INTERNATIONAL REPORT—In a change of pace, the hospitality industry is jumping on new technology trends early.
In the past, the industry had been slow to adopt new technologies, but in the case of mobile marketing and booking applications, hotels are among the early adopters. Several major hotel chains are profiting by offering guestroom booking via new applications, launching new mobile Web sites that include virtual tours of their properties, and launching mobile advertising campaigns.
Take Silver Spring, Maryland-based Choice Hotels International, which launched a global iPhone application (or “app”) in April to help users locate the chain’s more than 4,500 hotels around the world. Since its launch, the Choice Hotels Locator app has been downloaded by 220,000 users in 75 countries, according to Chris Brya, director of user experience and e-commerce projects for Choice.
|The Choice Hotels Locator app has been downloaded by 220,000 users in 75 countries.
Give the people what they want
Choice executives were surprised by the quick iPhone user acceptance of the app. “We started marketing it on our site a little bit … but Apple also made Choice one of their ‘new and notable’ apps that gets front page exposure on the iPhone and the iTunes app store. That was up there about three weeks,” Brya said.
The program includes a booking function—a feature that some wireless hotel apps do not—and the ability to find any Choice hotel around the world.
“That was one of the things that customers wanted: They said to make sure the app was fast and to make sure they can find hotels wherever they are. It is really the customers who drive this development—we listen to them and let them drive the new functionalities,” Brya said.
In fact, Choice is still testing how the Choice Hotels Locator is operating and how it should be altered, via internal research and data from Apple.
“Mobile is tougher to track than traditional e-commerce. Our analytics team internally is fabulous ... and we can see the amount of downloads through Apple,” Brya said. In addition, Apple will be releasing additional ways to track and measure the success of its apps, according to Brya.
Already, Choice executives are able to measure revenues from wireless device bookings. Between 5 and 10 percent of all Choice Hotels’ mobile revenue can be attributed directly to the iPhone application, according to Brya. “Of all the wireless devices, the iPhone is about 51 percent of usage nationwide,” he added.
iPhones and beyond
It is not just the iPhone that hotel marketers are looking at, though. More than 89 percent of online travelers use a mobile phone, according to Forrester Research, and 10 percent of those own a “smart phone” such as an iPhone, Palm Pre or BlackBerry Storm.
“Given the adoption of mobile by travelers—especially the future generation of travelers- travel eBusiness professionals cannot focus … strategies solely on traditional Web sites. The mobile channel is poised to become the digital hub for how you service and support your travelers,” according to a recent Forrester report, “Using Digital Channels to Calm the Angry Traveler.”
In addition, travel bookings (of all types) via mobile devices are projected to reach US$160 million in sales in 2010, according to a recent PhoCusWright report, “Mobile: The Next Platform for Travel.”
“The traditional path is taking your Web site and making it so it can work on a variety of mobile devices. We have seen some good numbers from Marriott, Hilton and others who are doing booking online (via mobile devices),” said Norm Rose, senior technology and corporate market analyst for travel industry research firm PhoCusWright.
Getting in the game
When Marriott Mobile, Marriott International’s mobile Web site, launched guestroom booking capability last fall, the site generated more than US$1.25 million in gross revenue during the first 100 days in use, according to the company. “Snow and ice storms in the Northeast that paralyzed air travel showed how indispensable Internet-enabled mobile devices are. Traffic to Marriott Mobile spiked by 15 percent on 12 December, from the previous day, as stranded travelers searched for available hotel rooms,” according to a statement from the company.
Meanwhile, Travelodge U.K., which operates 372 hotels in several different countries, is garnering around 2,000 downloads monthly of its iPhone application. Since its launch in late March, Travelodge has had 10,000 downloads of its “iBooker” app, a free GPS room booking app for 3G Apple iPhones, according to a spokesperson for the company.
With the app, “wherever you are, you can always find a low cost bed for the night”, said Guy Parsons, managing director of Travelodge U.K. The U.K. has more than one million Apple iPhone users, according to the company, and there will be a projected 45 million iPhone users globally by the end of 2009.
Hyatt Hotels Corporation is jumping on the mobile bandwagon in a few different ways. It recently partnered with Microsoft and Verizon to launch a mobile ad campaign across their wireless networks. The campaign, which features mobile search and display ads, is designed to drive traffic to Hyatt’s recently-launched mobile site and drive registrations in its Gold Passport loyalty program.
|Since its launch in late March, Travelodge has had 10,000 downloads of its “iBooker” app, a free GPS room booking app for 3G Apple iPhones.
In early June, Hyatt Hotels also launched its mobile functionality, which allows guests to find and book rooms, access and modify reservations, and check in and out of hotels (where available). “Many of our guests live on-the-go lifestyles and are technologically ‘on’ all the time. They are accustomed to being able to manage their schedules and travel using mobile devices,” said Lynda Bott, director of Hyatt brand Web sites.
The next step
The next step in mobile technology—and the way for hotels to build ancillary revenue beyond guest room bookings— is to implement a virtual concierge mobile tool, Rose said.
“A virtual concierge is the first step to promote on-property restaurants and stores as well as promote local restaurants and companies you do business with. There is an appetite from consumers to do things like book their hotel restaurant reservations and plan their activities, all via mobile,” he said.
In addition, the mobile platform provides unlimited opportunities for travel marketers, according to Rose. “This is the first time you have a personal computer in your pocket. You are able to drive a greater degree of loyalty … and empower the mobile traveler.”