‘Snap Your Stay,’ A New Way To Review Your Hotel Experience

hotel tonight appWe’ve talked in the past about last-minute booking application HotelTonight, which allows travelers to book discounted, same-night hotel stays in major cities across the country. It’s a well thought out application and we generally find that the prices are pretty competitive as well.

The application is back with its newest redesigned version, offering a Price Guarantee functionality that ensures the rates are the same or better than competitors. If you find a lower price elsewhere, HotelTonight offers a booking credit equal to the difference in fare.

But we’re most excited about the “Snap Your Stay” feature, which allows users to upload a series of live photos of the hotel bed, bathroom, view, lobby and exterior, plus one cool feature of their choice to the app. Guests get $5 future booking credit ($10 if their photos are good enough to be featured) as incentive. The app isn’t the first to showcase live photos to assist in a travel review – TripAdvisor has a similar functionality, but it is the first to do so in a consistent manner (meaning travelers will see all pertinent parts of their stay) as well as in such a way that incentivizes travelers to share.

We’d love to see a live view of the hotel, and hopefully this new feature can help us make our booking decisions even easier.

What do you think? Are you more likely to book a hotel if current photos are live in the app, or are you most concerned with price?

The Anatomy Of A Perfect Hotel (In Tangier)

hotel ,Tangier
A hotel can make or break your vacation. We’ve all heard stories about crappy dives ruining someone’s trip. Hey, we’ve written about plenty of them here on Gadling. But every once in a while we come across a hotel that exceeds our expectations.

Hoteliers, take note. This is how to do it right.

While fleeing the Spanish Christmas to Tangier, we took a relative’s recommendation and booked a room at La Tangerina Guest Home in the Casbah. The first good impression came before we got there with their detailed website where you can view all ten rooms – a big help in deciding which one to take. We selected Room 3 for 65 euros ($86), one of the cheapest. There is also a smaller, cheaper room, and some larger suites suitable for a whole family. The price includes breakfast.

Since we assumed there would be the usual hassle at the North African airport, we booked a taxi through the hotel. We later found out they didn’t overcharge us like a lot of hotels would – another point in their favor.

La Tangerina is located on the northern edge of the Casbah overlooking the protective wall facing north to the Strait of Gibraltar. It’s part of an old private residence. Only the Sultan’s family and hangers-on were allowed to live in the Casbah, so the building has a good pedigree. There are four floors built around an inner courtyard. The ground floor has a couple of lounges opening onto the courtyard and the dining room is also on this level.

%Gallery-175868%We got to sample the kitchen the first night. I had an excellent tagine. Breakfast the next day included bread, cake and msemen, a sweet flatbread popular here in Morocco that quickly became my favorite. Service was fast and the food consistently good.

The rooms are tastefully decorated with bright walls and old prints of Tangier and Morocco. Bathrooms are modern and everything was cleaned daily. In a cage outside our door was a happy little canary I nicknamed Parsley. That’s an inside joke between the Spanish and the Moroccans. They don’t think it’s funny; I think it’s hilarious.

We didn’t spend much time in the room, though, because the rooftop terrace was where we really wanted to be. The terrace offers sweeping views of the Strait of Gibraltar. There’s a covered divan if you want to take a nap, chairs and tables if you want to sit and read, and an upper sun deck for tanning. We spent a lot of time lazing around up there, drinking mint tea and eating amazing little Moroccan sweets. We had a nice surprise when we checked out and discovered they were free!

The terrace really makes this hotel and induces a certain laziness that cuts into sightseeing time. That was fine by us because we wanted a relaxed holiday. It also served well for a New Year’s Eve party with some of the other guests. While Spain is due north of Tangier, it’s in the next time zone and so we got to watch the distant flare of fireworks at 11 p.m., and then have a second celebration at midnight.

Luckily for us, this hotel serves alcohol, which isn’t always the case in this Muslim nation. The Moroccans make some fine white wine, although the red we tried was too young for our taste. There was also French champagne on hand for New Year’s Eve.

All in all, La Tangerina is one of the best hotel experiences I’ve had in 33 countries of travel. The management gets everything right, from the beautiful terrace to little touches such as the bowl of free tangerines in the courtyard. The one thing I didn’t try was the hammam and massage service. I suspect those are excellent as well.

Would you like to give a shout out to your favorite hotel? Tell us about it in the comments section!

For more on what goes on behind the scenes in a hotel, check out McLean Robbins’ series “The Birth of a Hotel.”

[Photo by Almudena Alonso-Herrero]

Gallery: Hotel Tomo, San Francisco’s anime hotel

Inexpensive hotels are hard to come by in San Francisco. Especially properties that are also convenient to the city’s major attractions and have easy access to public transportation. Add to the checklist the desire to stay somewhere that is not a complete dive and the options become slim to none.

At least that’s what I thought before stumbling upon Hotel Tomo, a Joie de Vivre property with a Japanese pop culture theme. The hotel website promised unique murals in each room, a quirky lobby with arcade-style games, and an on-site restaurant that has been serving Japanese cuisine for over 30 years. There was even an option to stay in the “Player’s Suite,” a party room with a circular bed and an 8-foot LCD screen for playing video games and belting out karaoke. It seemed too quirky to pass up.

