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Roomkey.com, a new hotel metasearch site created by six of the largest hotel chains, launched recently.

With industry vet John Davis at the helm and backing from Choice, Hilton, Hyatt, IHG, Marriott and Wyndham, it somewhat resembles the industry’s efforts to drive down costs and create consumer choice several years ago when a similar group created Travelweb.com – same CEO, slightly different group of hotel brands (noticeably absent from the group this time around is Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide.) Travelweb was sold to Priceline.com and formed the basis of their non-opaque hotel product in North America.

Different this time around is metasearch. Roomkey is a pure meta play with room results returned in a nice, clean tile format:

Prior to the launch, the group purchased hotelicopter which had built a nice technology platform and user interface (as well as the awesome flying hotel ad that you may remember)

Clearly, and as expected, the call to action is a link to book at the sponsor’s branded websites.

Roomkey (thus far) is a tool for comparing prices between hotels, notprices from different channels for the same hotel a la Kayak. Kayak pulls together disparate prices from various sources:

Multi-channel search, which Kayak never really delivered on the air side, is actually quite strong for hotels – and apparently, still an important issue judging from the sample above in which several of the founding members appear to be undercutting their own websites in various channels which Kayak is able to find and display.

Inventory today appears to be limited to the founding chains but we are sure that will grow, at least in critical markets such as New York and Las Vegas.

Hotel descriptive content on the beta site is decent with the usual photos and descriptions, although some brands (who shall remain nameless here) still seem to be returning content in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. Given it is a beta, there are some photos with slightly strange descriptions: “NYCGH_P015 Exterior” but this will no doubt be cleaned up in due course.

That said, a great feature is the clear link to the hotels’ property page where the rich content (and booking opportunity) lives.

Oddly, star ratings are included in the search results but it isn’t clear how those stars are determined. In the past, the sometimes seemingly arbitrary OTA star ratings have been a source of frustration for hotels and brands alike. Roomkey promises to add user reviews shortly which should provide another, often more reliable way for guests to gauge hotels.

The hotel chains are not resting on their laurels after their past distribution wars with online travel agents (OTAs) and other distribution channels. Once fully built out with a mobile site, more inventory, reviews, Roomkey could be a potent weapon for consumers who want to be able to compare locations, features, rates across multiple chains and brands. With Google rapidly moving into the travel (and hotel) space and OTAs continuing to gain share, Roomkey will be another arrow in the chain’s quivers to drive branded website growth and control distribution.