Bob Diener, founder of Hotels.com and getaroom.com, spent a few minutes with Smallbiztechnology to discuss online commerce and what it takes to build the business online. Before Diener went full swing into the travel industry, he practiced law with the international law firm of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher and graduated from Cornell Law School in 1982. He has spent 25 years online in the industry, and has noticed immense change with online commerce over those years. Even so, Diener continues to be an innovator in the industry.
“It’s important for entrepreneurs to be creative,” Diener said. “Most just copy. The entire industry copied my merchant model and very few innovate.”
Diener said that this is what helped set him apart early on with his competition, with both Hotels.com and getaroom.com. He was of the first, with Hotels.com, to be part of an interactive Internet, where people can take payments and make those reservations online. With getaroom.com, the newest project, he’s the first to utilize the deal craze by providing better deals to travelers on hotel rooms through hotel buyouts. This means that parts of hotels (usually upscale) are purchased, and those rates are exclusively offered at getaroom.com. A great as all this sounds, Diener stated that for online commerce, it’s not enough for a website or company to have a good product.
“Customers need to be comfortable with [the product]” he said. “The website also needs to be a fast and easy site to use. Consumers need to grasp the info right away.”
Getting this done takes more than fancy web design and excellent HTML coding. Diener achieved speed and ease on his websites through testing, conducting focus groups, measuring progress, and figuring out what works and what doesn’t.
Something that does work is excellent customer service, which Diener and getaroom.com provides with a domestically-based call center filled with agents that really know hotels and the travel industry. This knowledge gives consumers the confidence needs to book hotels and to make these payments online and over the phone. Getaroom.com is also the first and only company now offering lower rates in the call center for hotels than the lowest rates online, through their unpublished rate program.
“My overall basic philosophy is that if you treat people right, then business will grow,” he said. “The people make the business.”
These people includes more than the consumers, but the employees as well. All the employees of getaroom.com are part-owners, so they not only have a vested interest in the company, but they are rewarded when they build the business and see it grow.
As for the future plans for getaroom.com, Diener has a goal of making the site the largest lodging site in the world. He is currently expanding the international growth the site’s services, as well as building new innovations to stay ahead of the curve.
“I’m going to keep building new models and developing different ways to book hotel rooms,” he said. “I love what I do and I’m gonna keep doing it.”