Mobile moves up hotel marketing priority list

There are 2.71 billion smartphone users in the world today—couple that with the 1.4 billion international tourists last year and you get an idea of how many people are using their mobile devices while traveling to browse, book, pay, post on social media and write reviews.

“At the end of the day, mobile is accessibility,” said James Bishop, senior director, global demand partnerships at SiteMinder. “Beyond its ability to drastically improve the way a hotel is managed internally, mobile has a truly unique capability to reach and acquire guests—from their very initial dreaming phase. Our mobile is where we get a lot of our inspiration. So, that’s where hoteliers have the greatest opportunity to reach future guests and brand ambassadors for their hotel.”

Mobile definitely should be the top priority and the primary focus for all hotel marketers, according to Fuel COO Stuart Butler. In fact, the industry has hit the first mobile tipping point, whereby more traffic is arriving via mobile phone than any other device, he continued. 

“The average hotel website sees more than 60 percent of all traffic coming from a mobile phone, with the remaining 40 percent split between desktop/laptop and tablet,” Butler said. “However, most hotels aren't fully capitalizing on this opportunity. For many hotels, they are only seeing 40 percent of bookings coming from mobile. This is in contrast to the [online travel agencies], who have hit the second mobile tipping point and are now seeing more bookings from phones than from other devices. Clearly, the demand to research and book on mobile exists, so why aren't the majority of hotels seeing the same thing as the OTAs?”

When developing a mobile strategy, hotels need to consider booking first. “Is your mobile app optimized to make booking quick and easy so that you can compete properly with OTAs?” said Megan Pope, VP of marketing at Intelity. “Then, hoteliers need to make check-in seamless by offering mobile check-in and mobile key to their guests.”

Pope suggests that hoteliers should consider three things when updating a mobile marketing strategy: 1. Who is your customer and what are you trying to communicate? 2. What is the experience you want to convey to your guests? 3. Is your mobile app consistent with your other branded channels (web, social, etc.) and how do you plan to create a seamless experience for your guests? 

“Additionally, you will want to use shorter messaging with personalized [calls to action] sent in close proximity to your guests’ arrival dates,” Pope said. “Are you optimizing opportunities for upselling and cross selling? Are you making it easy for guests to book reservations and access specials for [food-and-beverage] outlets and spa? Guests should be able to plan their stay and activities without needing to pick up a phone or leave the app.”

Messaging has a 99 percent read rate—no other form of communication compares, according to Alice Creative Director Sean Cohen. “Messaging is for engagement, not promotion,” he said. “It’s where someone connects with the people they trust. Alice’s data suggests hotel messaging is mostly about fulfillment: no one is trying to be anyone’s friend—most text conversations are essentially requests. The real issue is how do you operationalize the requests made in a conversation.”

How to Increase Mobile Bookings

Increasing mobile bookings all comes down to making sure that users have the best mobile experience. Mobile bookings and direct bookings often are used interchangeably, but hoteliers need to recognize that mobile bookings don’t always come directly, Bishop said. “A good example of this is HotelTonight, which began as a mobile app only for hotel bookings and remains mobile-first,” he continued. “This said, for direct bookings that are made via mobile, hoteliers need to make sure that experience is simple and seamless.

Beyond its ability to drastically improve the way a hotel is managed internally, mobile has the capability to reach and acquire guests—from their very initial dreaming phase. Photo credit: SiteMinder

There are a few ways to reduce friction and increase conversions, Butler said. First, streamline the process by eliminating unnecessary steps. “For example, one of the things we do on the Fuel booking engine is to automatically look up the guest's address as they start typing it,” he said. “We then prepopulate the city, state, ZIP and country. This saves valuable seconds and increases the conversion rate. You can also remember guest information. When they return to the site, remember their search dates. If it's a past guest, prepopulate their information, etc. Just give them as little to do as possible.”

Another way hoteliers can increase mobile bookings is by offering discounts or other incentives for travelers making their reservation through a mobile channel, both direct or through their third-party providers. “Send push messages and/or emails post-stay with special rates for rebooking,” Pope said. 

Butler suggested hotels need to eliminate doubt for guests booking on mobile. “You often don't have as much time to get someone to book on mobile as you do on nonmobile devices,” he said. “Therefore, you need to get them through the funnel more quickly. You can anticipate any questions, concerns and considerations and make sure that they are being addressed. It can be as simple as making sure that the cancellation policy is clearly visible or it can be the use of icons to portray valuable information such as the bed configuration within the room. The key is to think through it from the consumer's perspective and make sure you're addressing their needs.”

Everything moves fast on mobile so hotels need to remove dead ends. “If you don't provide the right information to the guest, they are highly likely to leave your site and go shop elsewhere,” Butler said. “When someone does a search, rather than showing no results, offer them an alternative by showing an availability calendar or suggesting an alternative property or room type.”