I definitely didn’t know what to expect. Would I be bombarded with manga and have to endure mingling with pigtailed girls decked out in Hello Kitty accessories in the lobby? After making my reservations, I feared the hotel might end up being too over the top. But once I checked in and took a peek around, my anime anxiety subsided. In reality, Joie de Vivre took an outdated hotel and added subtle touches to give it some character. The communal spaces were painted in fun colors, while the comfortable rooms were furnished with clean lines and tastefully decorated. Despite the pictures on the hotel website, there were no graphic novels or action figures on the bedside table (I suppose you have to bring those yourself). I did, however, see some guests decked out as video game characters on their way to a convention while passing through the lobby.

Would I stay at Hotel Tomo again? For sure. Will I recommend it to others? Only those who will enjoy on-site parking, free Internet, a Keurig coffeemaker, friendly staff, and a fun atmosphere. Click through the gallery below to see more images of the hotel.

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Hotel Review: The Linden Centre, Xizhou, Yunnan, China

the linden centreThough it was only built in 1947, the Linden Centre is a nationally protected building – in fact, it holds the same status at the Great Wall. Built by a wealthy merchant in traditional Bai style architecture, the grounds were occupied by the army during the Cultural Revolution; the Red Guard were kept at bay, and thus the building and its paintings and artifacts remained intact.

Today, the Linden Centre functions as both boutique hotel and learning center. Meals and transport are included in the cost, and you can expect a quiet yet stimulating stay.

Gadling visited the Centre in mid-November on a trip through Yunnan with WildChina (read more about it here); here are our impressions of the hotel.

The Check-in

The alleys in Xizhou are so narrow that buses can’t squeeze through them; instead, your bus stops about a block away and you’re met by staff who carry your luggage through the unassuming gates.

Once you pass inside, you’ll enter a Bai-style courtyard, which means that one wall is a dedicated “reflecting” wall — painted white, it’s meant to reflect the sun’s rays. The other three walls are made up of guest rooms, a small bar, and offices. Though the grounds have been modernized to a very comfortable Western standard, the Linden Centre isn’t the type of place you’d stop over for business meetings; think of it more as a retreat. In fact, Gadling’s own features editor Don George will be teaching a writing workshop there in 2011!

%Gallery-110440%The Rooms

The 14 rooms at the Linden Centre were remodeled to modern Western criterion but retain their authenticity. Original feng shui principles were kept, and the lofty ceilings, antiques, and tall, wood-shuttered windows add a touch of the grand. Mattresses are large and Western (those of you who have traveled in China know what a difference that makes) and come equipped with thick comforters.

The rooms also contain a writing desk, wireless Internet, and a walk-in closet/nook complete with fluffy terrycloth bathrobes and tea-making equipment.

The Bathroom

The walls and floor of the bathroom are laid with dark stone, creating a spa-like ambiance. The large shower is walk-in style, with high-end toiletries on offer. A small stone sculpture protruded from one wall in my shower; just another touch of detail that makes the place special. Hot water is turned on in the mornings and evenings, and of course there is a Western toilet.

The Bar and Restaurant

The Cafe-Wine Bar straddles two courtyards, with walls opening to either side, and has a very laid-back vibe; it’s the type of place where you might go read a book over a cup of tea. Low tables and soft lighting impart not so much a lounge feeling as a coffee-house one – and I wouldn’t say that that’s a bad thing. Still, it has an admirable wine list (which they were still putting it together when I stayed there) and a range of beers and liquors.

The restaurant is amazing in that it has an entirely glass ceiling. This feature gives it the feel of a courtyard, but you don’t have to worry about the elements. Paintings in this room were left untouched. A small fish pond and fountain break the space up, making dining more intimate.

Food is locally sourced, and most meals are eaten Chinese style, in a group. A breakfast buffet offers anything the Western diner might desire, from omelets made-to-order to freshly brewed Yunnan coffee.

Facilities

The Linden Centre is a sort of learning retreat, and as such has almost as many activity rooms as it does guest rooms. A spiral staircase leads to a rooftop terrace, where you can gaze across fields and the village. There’s a library and painting room, a conference room, an exercise room, a small meditation chamber, and a large kids’ activity center.

The Bottom Line

It’s hard not to be impressed by the Linden Centre. The preserved architecture, antiques and art (the owners run a gallery back in the States), and the emphasis on learning make for a great environment. The owners are warm and involved; you’ll even see their kids around. Though small-group retreats and seminars are a bit more common, the independent traveler will feel very comfortable.

Read more about my travels in Yunnan here.

Though my stay at the Linden Centre was funded by WildChina, the opinions expressed here are all my own.

Accor hotels adds TripAdvisor reviews to its hotel sites

While hundreds of hotels prepare to file a lawsuit against user-generated review site TripAdvisor.com, Accor hotels has decided to take another approach: promoting TripAdvsior.

The hotel group added feeds to TripAdvisor reviews on the homepages of each of its more than 4,000 hotels worldwide. The links include both good and bad reviews, along with the hotel’s overall rating on the site and a link to read user review. The hotel is even offering links to the official review on the TripAdvisor site.

Claire Wearne, Accor’s director of marketing, quality and consumer products, tells The Sydney Morning Herald that the decision to work with TripAdvisor is a nod to the importance of user-generated content. “We appreciate that the decision making of our guests is no longer limited to the information in our brochure,” she says. “We understand that they are making decisions based on valid information from other users.”

We want to hear from you. Is this a good move from Accor? Or, could TripAdvisor reviews do more harm than good?

[via HotelsMag.com]