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Posted: November 15, 2013

State of the state: Travel

Denver startup targets travelers drawn to rewards and low rates

Gigi Sukin

Before Expedia, Priceline and KAYAK, travel coordination required separate airline, hotel and car rental phone calls or a pre-trip trip to the travel agent to ensure a smooth journey from takeoff to landing. But with the rise of online travel tools and reviews, what will be the next big thing in the booking world to improve the ease, accessibility and cost-effectiveness for business and leisure travelers?

Elia Wallen likes to think it will be Hotel Engine.

Following up on the success of Travelers Haven, his temporary housing venture started in Florida in 2006 and moved to Denver in 2008, Wallen’s latest project has him building a new booking experience, cutting out the middleman and giving vacationers a new smart, social and cheap-as-possible experience.

Set to launch the spinoff this November, Hotel Engine asks its members to sign into a lock-and-key network and then secures exclusive hotel rates.

“The difference between us and something like KAYAK is that all those sites have roughly the same rates. Hotels do not allow public-facing travel agencies to list hotels below BAR (best available rates),” Wallen said of the $19 billion online hotel reservation industry. “But if you can make the prices private with a required login, you can get exclusive member rates and take up to 25 percent off what you’re finding on other sites. This brings hotel booking up to speed with the 21st century.”

According to the 30-year-old serial entrepreneur, “reward-hungry and rate-crazy people” who sign onto Hotel Engine can receive:

• Between 2 percent and 6 percent rewards back on   every booking

• Access to exclusive rates

• Calendar integration

• Automatic trip-sharing with social contacts

He said the hotel component of travel offers the most potential business benefit.

“If I had to pick any piece I wanted to be a part of, hotels make the most sense to me because then I know your location, I know where you’re staying and for how long … just think of all the things I can give you around those few details.”

For just a taste, Wallen offered up ideas that included:

• Weather forecasts

• Potential partnerships with Uber and other driving services

• Location-based activity and event suggestions

He referenced innovative digital travel services – including Hotel Tonight, a site for spontaneous travelers to track down cheap rates at the last minute, and Airbnb, a community marketplace to list and book unique, global accommodations – as inspiration.

Having started working in a restaurant at age 15, Wallen describes himself as being “passionate about hospitality,” and hopes to follow in the groundbreaking footsteps of Elon Musk and Richard Branson in their respective industries. “I want to recreate the whole experience,” Wallen said. “Everyone likes to travel and for me, making customers happy is the number one priority.”

Hotel Engine would like to offer CoBizMag a special code that will give the first 500 visitors access to the site as well as 1,000 free points redeemable for travel, available Nov. 1.

Invite Code:  CoBizMag1000

Gigi Sukin is an Associate Editor at ColoradoBiz. She can be reached at gsukin@cobizmag.com.

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