Ocean view or view of the commercial building next door? Before you book your next hotel room, travel start-up Room 77 can help you learn much more about the accomodations online.
This week, the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company launched a website and iPhone app that lets travelers search a database of more than 425,000 hotel rooms for 16 destinations in North America and the U.K. For each room, Room 77 provides key details on square footage, elevator proximity and room category.
Using Google Earth-enabled technology, it also simulates the actual view from the windows of each room, so you can see what a "partial ocean view" really means.
"We found it shocking that you can see every cabin on every cruise ship on a map and every seat on every airplane on a map. But the hotel rooms are a complete black box," said Kevin Fliess, general manager and vice president of product for Room 77. "Everyone we talked to said I can't believe it's never been done, because this is exactly what I want."
Say you're heading to the Westin Maui Spa & Resort in Hawaii. With Room 77, you can click on the link for the "Deluxe Ocean View, King" room to see if the view and accommodations are really worth your money. You can find out if it's a connecting room or close to an exit. You can also read the ratings and reviews left by others.
If you like what you see, the site provides tips on how to book the room you want. Eventually, Fliess said, the site hopes to plug directly into the hotels' booking paths, so that guests can reserve the rooms they want with just a few extra clicks (and Room 77 can share a bit of the revenue).
For years, the site's founder, Brad Gerstner, kept a list of his favorite hotel rooms in his pocket, Fliess said. The name for the site came from one particularly amazing room in the Caribbean that he wasn't able to book for a vacation.
"He had room envy the entire week," he said. "The number just stuck in his head and that was the genesis of the name."
Since its founding in 2009, Room 77 has worked with hotels and deployed staff to collect and index room information. But now that the iPhone app and website have launched, travelers can help crowdsource room photos, floor plans and reviews to help make the database even more robust.
A feature on the app lets travelers snap pictures of the exit floor plans on the back of their hotel room doors and upload them to the site. They can also share photos of their rooms and tell other travelers what they thought of their experiences.
"It's definitely a collaborative process between room 77 and hotels and the traveler," said Fliess.
But he acknowledged that collecting and cataloging all of the information is not an easy task. Room 77 has amassed information for hundreds of thousands of hotels, but they still have many more to conquer.
"I think one of the reasons why this hasn't been done before is it's so hard," Fliess said. "Still, we feel it's so important for consumers to have this transparency."