there’s less competition, which means rates will continue to go up. All rules have been tossed out the window. There are no more round-trip rates. There will be even more creativity in adding additional charges where they can.
What frequent flyer advice do you have?
I rarely travel the same airline both ways. You can find better fares and convenient times by using different carriers. I make sure I am a premier member of all clubs, including car rental companies. I love credit card programs. You get travel bonuses, double miles, triples miles, etc. It’s a battle the consumer is winning.
What specific advice can you offer meeting planners?
Two things: One, make sure you have a little card in your wallet with your frequent numbers and credit card call-free numbers, so you can easily take it out and see them all—and always make sure you sign up for notifications by cell phone or text so you get important messages. Two, bring food and extra batteries.
What technology tool do you always travel with?
I always take my laptop and my Blackberry for email. I have a spare charger about the size of a credit card with three to four full charges for all my devices. Also, I have a Kindle, which I love especially when I’m with my wife and kids.
What else do you always pack?
An empty plastic bottle that I fill up with water when I pass security. Who wants to pay $3 for a bottle of water? Two big bags of trail mix, a swimsuit and goggles, shorts and t-shirts and jogging shoes to exercise. The best way to see a city is to jog around.