Admittedly, I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to technology. It took me six months to research and pick out the right flat-panel TV when I made the upgrade and nearly as long to decide which smartphone to adopt.
My wife complains I’m addicted to my phone. True, it has become my lifeline—I rely on it for flight check-in, sports scores, Twitter updates, streaming music and navigation as well as the more traditional email, text, video and still camera options. Occasionally, I even make a phone call—if I have any battery life left. Therefore, as I hear more and more talk about mobile as a true distribution channel for selling hotel rooms, it hits home. I’m part of that small-yet-rapidly-growing percentage of people who search for travel options via the mobile device.
Here are a few recent mobile-booking facts I found interesting: Chuck Sullivan, senior VP of global online services for Hilton Worldwide, said during the International Hotel Investment Forum in Berlin last month that the hotel chain receives 150,000 actual bookings annually that can be traced back to a mobile device. At the same event, Cyril Ranque, senior VP of lodging for Expedia, said 70% of bookings that come from a mobile device are same-day bookings.
Now, as versatile as my Android-powered HTC Incredible is, I’m still not to the point where I’d book a hotel room on it. Most of my travel is planned far enough in advance that I can do it from my desktop, and trying to correctly punch in a 16-digit credit card number without mistake on the little device is painfully frustrating.
What I take advantage of fairly often, though—and what I see as the wave of the future when it comes to hotels marketing to the mobile device—is click-to-call technology. I’m sure many people have used it without even realizing its importance. For me, it’s crucial when I search for something on my phone and contact information is listed, I can just touch the number to place the call. For hotels, you want as many of those calls as possible coming to your call center.
Picture this: You decide to take your family on a long-weekend driving trip to the beach. You thought you could make it home in one continuous leg, but the kids wore you out, your eyes are getting heavy behind the wheel and you need to pull off and find a place to crash overnight.
This scenario is real, it’s prevalent and it’s the perfect opportunity for hotels to capture last-minute demand and push their distressed inventory. There are several channels by which to target Dad on the side of the highway: Will he use his GPS device to search for the nearest hotel? Will he use his smartphone’s browser and visit TripAdvisor to read reviews on the nearby hotels? Will he open his favorite brand’s mobile app, or visit the mobile site of his favorite brand, to see if they have any hotels in the area? The truly fascinating thing is that, as this practice grows, we’ll be able to measure and report what channel is used most often.
Personally, for ease and convenience reasons, I’d do a Google search for “hotels in (location).” Everything I need appears immediately without having to scroll around and click to inside pages. I can see a list of hotels with average rate, star-rating reviews and a map showing how far they are from my current location. Further, phone numbers appear as links, so I just choose the one most appealing to me and, as the saying goes, click to call.
Saved by smartphones
This is just one of many possible scenarios. The same search process would apply to a traveler who missed his flight, a fan who had a few too many drinks at the baseball game, or any number of reasons why people walk in a hotel looking for a last-minute room.
And the technology in place now, as we all know, will only get better. Most smartphones are voice-activated so the driver can just bark out a command rather than pulling over to type. And Google is mulling new options for its results, such as a sort feature that would allow users to sort based on proximity, rate, rating, etc.
Brian Payea, head of industry relations for TripAdvisor, recently had a similar experience.
“I was at a conference in Miami when storms cancelled my flight and there was a mad rush to find out where to stay,” he said. “I opened the TripAdvisor app, geo-located and found the hotel with the right loyalty program. I was on the shuttle and at the hotel before most people had left the gate. That kind of thing just makes such a difference.”
It’s true that not many people book hotel rooms from their mobile phone today and I won’t be surprised if mobile-booking adoption takes a while. But what hoteliers must consider is even if travelers don’t book directly from their smartphones, that doesn’t mean they’re not searching and/or using click-to-call functionality. To capture that growing audience, make sure you’re marketing to the right channels—whether that’s GPS software, third-party apps, Google, etc.—so Dad on the side of the road sees you first.