65: Stayful Co-Founder and CEO Cheryl Rosner on the Boom in the Boutique Hotel Business
We have a very special guest on the show today. Cheryl Rosner was the CEO and former President of Hotels.com. She has a long history of working with all the big names in the travel industry. She’s now the leader of real-time booking service for booking rooms at independent boutique hotels at a company called Stayful. The Stayful app puts the whole experience in the customer’s hands, finding it easier than ever before to find and book services at unique hotels right across the country and soon, the world. To keep things simple you can even pay for your room through Apple Pay.
Can you tell the listeners a little about yourself and your role at Stayful?
I am the founder and CEO of Stayful. I’ve spent most of my career in the hotel business. My first job was in a hotel at the age of 16. We founded Stayful to create a low cost distribution model for boutiques and independent hotels and introduce these hotels to value conscience travelers who are seeking unique experience.
Users can book a hotel with one touch of an iphone button with Apple pay. Has that been a big success and are you surprised more companies don’t make use of that technology?
It really has been successful and more so recently. What we’ve been seeing is that 92 percent of our mobile users are IOS. We see that our conversion rate on mobile is climbing pretty dramatically. We launched our app with Apple Pay in January 2015 and our conversion rate has just gone up to 52 percent on the app. I think more and more companies will adopt it, particularly as Apple starts rolling out Apple Pay on Safari.
In the U.K most people working full time will get 20-25 days paid vacation days a year. I often hear that in the U.S you get much less and often don’t even take them. Why is this? Don’t you guys like holidays over there?
It’s so crazy isn’t it? U.S workers for some reason think of vacation almost like a perk. People worry about time out of the office and wonder if that will make them look less committed. They stress out about how the work is going to get done. There’s a lot of anxiety around taking vacation days in the U.S. We at Stayful do unlimited vacation days. We view this as a way to recharge. Obviously we’re in the hotel business; we want you to go and stay at hotels and experience them. We also know that people need time to disconnect. They need time to give their brain a vacation. It’s for their wellness or health and ultimately it pays back dividends to the business when you have a healthier, happier team.
You seem to be doing well with value conscience millennials. Did that happen by accident or did you market to them differently?
It didn’t happen by accident. What we saw with millennials going back a couple of years was not only the size of the category but also a desire for unique experiences and also, having grown up with technology, already feeling connected to so many different places and people around the world and therefore wanting to travel more often.
Do you find they are more visual based as well so you need more visual based content on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, etc to attract that generation?
Yes. What we see is our engagement is growing pretty dramatically on Instagram. There’s an emotional connection which is visual that people respond to (and that’s anyone). But the millennial that is browsing basically on their smartphone throughout the day are more engaged with actual images and dreaming and anticipating long before the trip takes place.
Do you think the rise of Airbnb and boutique properties are the cause of the shift in attitudes? Do you think more people are turning their backs on hotel chains for something more unique?
I think it’s the traveler that’s driving that change. If you think about the millennial segment that traveler is at this point surpassing boomers on two fronts. Not only their travels but also employment in the workforce. What we’re seeing is this type of individual is driving the desire for not only value but unique experiences. Because they are looking for these types of experiences that is driving growth in the hotel industry. That’s why we’re seeing the boutiques and the independents on a terrific growth trajectory.
Can you give a brief overview of the benefits of booking with Stayful?
At Stayful we’re checking prices across the web and across apps to ensure that the best price is available on Stayful. Not only can you get the best price but you can also talk with our concierge to make you experience that much more memorable.
Is there anything on the horizon for Stayful that you can share with us today?
Now that the app is in production and in the market we are looking very specifically at expanding the marketplace of hotels we have.
What’s the best way of getting signed up or finding out more information about Stayful?
The best way is to either download the app in the app store and chat with the concierge. Or you can go to www.stayful.com and sign up there.
Please also see check my related article from my INC column: How This Startup Is Transforming The Hotel Experience