REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Planning a strategy to better capitalize on business that comes through the mobile channel is imperative for maintaining a successful hotel, experts said Tuesday during an HSMAI digital marketing webinar.
The myriad questions hoteliers face when entering the mobile universe seem limitless, but by establishing best practices, hoteliers will see increases in traffic to their websites, said moderator Bill Carroll, senior lecturer at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, during the webinar titled “The Mobile Marketing Action Plan for Hoteliers," the first in a five-part HSMAI University Digital Marketing series.
Carroll said mobile shoppers are expected to spend $119 billion globally on goods and services by 2015, up from $12 billion in 2009, he said. “It’s a pervasive device in the hands of consumers,” Carroll said, adding that of the number of mobile users will grow to 5 billion within the next three years.
And while mobile platforms are changing the distribution landscape, there are also significant shifts within the mobile space itself. Tablets, for example, are experiencing a steady surge in usage, Carroll said.
“What that suggests to us is the mobile devices are changing dramatically,” he said.
Mobile websites versus mobile apps
One of the biggest questions hoteliers face when entering the mobile landscape is creating an app or building a website.
An app, short for application program, is a specialized software downloaded onto a mobile device.
“Do you have a compelling reason for a consumer to download your app?” asked Paolo Torchio, VP of e-marketing and revenue consulting at Sabre Hospitality Solution. “Are you better off with a mobile-web platform that you can link to other marketing initiatives?”
A mobile website is a must, said Max Starkov, president and CEO at Hospitality eBusiness Strategies, a full-service hotel Internet marketing firm. “If you don’t have a mobile-enabled website, then you will miss a lot of revenue.”
Independent hotels and resorts and branded hotels with drive-in customers especially need a mobile-friendly website, he said. Google favors mobile-friendly websites; the search engine saw a 3,000% year-over-year increase in hotel mobile searches, he said.
With an app, platforms for Android, BlackBerry and Apple products have to be developed, but mobile websites work on any platform, Torchio said.
“If you’re an independent hotel or resort, or small chain, don’t build an app,” Starkov said.
Device detection is key
With more users depending on mobile devices, Torchio said, a key element is device detection, which points users to the right platform based on their mobile device. A mobile website for a smartphone, for example, should be different than a mobile website for a tablet.
“Some consumers aren’t on smartphones,” he said. “Make sure a website has mobile-friendly depiction and guides consumers to the right (mobile) website.”
Often the level of detail and specificity for various devices comes down to budget. Torchio advised webinar attendees to focus on those devices and platforms that have the greatest usage among their guests or target guests.
The next thing hoteliers should focus on is what they want from their mobile platforms. And Torchio said the thing hoteliers want most is to stimulate bookings.
Optimizing the booking channel
Mobile booking reached $2.6 billion during 2011, which was 15 times the dollar volume booked during 2010, Starkov said.
“This year," he said, "we expect money generating from mobile devices to be $8 billion.”
“If you were only going to do one thing, optimize the booking channel,” Torchio said.
Mobile booking channels drive revenue, but only if done correctly.
“Don’t discount in the mobile channel,” Starkov warned. “Mobile is a last-minute distribution channel by default. Most of its hotel bookings are for the same or following night. Maintain best practices and maintain rate parity at all times.”
“You need to participate in mobile,” said Loren Gray, director of e-commerce at Ocean Properties Limited, because hoteliers that aren’t addressing mobile are missing out on revenue opportunities.
But, how can hoteliers make money from the mobile space?
“First, and most critically, get a handle on your local presence. Social, local, mobile—they’re so intertwined,” he said.
Second, “Make sure you represent yourself for yourself,” or you won’t be represented at all, which is worse, he said.
Gray advises using Yahoo and Google to claim your location and representation. From there, hoteliers need to determine their targeting of consumers based on proximity, time of day or feeder market, which decide how mobile ads show up on consumers’ devices.
“There’s a lot of crossover with different services,” Gray said.
To ensure these sites are working for hoteliers and that they are being used correctly, Starkov said to employ website analytic services such as SiteCatalyst or Google Analytics to track search-engine optimization. Additionally, mobile call analytics will show how many phone calls were made from consumers using the mobile site. Between six and seven out of 10 reservations come from cell phones using the hotel’s mobile website, Starkov said.
Create brand awareness
Ensuring a strong presence through social-networking applications creates more personalized interaction, Gray said.
Torchio said mobile devices give hoteliers an opportunity to create a pre-arrival window, which is a big opportunity for hoteliers to engage with their customers. Using the pre-arrival window, hoteliers can text guests their confirmation number the day before arrival; a mobile concierge application can allow the consumer to plan activities before they even arrive; and a “mobile website or app can be used for attendees of a conference,” he said, adding it can help them group business plan events.
SMS marketing allows hoteliers to create real-time customer service, Starkov said. “Most importantly, in 2012, you have to integrate mobile marketing in the properties’ multi-channel marketing campaigns.”