Social Travel Startup WeHostels Embraces Mobile With New iPhone App

We wrote about WeHostels (under its old name back in March when it offered a social booking website for hostels and was planning to launch on mobile. Now, the company has released an iPhone app. In fact, CEO Diego Saez-Gil tells me that the team decided, “We have to go all in on mobile,” so it shut down its website.

Why the shift? Apparently, even before the app launched, traffic was growing 10 times faster on mobile than it was on the web, so WeHostels decided to focus and try to create the best mobile experience possible. The mobile use case is different from the desktop one, Seaz-Gil says, and it’s something that other companies haven’t really cracked yet.

When you open the app, you can either search for your destination (WeHostels now covers 80 cities in Europe, North America, South America, and southeast Asia), or browse a list of the app’s top cities. After you select a location, you get a list of hostels and other affordable accommodations, as well as comments from the community about the different options.

You can book your room directly from the app, paying only 10 percent of the total fee upfront, and if you do, you’ll see other users who have also booked a stay in the same city on overlapping dates. WeHostels connects with your Facebook account, so users can see if their interests match up or if they have mutual friends, and they can also sends messages to try to meet up during the trip.

WeHostels has a direct relationship with some hostels, but it also expanded its inventory by striking partnership deals with Hostelworld and, more recently, Expedia.

As for the differences between this version and the old website, Seaz-Gil notes that when you’re booking via mobile, you’re usually not planning too far ahead. So for example, if I wanted to take a trip across Europe, I might book the first stop from my computer at home, then use the mobile app to reserve rooms as I travel (and to find people to meet up with in each city). That’s why WeHostels only shows locations that have rooms available over the next few days. It also keeps the list of hostels fairly short, Seaz-Gil says, because on mobile, “Users want less options, but they want to feel that all the options are curated.” (It parallels some of the thinking behind HotelTonight, except HotelTonight includes more expensive options, and it doesn’t allow you to connect with other travelers.)

The iPhone app launched four weeks ago, and Seaz-Gil says 30,000 people have already used it to make bookings. In contrast, the website only had 10,000 users after six months. The company plans to develop an Android app too.

You can download the WeHostels app here, and if you’re at TechCrunch Disrupt today, you can visit their booth in the Startup Alley.