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by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | January 12, 2012

It was bound to happen. Yesterday, in an unprecedented collaborative partnership, six of the hotel industry's largest companies -- Choice Hotels International, Hilton Worldwide, Hyatt Hotels Corp., InterContinental Hotels Group, Marriott International and Wyndham Hotel Group -- launched a new online booking site, Roomkey.com.

It's a move reminiscent of the 2001 launch of Orbitz.com, when in response to the rise of online travel agencies such as Expedia and Travelocity, five of the nation's largest airlines banded together to offer their products directly to the consumer, thereby reducing commission payments to intermediaries. The most immediate implication of Roomkey.com, which currently features 23,000 hotel rooms and is expected to grow to 80,000 by year's end, is that it will push bookings directly to its founding-member hotel websites, and that's an enormous implication for hoteliers who have watched their commission payouts to o-line intermediaries (including Hotwire.com, Kayak.com, Priceline.com and Hotels.com) soar in recent years.

In an official statement, Robert McDowell, Choice Hotels' senior vice president, global distribution, said, "We at Choice are thrilled to be a part of Roomkey alongside these five other global hotel companies. In the face of a staggering number of online booking options, our goal is to make the experience of finding the right hotel as personal and enjoyable as the experience of staying in one." And if that wasn't enough of an indication of the impetus for the new booking site, Chuck Sullivan, Hilton's senior vice president, global online services, said, "Hilton Worldwide is extremely pleased to join this unique venture that will provide customers with a wide range of travel options and the confidence that they will receive exceptional rates by booking directly with suppliers through Room Key."

The Hotel Insider decided to test the site's claim to rate transparency and accuracy. Of the five hotels chosen for New York City, the rates offered at Roomkey.com matched those listed on Expedia and Travelocity as well as on each hotel's individual website. Ditto for Chicago and Orlando. That rate confidence makes Roomkey.com a powerful competitor among online booking agencies, and gives them another platform to leverage brand awareness and build consumer loyalty. The site, which for now is U.S.-based, has immediate plans for growth in English-speaking regions outside the States, such as Canada, the Caribbean and the U.K. In addition, the site will soon offer independent reviews and the ability to share travel plans with friends and family. The founding hotel companies say they are looking forward to having other hotel companies join them. Starwood, are you listening?