The company that owns The Standard hotel chain, known for its boutique properties on New York’s High Line and London’s King Cross, is seeking to break the dominance of online booking platforms with the launch of a recommendations-based app that it describes as “the first social travel agency”.
Amar Lalvani, Standard International’s chief executive, said the app — called Benny (from the phrase “friends with benefits”) — would allow people to recommend rooms to friends at the best rate, earning a commission, and wresting bookings away from the internet giants that increasingly dominate the hotels business.
“We are launching a model that will be at the intersection of social media, the gig economy and travel,” Mr Lalvani told the Financial Times. “The way Airbnb made everybody a host and Uber made everyone a driver, we are going to develop a system that makes everybody a travel agent.”
Mr Lalvani said the initiative had received an investment of an undisclosed size from SWaN and Legend Venture Partners, which focuses on consumer businesses “primed for disruption”, and would be launching in October.
He said that the venture was a reaction to the rise of online booking sites such as Expedia and Orbitz, which because of their scale have eroded hoteliers’ profitability and prompted a wave of industry consolidation.
“No one has linked these things together yet,” Mr Lalvani said. “Online travel agents’ margins are significant, and this is a way to play in that space.”
Benny is the latest tech foray by Standard, which in 2016 launched One Night, a mobile app providing last-minute hotel rooms, and recently secured $5m of funding.
The Benny app launch is part of a broader expansion by the New York-based group, whose largest shareholder is the Thai property group Sansiri, which in 2017 paid $58m for a 35 per cent stake.
Sansiri at the time also took stakes in five other businesses, including a stake of less than 15 per cent in Monocle, the UK-based publishing and lifestyle group.
Standard on Wednesday laid out details of its plans for new properties at a business briefing in Bangkok. The group will open its seventh hotel in the Maldives by October, and has another 15 planned in cities including Chicago, Paris, Jakarta and Melbourne.
In London, the brand refurbished the Brutalist former Camden Town Hall Annex as its flagship property, which opened last month. Much of the expansion is in Asia, where Mr Lalvani said 60 per cent of the world’s millennials, soon to enter their peak earning years, were based.
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