HotelTonight CTO Sam MacDonnell Shares Their AI Journey So Far

HotelTonight CTO Sam MacDonnell Shares Their AI Journey So Far

Robert Woolliams

September 2, 2016

4 Min Read
AI Business recently spoke to Sam MacDonnell, CTO at HotelTonight.
HotelTonight is a mobile travel app that allows users to find deals at top hotels up to a week in advance. When hotels have unsold rooms, they load them on HotelTonight, which means users get deals on rooms that would otherwise go empty. HotelTonight has been downloaded 14 million times in over 35 countries, and partners with over 15000 hotels.
Sam is a builder of technology himself – having earned his coding stripes at various startups – and an experienced builder of teams that deliver innovative mobile experiences.
He was previously Director of Engineering for Core Technology at Autodesk and prior to that he managed and architected mobile services at Adobe and Macromedia.
 Sam will be at The AI Summit in San Francisco on 28-29 September as both a keynote speaker and panellist, so we caught up with him to find out his thoughts on AI in the enterprise as a whole, as well as the current state of play with AI at HotelTonight.



sam macdonnell hoteltonight rs1

Sam MacDonnell of HotelTonight


Sam is assured that AI will have a positive impact on business, enabling simpler user experiences, safer transactions and optimized business workflows. He expands on the advantages of AI implementation:

“Incorporating machine learning models into your business allows for real-time decision making without having to wait for traditional analysis typically performed on your larger, slower, data warehouse”.


There are, of course, challenges that businesses must overcome before they are able to adopt AI. Sam acknowledges a simple, albeit major, barrier – cost – before elaborating on the complex steps involved in implementation:

“There is an upfront investment before you can even get started with AI. You have to get your data streaming into your system, then you have to be able to consume it and then you can start writing classifiers that allow you to make meaningful decisions. Then you have to get those decisions back into your system so your business logic can leverage the analysis”.


To get AI to a point where it can be useful requires a long process, then – and as Sam admits, “it’s a bit of a leap of faith to build the infrastructure and then put this new paradigm to work”. But it is becoming easier, he adds:

“The tools today make the infrastructure more approachable and small teams are able to get these pipelines up and running and show that it can work”.


So where are HotelTonight up to with AI, and what related technologies are they currently using? Sam explains several applications:

“At HotelTonight we began leveraging machine learning to protect our online transactions. We can detect fraudulent transactions with a good margin of error, leaving a handful for manual review (where we want to make sure we are not turning away good customers).

“From there we have built classifiers to monitor user generated content (UGC) making the review process much more efficient and cost-effective. We are also able to evaluate quality of text-based UGC so that we are only surfacing the best content.

“Beyond this we have models built into our marketplace so that we can provide our hotel partners with real-time guidance on how their inventory will perform”.


Looking beyond current use cases to their long-term strategy, Sam says HotelTonight is “building platforms that enable our intelligence to be easily leveraged across our services and apps”.

“I think that is the key, moving away from ‘big data’ and starting to think more about intelligence and being able to act on it in real-time.”


Speaking about the mobile commerce industry as a whole, Sam shares his thoughts on what AI offers:

“In the on-demand economy of mobile commerce, large transactions are made within minutes or seconds of consumption. You want to be able to immediately present inventory that is relevant, sell it, and stop transaction immediately if they are suspicious. All of this depends on sophisticated machine learning acting on the data in real-time”.


At The AI Summit in San Francisco on 28-29 September, Sam MacDonnell will deliver his keynote entitled 'AI for the perfect sell-out: leveraging real-time data to predict market performance', and join fellow experts on panel debate to address the question: 'What is AI doing for business today and what is it expected to deliver?'

He will be joined by other CxOs from the world's leading enterprises and the most exciting AI software developers, all gathering to explore the huge opportunity that AI presents the mobile commerce and travel industries, and many more industries besides.

To find out more, and to register to join us at the event, visit:


AI Summit San Fran print screen


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