The hotels industry has been somewhat reluctant to join the mobile revolution. However, continued delay to get on the mobile bandwagon could prove costly, both in terms of lost revenue and, more importantly, lost guest loyalty.
Hotels need to listen to their guests and deliver what they need, or face being overtaken by more digitally aware companies and online travel agents, ready to offer travel advice, shared experiences and bookings at the touch of a button.
Mobile The Preferred Device for Travel Research
According to recent research from Hitwise, the smartphone is now the device of choice with U.K. travellers, with more than half (52%) of all visits to travel destination websites made from a mobile. Once booked, U.K. travellers continue to take the mobile route, with 72% continuing to research their destination and “things to do” from their smartphones.
The Hitwise survey echoes the findings of Cornell University’s 2015 study “The Mobile Revolution Is Here: Are You Ready?” by Heather Linton and Robert J. Kwortnik. Cornell found that hotel guests in the United States want to do more with their smartphones.
The report found that young travellers want to use their mobile for routine hotel functions, such as checking in and out. The study discovered that travellers prefer multi-purpose apps that give them more freedom.
Following on from this comes the news that Google is currently beta testing a new mobile travel app, called Trips. The new “travel assistant” will keep track of past and future trips, and make recommendations about destinations, restaurants, transportation options, etc.
According to TechCrunch, the new app will be able to pull in your trip information by scanning your Gmail messages — similar to the Google Now virtual assistant.
Using data populated by Google’s Local Guides, and working with Google Maps, the Trips app could prove a valuable new marketplace for hotels, restaurants and leisure facilities.
The question is where will this Google Trips app sit? Is it direct competition for OTAs? Or a new marketing tool for hotels?
The hotels industry needs to keep an eye on these technological advancements. The indications are clear: Travellers want to browse, plan and enjoy their travel via their smartphones or tablets. Hotels need to get on board and deliver what the customer wants, or they will look elsewhere.
The Digital Challenge
The challenge for hotels is that, while a guest may be brand loyal to an extent, they are not always property loyal. How can you keep them engaged when their attention will, naturally, go elsewhere?
“One of the challenges hotels have with apps is that guests simply do not stay in the same hotel brands week in and week out like they may do with airlines, and this means that they are less inclined to download the app,” explained Michael McCartan, Managing Director of the EMEA region for Duetto. “Therefore, it's not apathy that is preventing hotels from using mobile to enhance the guest experience, but the practical problem of guests not being motivated to engage because it simply feels like hard work.”
It’s a fair point. TripAdvisor and apps like it offer a whole gamut of travel experiences, destinations and properties all in one mobile offering. That’s tough competition for the hotel industry to take on.
Use The Element of Surprise
So how do hotels leapfrog over OTAs to get ahead in the mobile arena? Erik Tengen, Co-Founder of Oaky, a web-based communications solution that aims to revolutionise guest relations, advocates the element of surprise.
“Hotels needs to look at their goals going forward, and which guest needs align with these goals,” he says. “If the goal is to increase incremental revenues, then the hotel should find out what their specific guest wants, so that the hotel — by using communications software — can offer this to its guests before they know they want it.”
The premise is simple. If the hotel wants to increase revenue, it could use the communication to offer pre-arrival and in-stay services, such as room upgrades, ancillary services, or tickets to local attractions like a nearby museum, all easily bookable from the guest’s own devices.
If the goal is guest loyalty and customer satisfaction, then look at offering services that don’t cost money but that will add an element of surprise to the guest experience. These could be online check-in, in-stay feedback, or customising their room, again all from their own devices.
Consider online communication platforms such as Whatsapp, and use SMS and email. But above all, make sure your communication is personal and bespoke. Send the right offer to the right guest at the right time and make it really simple for the guest to act upon.
Then, use your interactions to build out a clearer picture of that guest. Gather data. When does the guest look at your email? Do they click on the link? What content, and in what format, delivers the best response? Drill down, get more personalised with your communications.
Keep Your Guests ’Appy
Hotel chains with a large loyalty programme may decide to go down the native-app route. If so, individual properties in the group should embrace this marketing platform.
Imagine offering an app to your loyalty members, with which they can log in and see details of their previous stays, manage a current booking, perhaps check their loyalty points balance and view information on destinations recommended to them by you based on their previous stays. Now, if that app also offers a personalized rate or offer, tailored to that customer, then the chances of further repeat business are increased. It’s a closed offer, available only to that guest at that moment in time — that’s a powerful marketing proposition.
However, before revenue managers start reaching for an “off the shelf” app creator, there is a warning here. Lennert De Jong, Chair of the HSMAI’s Europe Revenue Management Advisory Board, stresses that the revenue line has to be secondary. The app has to be primarily about adding to the guest experience.
“Hotels need to use their apps to enhance the guest experience,” he says.
“You get to create a closed community, and closed rates can play a part in this, but it shouldn’t be the main driver,” he adds. “Those using your app are your most loyal customers, so they should be getting a pop-up discount regardless. A hotel app is all about improving experience and what you can do with your smartphone. Perhaps you want to use it as a remote control in your guest room? After all, that is often the dirtiest thing in the room — why would you ask people to use that?”
He’s right. Technology is moving at a rapid rate. If hotels can develop loyalty apps and mobile communications that provide information and function, offering a one-click connection to the hotel, check-in, room service, restaurant reservations, and more, imagine how powerful that could become at driving your guest loyalty?