When David Anderone and Alex Carlton joined forces to form an online travel site, they created it primarily for themselves and people like them. Anderone has a background running A&R and music departments at companies such as Sony Music and MySpace Records, while Carlton founded Funkin, a 100 percent natural global beverage that is carried across the U.K., Europe, and the U.S. They wanted to create a booking site that was unlike all of the other online travel agencies (OTAs) that dominate the industry—and Rooomr is the result.
Rooomr launched last month and is currently in beta mode. The site pairs in-the-know travelers with progressive, location-specific hotels that offer unique cultural experiences. Part of Rooomr’s marketing platform is to help consumers find non-generic hotels near major art and music events such as Coachella, Art Basel, and the Academy Awards.
“The [hotel] variables that most OTAs look at—starting with cost, then room size, business center amenities, breakfast, alarm clock, coffee maker, etc.—our audience could care less about,” says Anderone. “They want to know if they can walk to a museum or gallery—or a bar, or to see a band. They want to know if there will be other people like them, people that share their interests.”
Anderone explains that the company is targeting Millennials—a group that is loosely defined as Generation Y, generally consisting of individuals between the ages of 18 and 29. Anderone recognizes that these consumers use technology and social media in their daily lives, and are also interested in supporting socially responsible businesses.
“Marketing to travel consumers from a lifestyle and entertainment perspective, especially Millennial travel consumers, sets Rooomr apart from nearly every OTA out there,” he says. “Millennials want to stay at a hotel that speaks to their soul, their senses, and their interests.”
As part of Rooomr’s business plan, every time a person books through the site, the company donates to the RE*Generation, Virgin Mobile USA's initiative dedicated to improving the lives of homeless youth. Anderone stresses that the contributions come from Rooomr’s bottom line and not from travelers’ pockets. He cites the success of other companies such as TOMS and Warby Parker as examples of how a business with a charitable component can thrive among the competition.
“Having a charitable component to Rooomr is important on multiple levels,” says Anderone. “First and foremost, we strongly believe that it's important for businesses to give back to the communities that help build their success. Secondly, when given the choice between a company with a strong charitable component, or a company with little-to-no charitable component, 83 percent of Millennials will patronize the former.”
Reaching Millennial travelers also requires a strong emphasis on authentic digital marketing. Anderone explains that social media isn’t just a tool they will utilize to attract Millennials, it is an absolutely essential part of their business model. Rooomr will feature Instagram feeds for hotels, so that users can view real-life photos from the property, taken by their peers. The company’s Facebook page already has more than 500 fans, and its Twitter account is pushing 1,000 followers.
“Millennials don't read newspapers, so we don't advertise in them,” says Anderone. “They don't read magazines, so we don't advertise in them. They don't listen to the commercial radio. For us to do anything other than embrace social media would be absurd. Millennials hate being marketed to. The best tack to take is to communicate like a human being—not like a marketer. Be honest. Be cool. And most importantly, be authentic, or they'll never ever come back to your site or hotel again.”
Not all hotels will meet the Rooomr criteria. The hotel listings on the site are curated based on their locations, design components, and unique offerings. Big-box, chain hotels that share the same design scheme and amenities are unlikely to make the cut. But Anderone encourages hotels to reach out and contact the company if they feel they’ve been overlooked.
Rooomr is hoping to produce a mutually beneficial relationship with its hotel partners. Anderone explains that—unlike many other OTAs—Rooomr is not going to put an emphasis on the lowest rates or try to attract the most budget-conscious consumers. The site will feature a variety of hotels with different price points. But the company does hope that its approach will create targeted, loyal business for participating hotels.
“The large OTAs are great at one thing—driving large numbers of discount-motivated customers to hotels,” says Anderone. “These customers only care about the rate they get, and they have little to no brand affinity. We believe Rooomr will produce the types of guests that hotels most want—brand loyal customers.”