HAPPY Hotels, the first Filipino-owned travel booking app, was launched Friday with the goal of boosting Philippine tourism by supporting local hotels and travel companies.

Like competitors Agoda, Booking.com, and Airbnb, the Happy Hotels app allows travelers to book hotels, bed and breakfasts (BnBs), and dormitels all over the Philippines, the company said.

“The number one problem with these online travel agencies (OTAs) and hotel aggregators is they charge too much. They’re a foreign company but there’s no other option for local hotel partners,” Happy Hotels Chief Executive Officer Emmanuel Jason Lao said in an interview with BusinessWorld after the launch in Tagaytay.

“These companies charge 15-20% off the bat. Happy Hotels charges only 10% so there’s leeway for hotel partners’ savings,” he added.

The app is designed to cater to the diverse travel needs of both Filipino and foreign tourists, offering features like a “Near Me” section that shows the nearest accommodations available and a “Calendar of Events” section that shows upcoming festivals all over the country.

Mr. Lao said empowering local business owners comes first, especially given the struggles of the Philippine tourism industry coming from the pandemic.

“We don’t want people’s earnings to go abroad. We want to redistribute it here and support and give back to the community with our partner charities and with promos on the app,” he said.

Happy Hotels has already partnered with over 100 properties across a variety of popular destinations like Boracay, Siargao, Tagaytay, Metro Manila, and Cebu. It plans to acquire 500 hotels, dormitels, and BnBs annually to compete with existing aggregators.

For the charity component, the app will be donating 5-10% from each user’s booking fee proceeds to a partner non-profit institution, available in the charity options menu.

On the challenge of taking on the larger competitors, Mr. Lao said: “Our advantage is that we’re here in the Philippines and we’re Filipinos, so we know the heart of the Filipinos. We want this to be a premier app for Philippine tourism and we will compete with global players.”

Happy Hotels app can now be downloaded on the App Store and Google Play Store. Users can enjoy the promos: Vue Tagaytay 50% off, Asiatel Pasay 20% off, and Skytel Puerto Princesa 25% off. — Brontë H. Lacsamana