|Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts created a tablet-specific website that simplifies the user experience, offering a “progressively visual” experience that is user friendly and places the booking flow as top priority.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—While the hotel industry is still in the early stages of understanding the possibilities of tablet marketing, it is becoming clear that tablets are adding a complex but fruitful layer to the emerging mobile distribution channel.
Tablets—called a “lounging device” because they are commonly used during downtime—offer hoteliers the ability to reach consumers when they’re most likely to be researching or booking travel, sources said.
“Tablets are used during the times when the travelers are most susceptible; when they’re lounging or with loved ones,” said Max Starkov, president and CEO at Hospitality eBusiness Strategies. “They’re used for planning and for execution.”
Unlike social media, where the hotel industry has struggled to accurately measure return on investment, Starkov said the mobile channel is proving itself more each day as an effective marketing channel. Tablets, he said, add a new dynamic that allow for a rich, quality user experience.
Robert Simon, director of interactive marketing at Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, pointed to the tablet’s penetration rate among consumers as a driving factor behind the brand’s strategic approach to marketing on the platform. Four Seasons created a tablet-specific website that simplifies the user experience, offering a “progressively visual” experience that is user friendly and places the booking flow as top priority.
“Luxury consumers have always been early adopters, even of e-commerce itself,” Simon said. “We knew from our analytics that we were starting to see the emergence of the tablet. In our case, the iPad is dominating the field—80% of the tablet traffic is from the iPad.”
Marco Reginelli, account executive at Google Travel, points to tablet search figures that in many perspectives outweigh smartphone search as evidence of the tablet’s reach.
“There’s just enormous growth coming from the tablet,” he said. “Users are still figuring out how they want to use it, and then brands are figuring out how they want to market it.”
Understanding the consumer and the way they interact with different devices—TV, smartphone and tablet—is crucial, Reginelli said, calling tablets part of “couch and pillow commerce” as opposed to e-commerce or m-commerce.
“Look at what kind of mood they’re in and how they engage with your brand,” he suggested. “The tablet is extending consumer shopping hours well into the night, where before they dropped off and watched TV.”
Consumers aren’t just researching and planning travel on the tablet—they’re booking too, sources said.
“Smartphones convert terribly,” Simon, of Four Seasons, said. “We are seeing 3.5 times the conversion rate on a tablet.”
He said Four Seasons is re-evaluating its mobile strategy to see why electronic conversion rates on smartphones are so weak. One possibility, he said, is that travelers using a smartphone might want the phone number so they can click to call the hotel reservations call center.
|Choice’s iPad app is geared toward the day-of traveler who could use it to find Choice hotels along their way.
Google’s Reginelli said many brands are seeing conversion rates on the tablet equal to or better than desktop conversion rates. Spend is dramatically higher too, with consumers spending about 21% more when using a tablet than on a desktop and 54% more than when using a smartphone, he said.
Many hoteliers are weighing the decision to prioritize a tablet-optimized website versus a tablet app. After much research, Choice Hotels International decided to go the opposite route of Four Seasons and create a downloadable iPad app for travelers seeking Choice-branded hotels. The app was launched in May.
“Given the relatively newness of it, it’s hard to give specifics—but from our initial reaction, the conversion rate seems to be pretty strong,” said Robert McDowell, senior VP of global distribution at Choice.
McDowell said mobile bookings in general—whether from a tablet browser, smartphone browser or apps on each of the devices—account for 7% of the company’s bookings revenue. Of that, revenue generated from apps specifically make up more than one-third of the mobile-driven revenue.
“We absolutely think it’s a demand driver. Just as the Internet created demand, now mobile is,” McDowell said. “A lot of our hotels are in tertiary markets, and mobile bodes really well for us. We have a lot of day-of-arrival bookings. It comes down to ensuring our hotels are in every channel our customers want to be in.”
Sources pointed to the consumers’ ability to interact with tablets as the main differentiator between a tablet travel experience and a desktop travel experience.
On both a tablet-optimized site and a tablet app, touch-screen navigation is key. Traditional drop-down menus on a desktop site often don’t work on a tablet, so navigation must be tweaked to be touch-friendly. Many small reservation widgets don’t work on tablets, so hoteliers must alter their booking widgets for the tablet.
“One of the capabilities we’re going to move to is truly responsive design for all of the products,” said Four Seasons’ Simon. “That’s going to take some work for us. It’s key because it allows us to have that perfect device experience. Anyone who’s running a mobile-optimized site and it’s not responsive-design based is just wasting their time.”
Tapping buttons to open location functionality and navigation services is highly beneficial on a tablet.
“The thing we’ve learned on the tablet is the whole way we display hotel search results in both list and map view is really well received,” McDowell said. “The (iPad’s high-resolution) ‘retina display’ really bodes well for the mapping functionality. Choice has 5,000 U.S. hotels and if you look at those on a map, it’s really impressive.”
Perhaps most importantly, though, is the ability to present high-resolution, rich-media images on a tablet, which offers more pixels than even the traditional high-definition TV screen.
Don Hay, founder and CEO of Digital Alchemy, a company that specializes in hospitality-specific customer relationship management, offered a simple solution for hoteliers who are weighing whether to invest in a tablet travel experience: “Grab a tablet, go to your own website and book a room.
“See if you liked the experience.”