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Beyond bookings: How hotels can take mobile to the next level

July 29, 2013

Marriott Hotels tries mobile check-ins

The online travel industry is one of the sectors that mobile has hit the hardest as bookings made from smartphones and tablets continue to grow. However, it seems that many hotel brands are missing out with mobile by not leveraging more sophisticated guest services features.

As mobile continues to become the primary way that consumers make last-minute hotel bookings, brands should look to add features to their mobile applications and Web sites that help consumers once they have booked a room. Marriott is one of the few hotel brands that is doing so with an innovative check-in feature on its mobile app.

“While Marriott Hotels was developing the app and testing mobile check-in, they engaged customers to provide feedback to perfect the experience and learn what was most important to them,” said Paul Cahill, senior vice president of brand management at Marriott Hotels, Bethesda, MD.

“The brand’s frequent guests first and foremost wanted mobile check-in via smartphones,” he said. “Marriott Hotels decided to roll out its mobile check-in to further enhance the future of travel for the next generation.”

Next generation apps
Hotel brands were one of the first industries to jump into mobile initially as the number of last-minute bookings made from mobile phones and tablets initially grew quickly.

Hotels nailed down the basics early on, but not many have created experiences that leverage mobile to do more, specifically around a hotel stay.

Loyalty program integration, mobile check-ins and access to on-premise departments such as guest services are all components that marketers should be looking at to take their mobile apps and sites to the next level.

Take Marriott’s recently-launched mobile check-in feature, for example. The feature rolled out earlier this month and lets users remotely check themselves into their hotel rooms.

Marriott’s mobile check-in initially launched in 31 hotels and will roll out to all 325 locations later this summer (see story).

Mobile check-in for Marriott Hotels

The Hyatt Regency Newport Beach is also doing some innovative things with mobile.

The hotel recently launched a mobile app recently with features that include digital property maps and room service to elevate the on-premise experience (see story).

Loyalty is another big push for hotel brands and should be more tightly integrated into mobile programs to give consumers a reason to download and reuse a mobile app on their mobile device.

The Hyatt Regency Newport Beach’s new app

Different approaches
There are two different approaches that hotel brands can take with apps by focusing on either the in-room or business-to-consumer experience.

Part of the reason why business-to-consumer apps might be sluggish with mobile is because brands have traditionally viewed mobile as a pure cost, according to Arun Ramdeane, senior account executive at Atimi Software, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Then there are apps that integrate with the in-room experience and let consumers take advantage of services that the hotel offers. However, the responsibility and costs primarily fall on property owners to innovate in this case.

“Corporate more than likely has an approved in-room mobile experience, probably using apps like Intelity, but at the end of the day it is that specific property owners’ decision to buy and deploy tablets in room,” Mr. Ramdeane said.

Thinking beyond the app
A mobile app might seem like a natural first step for hotel brands because it keeps the brand top-of-mind.

However, the goals of a hotel brand line up completely differently than the goals of other industries heavily invested in mobile, such as retailers or banks.

Since guests might only visit a hotel a few times a year, hotel brands should also be pouring more money into SMS, mobile Web and targeted advertising.

Tablets should also be a priority for hotels since the devices are associated with more lean-back behavior when consumers have time to spend researching.

“Hotels, outside of a few road warriors, do not justify the consumer’s time investment in a mobile app and need to activate via targeted advertising and drive opt-in to one-to-one mobile messaging that can reengage the traveller with seasonal deals,” said Gary Schwartz, Toronto-based author of “The Impulse Economy” and “Fast Shopper, Slow Store.”

“For hotels, mobile Web for a tablet and handheld are key to their mobile success,” he said.

Final Take
Lauren Johnson is associate reporter on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York

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