Open your internet browser, and you’ve got plenty of sites to choose from to search for hotel rooms. In a hyper-competitive travel space, there’s no barrier to entry at Priceline, Expedia, Orbitz, or any of the other names on the mile-long list of travel and lodging sites that want your credit card number. However, there’s a new name in the travel space with plans to restrict access to an exclusive group of members. Benny is an invite-only platform from Sage45, the same company that operates the last-minute booking app, One Night. Benny launched this week, and while the concept is new, it relies on something that’s tried-and-true: travel agents.
These are not the travel agents from yesteryear, though. Instead, the company wants to turn travel enthusiasts into agents who can share their passion about hotels — and exclusive rates — with their friends. Agents receive commissions (no word on how much) for rooms that are attributed to their recommendations. There is an application to become an agent that includes listing favorite hotels in the world, places where the applicant regularly goes out to in their hometown, and other information to gauge whether they align with the kind of lifestyle hotels that will be available on the platform.
Agents aren’t the only ones who need to meet Benny’s standards. Hotels must apply, too, and it’s safe to assume the collection will not include conventional big box properties. “Benny is not for just any hotel,” the website reads. “If selected to join, your hotel will get recommended by the most discerning travelers to their curated communities through invitation only.”
For now, the platform only includes a handful of cities: Austin, Miami, New York, Los Angeles, and Palm Springs. However, anyone involved in travel should keep a close eye on the business model, which replaces advertising and famous spokespeople with a more personalized and grassroots way of curating hotels. Instead of combing through reviews from thousands of strangers on massive online travel outlets, Benny is built on the promise of tapping into a small network of travelers who are incentivized to spread the word to their friends and keep their trust with real recommendations.
Be on the lookout to see how many friends Benny can make in 2020, and check out Convene’s lodging forecast to see what else will change in hotels next year.
David McMillin is an associate editor at Convene.