Creativity is required to get in line with consumers’ mobile booking behavior, sales and marketing executives said during a recent roundtable.
WASHINGTON—The mobile-first world of communicating and booking with hotels is here, and hotel sales and marketing executives at a recent roundtable event said there are advantages, but the industry needs to move a little faster when it comes to capitalizing on them.
Participants on a roundtable hosted by Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International talked about three main pain points with the mobile revolution: the user experience, revenue generation via mobile and the ability—or lack thereof—for guests to book meetings on mobile devices.
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The user experience
Hotel sales and marketing professionals, who historically have used beautiful photography and in-person sales to get business, now must adapt to new platforms in a mobile-first environment.
“Mobile has offered a level of convenience to the customer, and it’s opened up new opportunities for the hotel related to business,” said Barbara Eslick, VP of sales and marketing for full-service hotels and resorts for Shaner Hotels. “I’m a little concerned that as we continue to evolve, we’re losing some of the personalization and touchpoints with the customer.”
Others echoed the concern that as the traveling public gets more transaction-minded about travel, they base their decisions solely on lowest prices delivered on tiny mobile screens, without seeing photography and content designed to sell the hotel on a larger platform, like a desktop computer.
“I’m part of the group of people who books travel on mobile, but I think there’s another set of customers who need to shop, look, touch and feel,” said Ron Taylor, VP of sales for Windsor Capital Group. “But the mobile customer today is not that (touch and feel) customer. They want to see in black and white what’s available and at what price.”
Chris Kenney, SVP of sales and marketing for Two Roads Hospitality, said that in his experience, that black-and-white booking behavior is reserved more for transactional purchases.
“I’m good buying (on mobile) if I’m buying an urban property and I know generally where it is,” he said. “That’s versus if I’m shopping for a resort where I want to see more about what that resort might look like.”
Jim Zito, SVP of sales and marketing for Real Hospitality Group, argued mobile presences for hotels are important because guests “also can get exposure to a brand via mobile, which creates more affinity. There are opportunities through Instagram posts, for example, that make mobile about more than just the transactional piece.”
Allison Handy, SVP of marketing for Prism Hotels & Resorts, echoed the idea that like it or not, mobile-first technology is driving the customer experience and hotels must be there.
“All travelers now are card carriers for every brand and at some point, whatever app is most easy will dictate the brand I’m going to buy,” she said.
Mobile revenue opportunities
Roundtable attendees focused on discussions about how mobile technology can help them in their sales and marketing pursuits.
They talked about the pros and cons of using mobile tools to boost incremental sales.
“The future is incremental F&B,” said Phill Burgess, VP of sales and revenue management for John Q Hammons Hotels & Resorts. “If I can increase F&B spend by 3% by having a frictionless experience, that’s great.”
He gave an example of a guest sitting by the pool who could order a drink through their mobile device and have it delivered on demand—a process that cuts out the time it takes to flag down a waiter and means the hotel could potentially reduce staff.
Then he shared his own example of a mobile-first hospitality experience.
“I took an Uber to an Airbnb and ordered food from GrubHub,” he said. “It was amazing. I didn’t talk to anybody; it was all on mobile. Now I’m used to doing it.”
As the group talked about revenue-generation opportunities through mobile, the conversation turned to booking meeting space.
“We’re so Neanderthal as an industry—someone should be able to book a small meeting for 10 people on their phone and they can’t,” Burgess said. “That’s going to change.”
The group agreed that finding a way to facilitate bookings for small meeting space via mobile could have great revenue and market-share results, but it will require lots of technical work.
“The inventory isn’t live for small groups to go into an app to book a small meeting,” Handy said. “Whatever brand (allows) booking a small meeting on mobile will get market share right away.”
Roundtable attendees referred to the growing trends among consumers, both hotel guests and not, to seek out more flexible workspaces for various kinds of meetings and events.
“Groups may use mobile initially to shop, they may look at some hotels, but when you’re talking about a group now and all of the things that go along with it, you still need to have that interpersonal discussion,” said Mike Parent, VP of sales and marketing for Coakley & Williams Hotel Management Company.
However, if hotels and banquet staffs can streamline small group offerings, they might be more likely to see success in mobile bookings, Burgess said. He cited examples of hotels that manage multiple small group meetings by catering a communal F&B break that all the groups use. That cuts down on individualized F&B orders and labor for groups that might just be looking for the basics, he said.
All participants agreed that mobile technology is changing the way their teams market and sell hotels, and it’s not going away.
“You have to create new touchpoints based on the technology you have,” Handy said.