It was a scenario they'd seen before in 2011, when a freak October snowstorm left many without electricity and a warm place to stay. Hurricane Sandy has just passed over Cuba and was churning toward landfall in the States. Mobile-equipped consumers in the soon-to-be-affected tri-state area (New Jersey/New York/Connecticut) wasted no time firing up their Priceline: Hotels, Flights & Rental Cars(sm) app to secure safe lodging in advance of the monster storm.
"Mobile devices are fast becoming an essential part of an emergency preparedness kit," said John Caine, priceline.com's Chief Product Officer. "Finding accommodations in a weather emergency is usually a race for a limited number of rooms. A phone book and a telephone can be a time-consuming recipe for disaster. With an iOS or Android phone and the Priceline: Hotels, Flights & Rental Cars(sm) app, consumers instantly have comprehensive lists of hotels on-screen and can book those fast-disappearing rooms with just a few taps."
Looking at the combined booking activity for all three affected states, it was clear that speed in getting a room was important with Hurricane Sandy fast approaching. On October 26th, bookings at hotels located within 5 miles of customers were running 67% higher than normal (Hurricane Sandy was still 3 days away). By Sunday the 28th (the day before Sandy's landfall), those bookings were 129% above normal levels.
Demand for rooms was keenest in the affected parts of New York State, where bookings at hotels within 5 miles of customers were running 132% above normal on October 28th, and 142% above normal on the 31st. Also on the 28th, bookings at Connecticut hotels within 5 miles of customers were 109% above normal, and 108% above normal further south in New Jersey.
As nearby hotel availability dwindled, customers broadened their search, despite deteriorating travel conditions. On Friday the 25th, average bookings in the 3-state area at hotels between 5 and 35 miles away from customers were up only 22% above normal. By Sunday the 28th, the more distant bookings were approximately 78% above normal.
In addition to the added miles, consumers were broadening their hotel star preferences in an attempt to secure rooms. On October 24th, before the spike, the average star level requested by priceline.com app customers was a 3. By October 27th, it had averaged down to 2.91, then down to 2.61 on October 31st.
By October 29th, landfall day in New Jersey, hotels in the affected tri-state area were under sell-out conditions, and the mobile booking trend data showed it. Even for hotels between 5 miles and 35 miles away from consumers, the 3-state average accepted bookings from thepriceline.com app had tumbled to 32% below normal levels. Availability of rooms had dried up, leaving some to wait out the storm and its after-effects at home. Connecticut residents were hit hardest by the hotel shortage, with bookings on October 29th running 86% below normal for hotels within 35 miles of a customer. Over in New York, October 29th bookings were 28% below normal levels for hotels within 35 miles of a customer.
"The Hurricane Sandy data indicates that mobile devices and apps are emerging as the 'go-to' solutions for consumers when emergency weather-related travel is required," said Caine. "They are using these apps to help them be first in line for travel services. And it now appears that, unlike the typical last-minute booking activity we see among mobile travelers, these customers are most definitely not waiting around to make their bookings. In fact, our mobile customers may have been days ahead of the heaviest reservation request activity seen by area hotels."
Priceline.com's travel app, Priceline: Hotels, Flights & Rental Cars(sm), is optimized for the iPhone5 and is available for all iOS devices (iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, iPad mini). It can be downloaded for free from the iTunes store http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/priceline-hotel-car-negotiator/id336381998?mt=8&uo=4. Priceline.com also offers a version of the app, with hotel and rental car booking features, for Android, that can be downloaded for free from the Android market https://market.android.com/details?id=com.priceline.android.negotiator. Travelers with other devices can access priceline.com's mobile-friendly website at m.priceline.com.
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