Mobile channels, including phones and tablets (whether on apps or mobile web), have accounted for 11 percent of hotel website bookings in 2014 and will rise to 18 percent by 2016, according to Phocuswright research. Online travel agents are generating a large number of mobile bookings, from 14 percent last year to 22 percent by next year but hotels account for the vast majority of those bookings. But brands are recognizing mobile as the fastest-growing booking channel.
“Mobile bookings are on fire—93-percent year-over-year growth in mobile booking in our clients,” said Steffan Berelowitz, vice president of digital platforms at Travel Tripper. “But brands or even OTAs—everyone is late to the party. This all started in 2007 so consumers have been at the party for a long time. Brands have taken a long time to respond and understand.”
OTAs can be much more nimble with mobile bookings, said Jennie Blumenthal, entertainment, media and communication strategy director with PwC U.S. They can use data to drive price changes quickly while brands have to be much more methodical. But hoteliers can offer things that OTAs cannot. “We want brands to encourage to book direct by offering a differentiated experience for the guest—offer what OTAs can’t,” she said. “Optimize the mobile experience for that customer.”
That mobile usability is hard to get right, said Douglas Rice, executive vice president and CEO of Hotel Technology Next Generation. But in that lies the opportunities that Blumenthal mentioned, Rice agreed. “Mobile is great for what I call the ‘drive market’—those travelers that are driving down the highway and need a place to stay that night,” he said. “There are some hotels that are doing those mobile bookings really well but it is still capitalizing on the loyal travelers who download the brand-specific app.”
Berelowitz said that hotels need a few components to do mobile really well. First, the hotel needs to have a strong mobile presence to allow mobile booking. “Before they think about anything else, hotels need to allow a mobile booking flow—and then make sure they usability test it like crazy,” he said.
Second, Berelowitz suggests the hotel needs to have a responsive website to browse easily. Very importantly, Google search rewards responsive web pages. He then suggests that hotels need to do mobile marketing. “If the hotel provides mobile bookings and responsive web pages, they already have that mobile marketing audience,” Berelowitz said.