Will buying HotelTonight help Airbnb’s messy booking experience?

More of this.
More of this.
Image: Reuters/Leonhard Foeger
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

The rumors are true. HotelTonight, the millennial-focused booking app that’s known for last-minute travel deals, is being acquired by Airbnb.

Of course, the days when Airbnb was still a quirky way to book a spare room in a flat have been behind us for a while now. But the acquisition of HotelTonight—which hoteliers love for its ability to lure valuable millennial travelers with last-minute and secret deals—is another indication of Airbnb’s appetite to swallow even more of the travel industry ahead of a potential IPO.

In a press release announcing the acquisition, the company said as much. “We are reimagining travel by building an end-to-end travel platform that combines where you stay, what you do, and how you get there, all in one place.” It noted that HotelTonight was a valuable asset in this mission for its focus on “making last-minute trips easy and fun, offering guests seamless, on-demand booking for boutique and independent hotels.”

Airbnb has been adding hotels to its platform for awhile now. In January, the company said the hotel inventory on its platform grew 152% in 2018.

For now, the two sites will continue to operate independently, with Airbnb adding HotelTonight-curated properties that fit its standards onto its platform over time. That’s good news for fans of what is arguably one of HotelTonight’s most unique selling points: being able to confidently book a vetted hotel room quickly, without the millions of open tabs that lead to paralysis by analysis.

HotelTonight is also quite different from Airbnb’s booking experience—which, in step with the company’s impressive and dizzying transformation, has become increasingly complex. Once you get past whether you want to book a restaurant, “experience,” or accommodation, and you’ve entered your dates, destination, and number of travelers, you are then presented with four different categories for “home type” (entire place, private room, hotel room, shared room) and then, in another set of filters a couple clicks away, 15 different property types to choose from (ranging from boutique hotels and chalets to lofts and cabins). One of the perils of providing an “end to end” travel experience, it seems, is that you need the booking experience to keep up with it.

Still, in many ways, HotelTonight and Airbnb are a good fit. Airbnb has been careful to note that, despite its professionalization, the hotels on its platform still align with its ethos of authentic travel that allows users to feel like they “belong anywhere.” (In other words, no Hiltons or Hyatts here yet.) Its hotel standards require qualities like “access to common gathering spaces and/or events” and “guest rooms and common spaces that incorporate local influences.”

It seems reasonable to expect that HotelTonight’s inventory will be right in the sweet spot of what Airbnb wants to offer. Let’s hope it learns a thing or two from HotelTonight’s elegant booking experience, too.