Gekko is a new Facebook app that allows users to get travel recommendations from friends, but also pay for rooms and requests deals from hotels and restaurants. While there are already several travel apps and websites that let users ask for tips from their Facebook friends such as TripAdvisor and Gogobot, Gekko differentiates itself by aggregating hotel prices within the app rather than forcing users to check each travel booking site individually. While the concept of being able to request discounts and perks sounds good, it’s unclear whether businesses will actually take the time and have the savvy to grant them.
Gekko was developed by a 12-person team plus some outside developers. The London-based company has taken private investment from Holland’s Velocity Capital, which is also the primary investor in Gekko founder Dino van Es’ online stock brokerage firm Zecco. The company receives a revenue share from any bookings made through the app.
Once users have installed the app, they’re given options to ask friends for advice by posting to the Facebook news feed. They can invite friends to the app or follow other users so they can see their in-app activity on a Gekko news feed. Users can also build lists of their favorite places that can be shared with friends.
The interface is reasonably well-designed, but all of these features can found on other apps and sites where they’re more likely to have friends. What’s more interesting is what happens when users search for a hotel, city, or restaurant. Search results are filtered to promote places that friends have been to, favorited, or commented on.
While viewing a hotel users can set their stay dates and request prices. At this point, Trip Advisor and Gogobot open a cascade of individual windows displaying prices from each travel site users leave checked — not a good user experience. Gekko loads for a second before displaying a list of prices from each site. This makes it simple to find the lowest price and click through to pay.
If users don’t see a satisfactory price, or want to shoot for even cheaper they can click a “Request a deal” button”. Gekko then asks the venue if it would like to grant a discount, upgrade, complimentary drink or other perk. Users are notified in the app if their request has been approved.
Gekko CEO Michel Cassius told me there aren’t privacy concerns as businesses don’t know the identity of the user requesting a deal. I expressed skepticism about whether the deal inquiries would reach someone authorized to grant them, and whether businesses would take the time or be willing to respond. He said it’s “too early for us to say. Hotels have deals they offer to their registered users or through sites, and this is another channel for doing promotions.”
Cassius told me that the Gekko beta test saw high engagement and time spent in the app. Soon, the app will be available in Spanish, French, German, Dutch, and Portuguese. It is also seeking celebrity ambassador who can amass a following within the app and give special recommendations of destinations.
Though it is late comer to the space, the low-friction user experience and social nature of travel booking could help Gekko gain traction. Its long-term success will be influenced by the personalized deals feature. If users believe they can get exclusive perks by booking through Gekko rather than elsewhere, it could stand to monetize well through its revenue share arrangement.