NEW YORK—Travelers come to New York for many reasons, which means one room type does not fit all. Whether it’s business travelers looking for an expansive, laid-back place to hold meetings, a family of five taking that once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Big Apple, or a mother and daughter embarking on an indulgent shopping trip, sometimes a suite is the best option for guests. SuiteStory, an online booking platform launched earlier this year, aims to connect consumers with the right hotel suite experience for them.
“My partner Dmitrii Beliakov and I noticed the lack of information on regular travel sites about suites and the services that go with them. We created SuiteStory to offer a seamless process for guests to discover, compare and book suites at a guaranteed discount rate. No one wants to overpay, not even for luxury,” explained cofounder Vikram Pradhan, adding that the discounted rates have gone as high as 30%.
But, he said, the benefits aren’t just for hotel guests—the hotel properties profit, too. “While the demand for bespoke travel experiences continues to increase, research shows that hotel suites remain unsold approximately 70% of the year,” said Pradhan. “Hotel owners generate revenue by optimizing suite pricing and far higher conversions for suites that would otherwise have remained vacant. The site creates a win-win for both.”
So, who is the prototypical user of SuiteStory? “Someone who appreciates the finer things in life and is looking for an experience, not just a bed to sleep in on a vacation,” said Pradhan. “They travel in style and want luxurious accommodations. That doesn’t mean they are willing to toss money away; if anything, we are finding more and more people looking for a deal or a perk. This traveler blends across many demographics; however, most of our suites are booked by baby boomers and women. We find many travel arrangements are researched by women and see a higher percentage of women chatting with our concierges than men.” Both business and leisure travel is accommodated on SuiteStory, but the majority of travel currently booked is leisure.
Pradhan shared some of the lessons he has learned since launching SuiteStory. “One trend we are seeing is that people are willing to spend the money and invest in suite accommodations—just as long as they feel like they are getting a deal or a personalized bespoke experience,” he said. For instance, above a certain price point, most customers wanted to connect with the company to validate the purchase, have SuiteStory negotiate on their behalf or even find them the right suite. “But no one wants to do that over the phone these days,” he pointed out. “We introduced a chat feature and our customers love booking through our agents on chat, mostly from their mobile devices. Second, no one spends $5,000 a night just to get a good night’s sleep. There’s a higher intrinsic value attached to that experience and we’ve been able to keep our customers happy by realizing their true goal for their suite stay. There’s evidence of an experiential shift in people’s value system from materialistic pleasures.”
The company made its debut in NYC both because of experience and because the city is so synonymous with the suite life. “The statement ‘Do what you know’ comes to mind and I know the New York City hotel suite inventory market and have cultivated many New York City relationships in the industry,” said Pradhan, referencing his time at Starwood Hotels & Resorts.
The cofounders also knew they wanted to debut in the U.S. and New York City is not a fad. “It is always a top destination. In fact, 2015 was a record-breaking year for tourists (59.7 million) and predictions show 2016 to break that number,” said Pradhan.
“Third, New York City offers some of the most luxurious and over-the-top suites in the world. Every hotel brand has a flagship hotel in New York—be it St. Regis, The Peninsula, Mandarin Oriental, etc.,” he pointed out. “You name the brand and they have a firm New York presence. There is no better way to showcase our success than through these flagship hotels.”
While revenue management is important everywhere, Pradhan stressed the importance in NYC. “New York is a whole different beast when it comes to hotels. Hotels fill up in a New York minute and one wrong step in pricing or selling can lead to huge consequences. So, in that sense, hotel revenue directors have to be vigilant all the time as demand changes in the blink of an eye,” he said. “We take this seriously at SuiteStory and my passion for suites and hotels goes beyond us making money. We help hotels stay on top of trends by suggesting pricing changes. For suite customers in particular, the expectations from a New York suite are pretty high and it’s a challenge to deliver a high-touch, high-quality product. Some of our customers spend upwards of $7,000 per night for a suite and it’s imperative they get the value up front.”
And selling suites needs to be thought about in a different light. “Hotels focus a lot on room sales—sometimes rightfully so—and don’t focus on suite sales enough,” said Pradhan. “The product is different and needs completely different revenue strategies, distribution channels and marketing. Fiat owns Ferrari, but have you ever seen a Ferrari sold in a Fiat dealership?”
The company launched SuiteFlex this fall, a program designed for both hotels and consumers. “Hotel brands give SuiteStory the authority to discount suites at a certain rate depending on availability to qualified potential customers—there is no back-and-forth and the booking is made in real time,” said Pradhan. “As of right now, over two dozen hotels in New York City are part of the SuiteFlex program. Our discount prediction model has a 90% success rate—which means nine out of 10 customers who book with us end up with the best price they can get for that suite.”
While the company launched in NYC, it has expanded operations to Paris, London, Hong Kong and Hawaii, and Pradhan said it will grow to 10 cities by the end of next year. “Our long-term vision is to add a few billion to hotel industry sales worldwide that we’re not optimizing today and have millions of exclusive experiences for our customers that they’re missing out on today,” he said.
“I care about two things when it comes to the hotel industry: How hotels can optimize their inventory of suites so they’re not sitting empty and how travelers like me can get premium unforgettable experiences that give us peace of mind knowing we got the best value. With these guiding principles, SuiteStory wants to be the only place hotels turn to when they want to grow their business and where customers happily book every special moment of their life,” concluded Pradhan. HB