Who He Is: As founder and CEO of Altimeter Capital, a hedge fund that specializes in travel-themed tech companies, Brad Gerstner spends a lot of time on the road as both a business and a leisure traveler. As a result, he knows how to spot a good hotel room (“on a high floor and away from the elevator”)—a skill he leveraged when creating his latest company.
His Big Idea: The website room77.com promises to help travelers pick the perfect hotel room. (Sort of like what SeatGuru did for airline seats.) The site offers floor plans, pictures, user reviews, and window views for rooms in 2,500 three-star-plus hotels (and counting). A new iPhone app provides the same service for free, on the go. So now guests can book a room and not worry about that blocked ocean view the hotel’s website neglected to mention.
Who He Is: “I got bitten by the travel bug late in life,” serial entrepreneur Sam Shank says. He’s certainly making up for lost time. In the past decade, Shank founded the hotel site travelpost.com, and dealbase.com, which compiles online travel discounts. His latest venture, Hotel Tonight, comes to the aid of stranded travelers.
His Big Idea: While on a business trip to Seattle last year, Shank’s plans changed at the last minute and he needed to stay an extra night, so he tried to book something on his phone—a surprisingly difficult process. The result? The free Hotel Tonight app (iPhone/iPad), which instantly delivers three one-night hotel deals per city in different categories and lets you book one in just seconds. The app is available for Boston, Chicago, L.A., New York, Miami, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C., with Las Vegas on the way.
Thanks to a recent explosion of online booking sites, the $24 billion short-term rental market is now about one-fifth of all U.S. hotel-room revenue, according to Alexis de Belloy, a vice president at HomeAway and VRBO. De Belloy’s sites, which are among the first generation of online rental agencies, cater mainly to families looking to book entire houses—a great way to save money on the road. The success of HomeAway and VRBO has helped to launch a slew of home-rental sites, many of which serve travelers with ever more particular tastes and interests. With listings in 10,000 cities and counting, AirBnB is like eBay for rentals: each host has a profile with user reviews and images. Plus, everyone is encouraged to submit ratings after a visit, which maintains quality control. Roomorama and iStopOver provide similar offerings, with additional features such as the ability to post requests for specific types of accommodations, in case you want, say, organic food in the fridge or a toddler-friendly apartment. And finally, taking the house-swapping trend to a whole new level is Luxe Home Swap, which lets you trade stays at your chic place with one of thousands of comparably stylish options across the globe for an annual fee of $159. At press time, a high-design house in Tucson, Arizona, and a relaxed beach retreat on Isla Fuerte, in Colombia, were just two of the properties available.
Thanks to the rise of social networking, smartphones, and faster Internet speeds, it’s never been easier to immerse yourself in a new language without even leaving home.
The best-known method is Rosetta Stone, the interactive, total-immersion-style program that uses intuitive flash-card-like video games to teach students in the same way a child might learn a language. In other words: no boring grammar lectures or lessons. The service’s Totale Version 4 program ($249; rosettastone.com) offers interactive, voice-recognition-enabled lessons in any of 24 languages on CD, online, or via an app for iPhone, as well as through live online sessions with a native speaker. For the more scholarly minded, Livemocha’s Active classes($99–$399 per year; livemocha.com) for French, Italian, Spanish, and German deliver a mix of text-based grammar and usage lessons and repeat-after-me-style exercises that use voice recognition to test pronunciation. Learners also interact with teachers and native speakers online, both in live video sessions and via e-mail and recorded voice messages.