Click-to-call features are growing in popularity because many consumers still want to talk to a person, sources said.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Will an increased use of mobile search for local businesses mean a surge of phone calls for hotels? It’s likely, according to hotel distribution managers.
A recent study by BIA/Kelsey concluded that by the end of 2013 local businesses will be receiving three times the number of phone calls as they do currently because of the increase in mobile marketing and smartphone searches. Sources told HotelNewsNow.com the trend is emerging.
“Over the last five years, mobile has become closely correlated to local intent. People are looking for a restaurant nearby, and they are searching locally,” said Michael Boland, senior analyst with BIA/Kelsey. “When you’re on your desktop at home, the range of search subjects is broader; when you’re on a mobile device, it’s much more immediate.”
Boland said he believes hotel call volumes will rise significantly. “Mobile will be a great source of business, though that may present issues on the logistical end,” he said. “If that does happen—where you need more staff to take calls—it’s a good problem to have.”
“We are definitely seeing this trend,” said Keith Swiderski, director of mobile and emerging channels strategy and development for Wyndham Hotel Group*. “When we relaunched our mobile platform in March, we built the experience around the user and found that most mobile users book for the same day—in fact 70% to 80%—for a hotel within 5 (miles) to 10 miles of where they are. So we built the experience around that.”
Wyndham Hotel Group
“What did surprise us was that online conversions were not as high as on our computer websites,” he continued. “What we realized by talking to other companies was that there were still a lot of people new to smartphones who want to talk to a person. So we immediately started seeing an increase in calls to our call centers.”
Swiderski said Wyndham has dedicated numbers on its 13 mobile websites, with every brand having a dedicated number. The increase in call-center volume was noticeable, he said.
“After that initial burst it has eased off, but it is still substantial,” he said. “As a result, we made the call buttons more prominent on the sites. People still want to call and get a voice telling them they have the room.”
So far, Swiderski said it has not been necessary to beef up staff at call centers or to retain agents as a result of the increase in mobile calls.
Tough for independents
However, click-to-call demand from mobile phones is tough to track, according to Adele Gutman, VP of sales, marketing and revenue at the Library Hotel Collection, which operates four independent hotels in New York.
“Only one booking over the past month was booked on a mobile website (from an iPhone), even though we do have a couple thousand people a month visiting our mobile websites via smartphones,” Gutman said. “We think they prefer to use the click-to-call features, but that is not something we are tracking at the moment.”
Only the Hotel Giraffe, Gutman said, noted an increase in phone calls. But she has not specifically tied that to mobile-phone search.
“It seems travelers are looking for personal advice on the best booking option for them or to see if we can customize their experience in some way,” she said. “Of course, we love this kind of interaction and would not wish to outsource guest interaction to a call center.”
All calls to Library hotels go directly to the individual hotel. This is a key part of the guest experience and the start of the guest relationship, Gutman said.
Marketing for mobile devices is in its infancy, but once marketers figure it out it could lead to even more mobile bookings and phone calls, sources said.
“For a long time, the click-to-call functionality has been trying to get off the ground because it makes a lot of sense,” BIA/Kelsey’s Boland said. “That phone call is highly trackable and advertisers like that. It’s a performance-based form of advertising.”
“The benefit of a phone call over a click—for certain types of business—is that it means the person is ready to move to a different level of interaction,” he continued. “Click-to-call has been available on desktop but has been a little ahead of its time. It’s much more seamless to call on a mobile device.”
Boland said mobile devices get approximately 10% of a person’s media consumption, alongside TV, print and web. But the advertising dollars going to mobile is only about 1%, he said.
“That 10% will continue to grow, but the ad spend will remain small until marketers understand how to use it,” he said. “It is still experimental for them. But right now the mobile market is underpriced because of low demand, and marketers should at least try to use it.”
Boland said many advertisers will use the same practices they do in print, which could end up ineffective. For example, simply taking banner ads and putting them on the small screen is not the best strategy, he said.
Swiderski said marketing to mobile users has been challenging for Wyndham because it’s hard to track what is driving users to Wyndham’s websites.
“We have tried some things and had some hits and misses,” he said. “For instance, we very recently added a function called Express Book. If you’re booking a room at the last minute you don’t even need to input a credit card—just your name and an e-mail address—and we will hold that room until 6 p.m.”
*Correction, October 9 2012: An earlier version of the story stated Keith Swiderski was from Wyndham Worldwide.