Hotels need to optimize mobile offerings

Mobile devices have made it easier for people to be online and connect with most everything they desire. As people get more comfortable using mobile, they rely on it for things they used to do only on their desktop computers.
“A few years back, no one would spend a great deal of time or effort using a mobile device to enter travel search criteria and then page through a series of results because the experience was clumsy at best; now, people are comfortable with using mobile for everything,” said Mike Murray, founder of TripCraft. “Many travel providers have optimized their services and content for mobile users. The bottom line is that even though mobile devices may never take the place of a big-screen desktop viewing experience, they more than make up for it with ease-of-use and accessibility.”

Now that consumers have the power to complete nearly every task imaginable on mobile devices, consumers will only revert to desktop if the mobile process has too much friction or is inconvenient to complete. With a cross-device switch, the chance of losing a guest to competitor increases while an inconvenient booking process only inhibits future loyalty, said Donnie Schumann, Hotel Electronic Distribution Network Association mobile working group chairman and HotelTonight senior strategic partnership manager.

“The world is changing and companies like Uber and Amazon have solidified what it means to provide convenience in the on-demand economy,” he said. “The travel industry is no exception and will need to optimize mobile booking processes or risk missing out on capturing significant market share and appealing to millennials.”

Booking hotels on mobile devices has only recently become as good an experience as booking on through a traditional full web browser, said Armand Rabinowitz, senior director of strategy and workgroups for Hospitality Technology Next Generation. “This certainly models the transition from booking by phone to booking online where consumers only adopted the trend when the experience met expectations,” he said. “Some may believe that it is related to the growing nomadic tendencies of traveling consumer or reduced usage of full computing devices, but it’s a combination of changes that ultimately depend on where consumers find the fewest obstacles to getting what they need.”

“Mobile booking capability is essential for fulfilling last minute demand,” he continued. “When O’Hare shuts down due to whether, stranded passengers aren’t going to the phone booth or business center to book. They are opening the hotel booking App that is most likely the one on their primary home screen because it provides the most intuitive and least complicated booking process.”

Around 65 percent of consumers today say they’re more likely to make a purchase on mobile-friendly websites and so hotels that don’t have a strong mobile approach are ultimately losing guests and revenue, said Fig Cakar, managing director, the Americas for SiteMinder.

“As a hotel, you should recognize that loyalty and satisfaction can start on your website,” he said. “The question is: Once guests arrive on your website, are you making it attractive and easy for them to book? [Online travel agencies] excel at taking the mobile-first approach; for hotels to stand a chance at winning that last-minute booker and fill those last empty rooms direct, they’re going to need to ace the mobile game too.”

Why hotels need to implement guest messaging

In the absence of face-to-face communication, messaging is the next best thing, said Alexander Shashou, co-founder and CEO of Alice. From the customer lens, messaging allows a hotel to deliver service to guests in a more conversational, customized and personalized manner than apps or other technologies can.

“In a world that is increasingly digital, hospitality is looking to retain its human touch and messaging is much more conversational than communication through an app or other digital means,” he continued. “Staff can allow their personalities and the brand personality to come through in their choice of words.”

Since messaging is tied to an identity or profile, unlike phone or face-to-face interactions, history is recorded and retained. This means staff can scroll through previous exchanges with a guest to recall preferences and the current requests being worked on, regardless or which staff member interacted with the guest in the past.

Hotels have the option to use technology to communicate with their guests before, during and after their stay via messaging, said Julie Hoit, marketing manager for Guestware. “With a proper back-end solution to document the conversation and tie it to the guest’s profile in the [property-management system], hotels can look up previous chat history for requests, preferences or incidents,” she said. “This gives hotel staff the right information for prearrival planning for a returning guest.”

With guest messaging, hotels can increase guest engagement, drive loyalty, improve TripAdvisor scores, streamline operations and service delivery, as well as drive new revenue, Shashou said.

“We advise hotels to send a message to their guests the week prior to arrival, asking them for their proposed arrival time so that they can try to have a room ready upon arrival,” he said.

The second most frequent use case is at check-in, Shashou said. The front desk can let guests know when their rooms are ready and open up the communication channel.  

“Then, once the communication is established with a guest, we see guests requesting and the hotel confirming everything from concierge requests, like restaurant reservations, to [food-and-beverage] orders, such as coffee, to hotel information, such as facility hours of operation,” he continued. “Our favorite use case, though, is when our hotels send a feedback request. If the guest has had a great experience, the front desk can follow up with the hotel’s TripAdvisor link to encourage the guest to leave a review of the property.”

Rick Garlick, practice lead, travel and hospitality at J.D. Power, said millennials are less likely to sign up for loyalty programs but a hotel’s mobile messaging can impact their allegiance. “You and I aren’t the same and shouldn’t get the same message—a hotel’s message needs to be personal and directed at me,” he said.

Garlick also suggests that establishing geolocation offers can help boost hotel revenue. For example, walking by the pool, the guest receives a coupon for two-for-one drink specials at the pool bar.

Why mobile booking matters

There are obvious and not-so-obvious benefits for hotels in offering guests the ability to book via mobile. The most obvious is last-minute bookings. The most obvious is last-minute bookings; in these situations, most consumers will use their mobile phone to book a hotel. Mobile-only last-minute bookings help hotels to sell unused inventory that they might not have not sold, Murray said.

Another benefit to offering mobile booking is access to a mobile customer base that is much larger than the desktop customer base. Most people have become reliant on mobile as their preferred method of being online, and it will soon beat the desktop as the primary way consumers shop and book travel, Murray continued.  

The not-so-obvious benefit of mobile bookings is customer loyalty. “As the consumer habits stated above become the norm, mobile ease-of-use and familiarity will emerge as key factors in how consumers decide where to book,” he said. “In simpler terms, when a customer has a great mobile booking experience, they are more likely to return to the same channel when the time comes to make another booking. Many younger consumers avoid the price-shopping wars and online advertising pressure of big OTA brands, and simply prefer the convenience of an easy mobile booking experience.”

“Of course, price is still a factor, but if hotels make their mobile booking process quick and easy, many consumers will look past the price wars and choose convenience and experience,” Murray continued.

Incorporating artificial intelligence into the mobile booking solution will enable more simple booking processes,  Rabinowitz said.

“With AI, a mobile booking flow could identify that a guest is at O’Hare and combine that data with the fact that flights have been canceled and offer that customer a one-click booking option to hold their room,” he said. “A well-built mobile booking app could send a mobile push notification to that stranded traveler with an offer to book that in-demand room.  Making this offer without gouging the potential customer could build or retain the kind of loyalty to ensure they are the hotel booking app that remains on the primary home screen of their mobile device.”

Cakar had a few suggestions for hotels to increase mobile bookings, such as:

  • Create a mobile-optimized, responsive website and then ensure the content remains the same page by page from the desktop site to the mobile site. Google recommends this approach.
  • Have a website that’s full of useful information, not only about the hotel property, but about nearby restaurants, public transport, day trips and retail options. “Sell more than your hotel; sell your destination,” he said.
  • Implement a mobile-friendly internet booking engine to create a booking experience that’s quick and simple.
  • Incorporate a payment gateway that’s optimized for mobile so the booking path right up to purchase is seamless.
  • Display clear calls to action. “It sounds obvious, but it always surprises me how many hotels don’t feature a prominent ‘book now’ button on their website,” he said. “A click-to-call button is particularly important for mobile bookings, as more than half of travelers would be likely to contact a hotel directly if given the capability.”