Ever fancied throwing caution to the wind and turning up to the airport with little more than your passport and sense of adventure in tow? While most of us would love to believe ourselves spontaneous, practical measures like sorting out transportation, knowing what shoes to pack and perhaps most importantly, knowing where to sleep at night, prevent us from taking a city trip with little to no warning.

Revolutionising the way we think about travel, Hotel Tonight aims to inject a healthy dose of impulsiveness into the process of booking hotels. Originally developed with the business travel market in mind, the app is now a favourite of city explorers who want convenience on last minute trips – while waiting for luggage at Heathrow travellers can book luxe hotels like Ham Yard at a fraction of the original price. Having extended their remit to those who want to book up to seven days in advance, Hotel Tonight now also caters to those who aren’t quite up for packing up and leaving this second.

While at Web Summit, we spoke to Sam Shank, co-founder and mobile entrepreneur, about the future of the app, where he catches his 40 winks when away from home and what he envisions happening in the mobile and hotel industries.

Serena Guen: What inspired you to work in the sphere of travel?

Sam Shank: It was in business school, I was thinking about the sorts of businesses that I wanted to start and I was influenced by two things. One of them was a company called Friendster which was just coming out and was the first social network. I thought, ‘wow this is going to be big’, and I was right…it was just the wrong company. And then secondly I also had a lot of wanderlust – the travel bug hit me  in my late 20s. I grew up in Charlottesville, Virginia; it’s got a population is around 100,000 so it’s small. I didn’t travel to a lot of countries, I never went backpacking in college and then I got excited about travel at a point when I didn’t have the time or money to go. So I wanted to combine that interest with my work.

SG: Hotel Tonight is such an amazing product, but do you think there is a lot of room for growth?

SS: Yeah! We’re so small given how massive the hotel industry is. At the moment, Hotel Tonight is growing very nicely and we’re really happy about that but it should be bigger. I’ve talked to a lot of people from our target demographic – they are young and technically astute but they don’t know about the app…it blows my mind. It’s not your fault, its ours and we need to get the word out better. We’ve spent less on marketing in the history of the company than spends in one day, just to put it in comparison.

SG: How do you think mobile technology will continue to impact the travel and hotel industries?

SS: In the mobile and travel arena, there are two areas that I’m particularly interested in. Firstly, we’re working on making the experience of choosing a hotel more personal and contextual to an individual. So instead of sharing 15 hotel options for New York with you, in the future we’d just share a few based on what you’ve done in the past, on your reasons for being in New York, on who you’re with and on market conditions. This could be called personalisation but I prefer to think it more as contextual awareness. We’re also looking at making it so that when guests book a hotel on a mobile device, they continue to use it throughout their whole stay. The ability to take mobile technology with us has the potential to transform the hotel experience through guest-to-staff communication from check-in to checkout and everything in between. I envision that everything through from opening your door to ordering room service will be revolutionised by mobile technology in the future.

SG: What do you think travel will be like in 20 years time?

SS: I think it’s going to become a lot more authentic. On one end of the spectrum you’ve got Marriotts and then on the other, you’ve got Airbnb where you can stay in someone’s apartment, which is much more authentic. I think hotels are going to start aiming to be in the middle of that spectrum – places like the Ace Hotels or Generator Hostels – where the convenience, location and services are what attracts you to them but they are also really authentic; somewhere where you feel like a local. I think Airbnb has done a lot to enact that change in the industry.

SG: What are some of your favourite hotels?

SS: I love the Ace in New York and not just because it’s where we launched. I’ve yet to visit the London one though. Last time I was in London I stayed in The London EDITION which, given that it’s a chain, is done very well. In New York there is a place called Refinery, which has a vibe like the Ace but it’s midtown so a bit more convenient. I like The Standard a lot too.

Interview by Serena Guen Words by Josie Ayre

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