REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Convenience is the name of the game for executives of La Quinta Inns & Suites, and its new booking feature designed to ease the process for guests could have the company either winning big or costing it big bucks.
The company on Monday launched LQ-Instant Hold, a feature on its mobile site that caters to its large base of last-minute guests traveling by car. It allows those travelers to book a hotel room for up to four hours or until midnight—depending on the time—using only a phone number.
Once the customer arrives at the property, they can check-in quickly with the phone number they provided during booking. If the customer does not arrive within four hours, La Quinta sends a SMS text alerting the guest the room will soon expire, giving them the option to confirm with a credit card.
A brand differentiator
Executives decided to revise their mobile strategy after seeing a significant increase in mobile traffic last summer. “We had a mobile site, and it was OK. It wasn’t great,” said Julie Cary, executive VP and chief marketing officer for La Quinta.
Through extensive consumer research, the company’s marketing team found typing credit-card information onto a smartphone is a time-consuming task to many consumers.
Dave Lawson, director of mobile engagement for digital marketing company Knotice, said tapping, zooming and scrolling to input billing information often makes for an inconvenient mobile experience.
|LQ-Instant Hold is a feature on its mobile site that caters to its large base of last-minute guests traveling by car.
Still, La Quinta’s Instant Hold feature might possibly become a brand differentiator, Lawson said. If consumers like it, they will distinguish it as a feature they can continue using. It could help in reducing the switching potential of disloyal consumers, he said.
Because Instant Hold is still in its infancy, the company will have to wait to measure its success once the product takes off, Lawson said.
Holding inventory for a customer and not requiring a payment presents the potential for the brand to lose its investment, he said. If a large number of last-minute guests arrive at the property, but those rooms are being held for a guest that may or may not show up, the company will lose money.
“The prevailing goal of our (mobile) site is to capture the sale in any way we can and make it really easy in whatever way guests want to interact with La Quinta,” Cary said.
An effortless check-in process
Amy Cox, GM of the La Quinta Inn & Suites Columbia in Missouri, said the mobile feature will make selling rooms easier with the large amount of walk-in business at her property.
Much of the walk-in traffic at the hotel is comprised of guests who are tired after long drives and want an effortless check-in process.
“We can have things ready for them when they get here, and it saves them a few minutes from standing at the front desk.”
While Cox has not yet had any of her guests use the feature, she said she and her staff are heavily promoting the platform at the property. There are LQ-Instant Hold signs at the front desk and throughout the hotel.
“We have regular guests that come, and they don’t always know when they’re coming,” Cox said. She has been advising those return guests to use the new mobile feature, which will give them the reassurance of knowing they will have a confirmed room when they arrive.
Once guests start booking with LQ-Instant Hold, the additional channel will be no problem to manage, Cox said: “It goes right to the system.”
GMs allocate rooms to Instant Hold as they would to other channels, Cary said.
“They’ll go back, look at their demand, look at their booking patterns, determine how many and what type of rooms they want to allocate to Instant Hold, set that up and then we’re ready to go,” Cary said.
Working out the kinks
As for the feature itself, Knotice’s Lawson said in a follow-up email Instant Hold still has some bugs to work out.
After inputting his number multiple times to hold a room in Dallas, he said nothing happened, which he chalked up to a possible bug in the system.
Despite its possible negatives, Lawson is excited to learn more about the results of La Quinta’s new mobile platform.
It shows a good example of hospitality companies recognizing their consumers’ needs, Lawson said. “It shows that brands are thinking beyond the standard stuff that’s out there.”
According to Cary, the brand is in the process of patenting the booking feature, but Lawson predicts other brands will try to find a way to follow suit in the near future.