Room 77 Helps Travelers Pick the Best Hotel Rooms—And Get Virtual Peek Out the Windows

2/24/11Follow @wroush

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the fact that every hotel room has an escape-route map on the back of the door. A sketch or a photo of that map, once digitized, can serve pretty well as Room 77′s base map, Fliess says. (In fact, there’s a “Sleuth” feature in the company’s iPhone app, also released today, that lets individual users send the company pictures of these maps and other hotel features. Fliess says an Android version of the app is on the way.)

Using a system designed by Room 77 vice president of engineering Calvin Yang, a former Googler who led development of the search giant’s image-search tools, the company creates digital drawings of each hotel floor. It’s then able to calculate parameters such as the walking distance from each room to the elevator banks, as well as the latitude, longitude, and altitude of every room.

And having that geospatial information is the key to what is perhaps Room 77′s single most gee-whiz feature: the ability to preview the view out the window of every room in every indexed hotel, using the Google Earth browser plugin. If you’ve ever explored Google Earth’s 3-D representations of real cities, as I have, you know that the tool’s simulations are startlingly accurate. So you can tell, before you take a room on the 15th floor of that beach hotel in Waikiki, whether the view of Diamond Head is as beautiful as the property’s brochures promised, or whether there’s actually another hotel in the way.

But what’s the use of all this information if prospective hotel guests can’t simply point and click to select a room, the way they can with a seat on a plane? Well, that feature might be coming—more on that in a second. For the time being, says Fliess, the idea is to give travelers the data they need to get the best room possible when the time comes to call a hotel and make a reservation.

The company offers a number of tips to help with that process: For one thing, you have to speak to front desk staff—call center representatives aren’t empowered to assign individual rooms. It’s best to call during off-peak times (9 to 11 am, 1 to 4 pm, or after 6 pm). Also, most hotels don’t assign rooms until 24 to 48 hours before guests arrive, so there’s no point in asking for a particular room more than two days in advance. Callers should have a range of options in mind, rather than a single “best” room. And it really helps to belong to a hotel’s loyalty program, since members get first dibs on room assignments. The company’s final tip: “Ask politely—you know, the ‘catching more flies with honey’ bit.”

Down the road, says Fliess, Room 77 may introduce an advanced feature that it’s tentatively calling “Room Request Guarantee.” For certain hotels, prospective guests would be able to ask for a specific room or set of rooms directly from Room 77′s site, and the startup would then work directly with the hotel to … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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