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Hoteliers toil to capture mobile demand
March 15 2012

Hoteliers who market the mobile channel and use it to engage with guests are reaping the biggest benefits.

  • U.S. mobile leisure gross bookings for travel reached nearly $2.6 billion in 2011, representing 2.4% of the U.S. online travel market.
  • In the U.K., 11% of smartphone owners purchased travel services during the past year.
  • More business and leisure travelers who use iPhones are likely to book travel via the mobile web over Android and Blackberry users.


GLOBAL REPORT—Hoteliers are working hard to grab their share of a growing mobile marketplace for hotels.

U.S. mobile leisure gross bookings for travel reached nearly $2.6 billion during 2011, representing 2.4% of the U.S. online travel market, according to a recent PhoCusWright report, “Mobile Hits the Mainstream: Business and Leisure Traveler Trends.”  Among U.S. mobile web users, 36% of business travelers and 26% of leisure travelers have booked a travel product on a mobile website or app during the past year, according to the report.

In the United Kingdom, 11% of smartphone owners purchased travel services during the past year, according to a recent survey from eDigitalResearch and Interactive Media in Retail Group. Additionally, 30% of smartphone users have browsed for vacations and tickets using their mobile device.

“There was a huge spike in February in bookings from mobile; bookings tripled,” said John Knowles, director of digital marketing at the Roger Smith Hotel in New York.

While Knowles is still evaluating the reasons behind the spike, he believes it can be attributed to the hotel’s recent multi-pronged marketing efforts. “There has been an effort to make sure we are using the right (Google) AdWords, and people are learning that we have a (mobile booking) app,” Knowles said.

In addition, more Roger Smith guests are booking from their mobile devices via online travel agents, including HotelTonight and Expedia, Knowles said.

Engage with guests
While Mandarin Oriental’s hotels do not receive a large percentage of bookings via its mobile website, the technology staff with the chain of 26 hotels globally has found effective ways to engage with guests.

Because Mandarin Oriental operates luxury properties, mobile bookings are a relatively small percentage of the group’s online booking business, said Nicholas Cohen, eMarketing Manager for Mandarin Oriental.

“Although mobile conversions make up a small percentage of overall transactions, we do see that mobile bookings have a shorter booking window and actually have a higher daily rate,” he said.

Still, the company is using its mobile iPhone app to engage with its guests. While the 2-year-old app has fully-integrated, real-time booking capabilities, it primarily is effective at providing content about its hotels and the destinations its hotels are located in.

“There is a significant amount of destination content, such as restaurant recommendations, night life and cultural events,” Cohen said. Repeat guests are more likely to use the app than transient guests, he added.

PhoCusWright’s mobile survey also found more business and leisure travelers who use iPhones are more likely to book travel via the mobile web than Android and Blackberry users.

“BlackBerry smartphones have lost the most ground to iPhone and Android phones in the personal arena, but are also fading in business usage,” according to the report.

Mandarin Oriental has also seen that trend among its guests. Cohen said iPhone users are more likely to book guestrooms. “Some of this ties into our demographics and the type of devices they typically own,” he said.

Mandarin Oriental also has realized a surge in guests booking from iPads. The iPad conversions have “grown exponentially since the launch of the iPad a couple of years ago. They have already surpassed the bookings we get from mobile phones,” Cohen said.

Location-sensitive mobile marketing
According to PhoCusWright’s mobile report, mobile travel users want more location-sensitive searching and alerts that “communicate relevant, timely travel information.”

Roger Smith is marketing its Roger Smith Arts performing arts center, restaurant and shops to people walking by the hotel or visiting the lobby. Visitors and guests can scan QR codes located at “hot spots” around the hotel and in store windows with their smartphone, then view a web link with information on a particular art event or product.

“We use it to drive people from the street level to online, where they can get information. We are also moving towards integrating that into commerce, so people will be able to view something and be able to buy it,” Knowles said.

While this type of mobile marketing might not lead to an immediate booking, it builds engagement with guests. “Once people engage with you, you can relay that information at, say, the bottom of the page, in case anyone is interested in booking,” Knowles said.

Hoteliers report theyare exploring ways to market to guests without infringing on their privacy. “We don’t currently send location-based alerts to our guests at this time, as we like to protect their privacy,” Cohen said. “However, we are exploring alternative mobile marketing opportunities.”

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