A few days before Eric Kimmel flew from Montreal to San Francisco for a recent conference, he checked to see if he could find a better deal on a hotel.
There’s a new site for that. It’s called BackBid, and within hours of his telling it about his confirmed reservation at the St. Regis, where a standard room starts at $579 a night, seven competing hotels had contacted him with lower prices.
One of them, the Omni San Francisco, offered a $120 savings and was closer to his meeting. “It was right where I needed to be,” says Kimmel, who owns a health food company in Montreal and had heard about BackBid from a friend. “I called the St. Regis to cancel my original reservation, which was refundable.”
Almost since the beginning of the commercial Internet — at least as far back as 1998, when Priceline.com launched — consumers have been bidding on travel. That model frequently benefitted the travel industry, because customers didn’t know how much to pay and often overbid for their rooms, rental cars and tickets. But now, BackBid, a Canadian start-up, is flipping that idea on its head by asking hotels to bid for your business.
The implications could be significant for travelers — perhaps even revolutionary.
“It’s empowering the consumer to say, ‘This is what I’m looking for,’ and the hotel to say, ‘This is what we can offer,’ ” says Chris Patridge, BackBid’s executive vice president of marketing and the company’s co-founder. “It turns the tables on the traditional way of booking a hotel room.”
BackBid takes advantage of the hotel industry’s generous refund policies, which often allow travelers to cancel rooms without a penalty as long as they give enough advance notice. Guests register with BackBid, adding their reservation and lodging preferences. That information is sent to BackBid’s hotel network.
Hotels may then submit bids to encourage travelers to “abandon” their current reservation — that’s the company’s word, not mine — and book with their property instead. The new reservation is nonrefundable and can’t be changed, and your card is charged immediately.
As you might expect, the BackBid concept has its share of both cheerleaders and critics. Arthur Frommer called it “a remarkable new website” on his blog, praising it as a “nothing-to-lose proposition.”
But the lodging industry isn’t so sure. Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, which owns the St. Regis, would not comment on losing a customer, despite repeated requests. Jason Freed, the news editor for the industry Web site HotelNewsNow.com, called BackBid’s strategy “a bit scandalous.”
“What if every time you bought an item from the grocery store, an article of clothing or a piece of furniture, once you got home you had competing stores offering to sell you the same item for a cheaper price?” he asked.
Hotels are concerned that BackBid will ratchet up competition to an unsustainable level. “If Backbid succeeds, this sense of competition will only heighten, and hotels will be undercutting each other left and right,” Freed said. “It’s not good for the hotel industry because everyone involved — owners, managers, brands — lose revenue. And while on the surface, cheaper prices may sound good to the consumer, it really means that hoteliers have fewer resources to put toward making your stay better.”