Booking a hotel should be like booking a home for a short period of time; the only difference is that you’ll wouldn’t expend the time to do the research that you would for purchasing a house. But what should you do when your wedding, bachelor party or family reunion needs to be perfect? Introducing Skipper, the hotel booking company that looks into your group needs and books it just for you. The free service understands that sometimes you need somewhere that will add to the vibe for your group, making the collective experience unforgettable.
AlleyWatch chatted with CEO and cofounder Jason Shames about how the company came about and why it’s here to stay.
Tell us about the product or service.
Booking hotel rooms for groups isn’t easy and Skipper aims to solve that problem. Our platform helps consumers find the right hotel(s) for groups of all sizes by recommending properties based upon their needs, including location, occasion, price, amenities and hotel reviews.
In order to book hotel rooms for groups, travelers typically have to contact a hotel sales rep, fill out a booking form, negotiate rates and deal with back and forth communication. With Skipper users can easily request hotel quotes online, review and accept offers in one simple dashboard, and e-sign a hotel agreement. We wanted to ensure this experience is as seamless and hassle-free as possible with the support of our Booking Advisors who are here to assist with any questions along the way. Whether you’re looking for rooms for your wedding guests, corporate outing, sporting event, family reunion, bachelor party or a friend’s getaway, Skipper provides an average of 15% savings on group bookings at 56,000+ hotels in US and Canada.
How is it different?
Skipper focuses on booking hotel rooms for groups, unlike most online travel agencies that do not have the capabilities in-house. Skipper provides a different experience compared to other online travel agencies in that we offer white glove service, expert support and flexible payment options for consumers. Hotels that work with us know that they are getting high quality group leads with higher conversion rates than our competitors in the space.
Our technology and product helps our users understand the process of booking hotels for groups so they can make informed decisions. For example, we provide our clients with dedicated Booking Advisors who help with every step of the process to ensure a smooth experience. Additionally, we developed a unique way to recommend the best hotels for our users, which we call the Skipper Score. It’s a dynamic number generated based on a user’s group type (such as wedding, vacation travel, corporate trip etc.), location, price, ratings and reviews.
Furthermore, our flexible payment product allows for groups of all sizes to reserve multiple hotel rooms (without putting a credit card down), and for members of the group to book individually at their own convenience if they’d like.
What market are you attacking and how big is it?
Groups make up 1/3 of all hotel bookings, which domestically, is a $40-60 billion market. $100 billion is spent on (domestic) transient bookings, so the total market share is enormous.
Specifically, we target bridal, sports, business, and leisure group travelers. Surprisingly, family events have been growing at an incredible rate. We’re seeing sports team travel as being a growing segment for us. But broadly, the definition of groups is not well defined. That traditional 70-30 split between transient (9 or fewer rooms) and group (10 or more) is likely not an accurate representation of the true booking segment that could be defined as a group. We see a group as any multi-room booking and that’s exactly who we are servicing – the unmanaged category of 2-30 rooms.
What is the business model?
Skipper is a free service and marketplace where we pair consumers with hotels, bypassing the pain points associated with booking two or more hotel rooms. We receive commission, which is paid by the hotels.
What inspired the business?
I met my friend and co-founder, Marcos Jaramillo, while we were both working at JPMorgan. We were always the planners for our friends and family when booking vacations and were constantly frustrated with the multi-step process of booking numerous hotel rooms; we saw an opportunity to use technology to do this more efficiently and in 2011, we launched Jetaport.
Months after starting Jetaport, I started planning for my wedding. The task of a first-time group booker, like me, negotiating with hotels, keeping track of hotel offers and reviewing complicated hotel agreements made it a time-consuming and inefficient process. Even as a seasoned traveler I felt overwhelmed with the experience, and then we started receiving requests from others with similar frustrations. It was then that we knew there was a void in the marketplace for helping social + unmanaged groups book room blocks. We shifted our focus to the transactional problem associated with groups and rebranded as Skipper in June 2016.
Is there a large enough market to support group bookings via an app?
Yes, certainly. However, right now our largest market is single-time transactions, so we have a mobile-enabled site to make hotel bookings really simple. For example, one of our largest markets is within the bridal space – typically, you only get married once in your lifetime, so brides aren’t coming back to us to book another room block. Even with the larger group and transient segments, people typically travel only a few times a year, with just just one or two international trips. However, as we continue to expand into other markets where repeat transactions occur more often, we will look into developing an app.
What are the milestones that you plan to achieve within six months?
As we continue to build out the guest booking experience we will look at opportunities to merchandise other transactions. We will find places where our technology can add value around either the aspirational elements of travel, or on the back end after a hotel booking to be able to help with merchandise transactions around travel—flights, cars, activities, restaurants, etc. For right now, we’re focused entirely on building the best hotel transactional product that we can.
What is the one piece of startup advice that you never got?
Right team, product and timing are all needed to make a business work.
If you could be put in touch with anyone in the New York community who would it be and why?
I’d love to meet Neil deGrasse Tyson because the Hayden Planetarium is my favorite place in NYC and I’ve always loved learning about space.
Why did you launch in New York?
My co-founder and I have lived in New York City for several years and thought it was a natural place to grow our business.
What’s your favorite restaurant in the city?
Bar Sardine in Greenwich Village