Butler said OTAs do a brilliant job of using psychology to "nudge" the guests toward a conversion. Thy tap into the power of social proof by saying how many people have booked a specific property within the past 24 hours. “They also use urgency and fear of missing out by showing that there are only a limited number of rooms left,” he continued. “These are great tactics that can be used on a hotel's own website and booking engine to drive more mobile bookings.”

Tips to Develop the Best Mobile Strategy

The key to a successful mobile marketing strategy is making sure that you are providing the guest with a great mobile experience. The experts have many ideas on how best to achieve this so hoteliers should take notes. 

1. Design for mobile first. “Far too many hotels have it backwards,” Butler said. “They build a website that looks beautiful on a desktop and then they try to squish it down to work on a mobile device. If the majority of your visitors are coming to you via a mobile device, then you should be designing your website for mobile, perfecting that experience, then moving on to the desktop version and treating that with the same level of attention.”

Messaging is best used for engagement, not promotion, because it connects guests with the people they trust. Photo credit: Alice

2. Choose the right booking engine for mobile. “The most popular booking engines on the market tend to be suboptimal when it comes to mobile,” Butler continued. “For example, they open in a new window and make it difficult to navigate back to the main site. Most consumers don't know how to jump between tabs on a mobile browser, so this is adding unnecessary friction. There are also too many clicks to get through the booking process and guests are expected to enter too much information. Booking engine providers need to take a look at what the OTAs are doing and implement the same features.”

3. Make sure your marketing dollars are going to the right place. “Think about how much you’re investing in social media, click campaigns and other marketing channels that are highly weighted towards mobile users and the early part of the booking funnel,” Bishop said. 

4. Use keywords in your mobile content. “Keywords can form the perfect campaign to get those would-be guests to your hotel via Google, social media, email and other digital channels,” Bishop said. 

5. Be prepared to personalize offers in real-time. “This is a great way to book up the spa and restaurant and upsell room upgrades,” Pope said. “More often than not, guests are more open to these kinds of offers either the day before traveling or while traveling.”

6. Know your customer. “Use the data you have to anticipate their needs and send them the right message/offer at the right time,” Pope said. 

7. Messaging integration. “Ensuring the messaging tool can be integrated into a property’s [property-management system] so that the hotel can have the guest’s information when discussing their requests is vital,” Cohen said. “Also, the PMS data allows conversations to be based on highly personalized scenarios, such as room types, previous requests, etc.”

Cohen also suggests hoteliers develop a great omnichannel mobile strategy. “Ensure your messaging solution encompasses multiple channels,” he said. “In hospitality, we serve to guests coming from near and far. Every country is accustomed to using multiple messaging solutions: SMS, Facebook, WhatsApp, email, WeChat, etc. Your messaging solution should be universal to accommodate your diverse guests.”

Bishop suggested that hotels think about mobile in all aspects of operations—not just guest facing. “Use housekeeping apps that will improve your hotel operations,” he said. “There are a plethora of apps now available for hoteliers to make sure their rooms are cleaned and done on time, for example, or if there is a leak in the bathroom that the maintenance person gets an SMS to fix the situation quickly. Automation means time saved and that means money.”

There are also different applications available for hoteliers to optimize their operation across many departments, including revenue management, business intelligence and mobile guest check-in and room access. “The more hoteliers can streamline processes and offer guests choice to interact with them the way they choose, then the more hoteliers can meet and exceed expectations, which is key to driving a great guest experience,” Bishop continued. 

Why Guests Want Mobile Messaging 

By implementing a smart mobile strategy, you’re offering your guests another way to access hotel information, communicate with the hotel and control their own experience, according to Pope. “Today’s ‘digital first’ travelers are accustomed to this thanks to OTAs, ride-shares and airline apps—hotels need to offer the same experience,” she said.

Mobile messaging gives hoteliers the opportunity to interact with their guests through the channel they prefer to use—most guests prefer the convenient, real-time digital experience, Pope continued. 

Offering a branded app, even if you're an independent hotel, offers huge benefits. Photo credit: Fuel Travel

The big difference is that you are speaking to the guest in their language, on their personal device, according to their preference, not yours, Cohen said. “With messaging, the conversational weight has shifted from having to approach an intimidating front desk as a supplicant and is now as casual as a teenager making an emoticon after a request,” he said. 

Quick, convenient, short messages are so effective for generating incremental revenue opportunities, Pope also said. “Being able to upsell and cross-sell in real time means that premium room inventory can be made available in a simple way; the same goes for last-minute spa openings and dining reservations.”

Today is all about chatbots, Bishop said. “I’ve seen chatbots implemented very successfully by hoteliers, from working as part of the hotel website to acting as concierges, receptionists and front desk check-in,” he said. 

It’s proven that travelers today are far less willing to speak with people. In fact, recent research by Lonely Planet, done with more than 6,000 travelers, revealed that about 80 percent of people feel robots will be a big part of their lives by 2020 and almost two-thirds would be comfortable with using them in travel, Bishop continued. 

“The truth is, as a society we are used to getting everything we need through our mobile—be it via Google, social media or any other app—that when we are at a hotel, we prefer to default to our mobile than call the receptionist,” he said.