Hotels Could Dial Up Personalization, Mobile App Adoption Via Activities

by Mark Brandau, Director of Content | October 18, 2016

It seems counterintuitive, but hotels might have found the hook that spurs more travelers to book their next stay with their brands, particularly on a mobile app: encouraging those guests to leave their room.

Suggesting local things for guests to do and, just as importantly, providing easy ways to book those activities are major initiatives for hotels and third-party brands alike.

For the hotels waking up to the growing importance of mobile booking, a slick feature suggesting nearby or on-premise activities might be what makes a certain brand’s smartphone app stand out enough to get downloaded and used regularly.

Hilton Worldwide, for example, made news in mid-September with the rollout of the Fun Finder feature to its HHonors mobile app. Using Wi-Fi, beacon technology and GPS capabilities in a user’s smartphone, Fun Finder will provide information about on-premise events and amenities, as well as detailed maps and wayfinding abilities to get to them. Only HHonors loyalty club members can use the app and the Fun Finder feature.

[bctt tweet="How dialing up #personalization could drive #mobile app usage for #hotels" username="OptimizeDemand"]

Another Way to Personalize Hotel Stays

Of interest to hotel marketers and revenue managers would be how Hilton or other hotels exploring similar location-based features for their apps get the data they need to suggest activities.

In the case of the HHonors app, guests opt in to the Fun Finder feature and voluntarily share information. They first must be a loyalty club member, book direct and download the app. A hotel would covet a guest that regularly exhibits any one of those behaviors, let alone all of them. Hilton uses a pre-arrival survey within the app to collect information on a future guest’s preferences, and then the brand customizes the Fun Finder feature to send that guest notifications for things to do during the stay.

For example, at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, one of two properties to pilot-test this functionality, a guest might receive an offer for a drink special to incentivize her to attend that night’s Waikiki Starlight Luau. Other hotels might suggest a couples massage in the on-property spa for guests who disclosed they are newlyweds on their honeymoon.

As these kinds of features get more sophisticated, hotels could also provide information for events or attractions outside the hotel’s four walls. This might involve forgoing an opportunity to capture more non-room spend from a guest, but perhaps the hotel could work out getting a cut of an activity booking if it’s routed through the loyalty club’s mobile app. Or perhaps the hotel could just build some good will by helping their guests enjoy the city where they are staying before they return to the hotel to sleep for the night.

Either way, activity booking appears to be a rising revenue center for hotels and for third-party sites as well.

In its most recent redesign, TripAdvisor placed activity bookings more prominently on its homepage, befitting a reported 150% increase in revenue from that segment of its business in the first eight months of 2016. Most industry watchers figured a move like this would come after TripAdvisor bought Viator two years ago.

Now, as if competition from online travel agencies and metasearch sites weren’t enough for hotels, the biggest sharing economy player is looking to muscle into tours and activities as well. Airbnb purchased Spain-based marketplace Trip4real in late September, a step that likely will exploit the natural synergies between alternative lodgings and the local tour guides who host Trip4real users.

Hotels Still Lagging Behind in Mobile

The pressure will be on hotels to adopt more capabilities to suggest and book tours or activities. Not only would it help them keep pace with TripAdvisor, Airbnb and others, but it also would boost the popularity of their mobile apps.

As Rich DiStefano, Hilton Worldwide’s senior director of mobile products, told Skift, features like Fun Finder or Digital Key for mobile check-in are meant to make the app a helpful tool for enjoying the entire hotel stay, not just for booking a room.

“If you can deliver value beyond the Web, guests will really enjoy it,” DiStefano said in Skift. “Digital Key and Fun Finder are things you can do on the Web. They are unlocking doors for you and knowing your location.”

Mobile app adoption for hotel consumers has a long way to go. According to a recent survey by Market Force Information, 44% of respondents had used a mobile app to find or book a room. Mostly, those travelers used a smart-phone app to compare prices, search by location and book a room.

Newer, higher-level features that recently debuted on hotel apps haven’t picked up steam yet. As of the survey in June 2016, only 2% of respondents reported that they had checked in to a room using an app, compared with 3% of people who check in online and the overwhelming majority — 93% of respondents — who still check in with receptionists at the front desk.

Perhaps the ability to find and book an activity would help boost these mobile adoption numbers.


Mark Brandau, Director of Content

Mark joined Duetto in January 2016 from market research firm Technomic, where he began his content marketing career after nearly a decade as a business-to-business journalist covering the restaurant industry. As assistant director of content, he helps steer the creation and promotion of all Duetto's content across its blog, video and social-media platforms, as well as sales collateral and internal communications.

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