As the season for office Christmas parties approaches, a series of new mobile apps could herald the arrival of a new way to book hotel rooms.
Over the past couple of years, a number of businesses have appeared offering consumers the chance to book hotel rooms at the very last minute - most offer the service after midday on the day you want to stay, and you can book into the small hours of the morning.
In the past 12 months, the number of companies offering this service has rocketed, and the Christmas season - full of late night parties and awful weather - means large numbers of commuters might miss their last train home, and need a hotel for the night.
Most last minute app businesses earn their money from a commission the hotels pay when customers book through the app.
Globally, same day hotel bookings are a $15 billion (£9.4bn) a year business, according to HotelTonight.
Who's in the market?
HotelTonight is one of the better known brands; it started in 2010 and was the first to offer click-to-book functionality through a mobile device.
Today, HotelTonight is available in more than 70 cities in 9 countries; the US, UK, Europe, Canada and Mexico.
Its customer base, like many of its rivals, is skewed towards younger, affluent and more tech-savvy consumers - half of them are business travellers who have had their plans disrupted, and the rest are what they call "spontaneous" travellers.
"More than 50% of our customers report that they didn’t need a hotel room when they woke up that morning," Heather Leisman, managing director of Hotel Tonight told the Huffington Post UK.
"Our busiest periods are always times when customers have time to be spontaneous. Three-day weekends in the US, bank holidays in the UK and other quick getaway opportunities are perfect times to use (our app)m" she said.
"As a result, the Christmas period has always been one of our biggest booking times, and we expect a similar surge this year (not to mention, it's always great to have an alternative place to stay for holiday visitors who have overstayed their welcome)."
Michelle Rosinsky, senior manager at Hotwire.com, told Huff Post UK Christmas also meant a surge in bookings for cities that have great Christmas markets, such as Munich and Prague, and for shopping destinations such as New York City.
"Some of our customers also use Hotwire to book a hotel for a family visit. The increased interest is also driven by lower prices offered over this period by many of our hotels who get fewer business travellers and fill their rooms by offering up to 50% off on Hotwire," she added.
Her business focuses on more than 30,000 four and five star hotels around the world, but its 'secret hotels' format - where the user doesn't know the name of the hotel until it's been booked - means consumers can often secure a 40% discount on the normal room price.
It works for the hotel too, as they can at least clear their operating costs for a room which would otherwise have been unsold (Book between two and four weeks ahead of your journey to get the best prices, Rosinsky advises).
Don't want to go home? You don't have to!
JustBook has recently embarked on a London tube advertising campaign, designed to home in on the Christmas party season.
Unlike some of its competitors, it offers just five hotel choices on its mobile app, but all the hotels are four star upwards and are boutique or unusual offerings.
"Our 4 categories of Comfort, Design, Luxury, and Upscale give customers a choice in terms of budget and the kind of atmosphere they want to be in," chief executive Stefan Menden told Huff Post UK.
"In the UK our city destinations include: London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, and Oxford."
Along with finding somewhere to crash after a late night out, JustBook expects bookings to spike as a result of extending day trips into weekend breaks - with people turning their Christmas shopping day trip into a luxury weekend away.
Blink Booking also specialises in boutique hotels, but in some cases rooms go as cheap as €39 (£31). It operates in more than 100 cities across Spain, UK, Italy, Germany, Portugal, France, Ireland and the Netherlands.
Blink only publishes the four hotels per location, and its those with the highest percentage discount for that day that are picked, so hotels are incentivised to offer higher discounts to get into the app every day.
One of the more unusual offerings comes from Airbnb; you don't have to be a hotel to get on their listings, as the name implies, you could just have a room to spare which you'd like to earn rent on.
Travelling to Christmas markets are a popular reason for needing a last minute hotel
Launched in San Francisco in 2008, and London in 2011, Airbnb currently has over 275,000 listings worldwide, in over 35,000 cities and is still growing. Unlike many of its rivals, Airbnb offers lower cost rooms too; users can rent a luxury three bedroom Knightsbridge apartment for £600 a night, or a room in Tower Bridge for £7 a night.
And the new kid on the block is Hot Hotels, launching less than a month ago in November.
Offering hotels in 18 countries and 110 cities worldwide, the app is available in English, Spanish and French. Discounts vary between 35% and 70% on the original room rates.
"We particularly expect New Year's Eve to be busy, and are taking on more hotels to help with demand," Conor O'Connor, co-founder of Hot Hotels told Huff Post UK.
Sweet dreams for the future?
There are concerns on the horizon for these same day booking app businesses however.
The increased competition means the companies have to excel with their price point, the hotels they offer and the customer service their clients receive.
"We know how important it is for us to exceed our customers' expectations every time someone books on HotelTonight, whether through hotel deals, customer service, or the simplest booking experience. Losing our edge and failing to execute at such a high level as we continue to grow is the threat we take most seriously," said HotelTonight's Leisman.
A spokesman for Hotels Beyond Certainty added: "Innovation is the name of the game in this business so we constantly need to harness the best technology has to offer. Hotels could stop working with us, but on the whole they welcome the opportunity to reach out beyond their own networks for new business."
O'Connor from Hot Hotels was also concerned that hotels might decide to cut out the middle man.
"The biggest threat is hotels offering deeply discounted rates on unsold rooms directly, but we are confident that last minute hotel apps provide a richer and simpler experience for users to find a great deal on a hotel for that night," he said.
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