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Does My Hotel Really Need a Mobile Strategy?


By O'Rourke Hospitality
May 2010

Many hoteliers are asking themselves that very question, ‘Does my hotel really need a mobile strategy?’ They are questioning the reasons why they should enter into the mobile market, how their hotel and their guests will benefit from mobile, what amount of time and financial commitment is involved, and what type of mobile strategy would be best for them and deliver the highest return on investment. In this article we will offer our insights to the questions posed above, and provide you with an overview of the mobile market today and the many opportunities that mobile opens up for the hotel industry.     

Why should my hotel enter into the mobile market
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Mobile is no longer just a future trend – it is here now.

We used to talk about mobile as a future trend, but with the rapid growth of smartphone usage, and the mobile guests’ increased expectations, it is clear that mobile is here now and hotels need to adapt and develop a mobile strategy.
 
As Mary Meeker of Morgan Stanley stated in a recent report, “The current cycle is the era of the mobile Internet and within the next 5 years it is predicted that more users will connect to the Internet over mobile devices than desktop PCs.”1 She also predicted that the companies that invest in mobile will likely win big (potentially very big) while many will wonder, ‘What just happened?’

A PC-style website is not suitable for mobile.
Just as a standard hotel website is vital for desktop users, a mobile web site, or an app, is vital for smartphone users. Guests need to be able to find your hotel, access information, and have the option to make a reservation through their mobile devices. A standard PC-style website is not suitable for mobile and guests won’t bother trying to navigate through it. Mobile web sites or apps are specifically designed for mobile and are very easy to use.
 
Your guests now expect to interact with your hotel through their mobile devices.
Smartphone users are very tech-savvy and have increased customer service expectations that your hotel must meet. Your guests want to be able to use their mobile devices to access information about your hotel, make a reservation, and receive up-to-the-minute news about special offers and events. If your hotel doesn’t provide the convenience of mobile you may be losing business to the competition.

How will mobile benefit my hotel?

Mobile opens up a whole new communication channel.
A main benefit of mobile is that it opens up a new communication channel and allows you to connect with your guests in a more personal way. Mobile is unique in that it is always with your guests, and it is always on. An app is an excellent option for hotels and makes it possible for them to communicate with their guests before, during and after their stay in a way that isn’t possible in traditional marketing.

O’Rourke Hospitality Marketing has recently launched one of the first ‘white label’ iPhone apps for hotels called SmartstaySM. Hotels can purchase the app and then brand it for their own hotel. They can then send their mobile guests exclusive offers, news posts about events at their hotel and in their city, and last minute deals that the guest can use while they are on property. 

Mobile allows hotels to manage their own content.
The Smartstay iPhone app is designed with a content management system which allows hotels to create, edit, and instantly publish their own content. Hotels can post special offers and news updates as often as they choose with no added cost (unlike e-mail, SMS, or traditional advertising).

Mobile helps hotels acquire new guests and increase ROI.

Your own hotel Smartstay app will help generate brand awareness and increase publicity about your hotel. Guests will appreciate the added convenience of mobile and it will help build customer loyalty. With Smartstay you can inform guests of special offers and up-sell other hotel offerings to guests while they are on property. You can also keep guests informed of future events and promotions and encourage repeat visits.

Mobile makes booking convenient for guests.

A mobile web site or an app will make your hotel accessible for travelers looking to make a reservation through their mobile device. An iPhone app such as Smartstay makes it very easy for guests to make a reservation because once the guest downloads the app, the hotel app icon will appear on the main screen of the guest’s iPhone. The guest can simply tap on the icon and then select ‘book now’ to connect with the hotel’s booking engine.

Mobile will help distinguish your hotel and appeal to savvy travelers.

Hotels who embrace mobile now will benefit from increased exposure which will in turn increase bookings. Mobile will allow hotels to get ahead of their competitors who don’t offer the convenience of mobile. It is also a powerful opportunity for smaller independent hotels to stand out. Savvy travelers are attracted to hotels that offer the best technology and customer service to their guests.

How will mobile benefit my guests?

Guests can make travel arrangements anytime, anyplace.
Many travelers today spend a lot of time on the road and often have to make hotel reservations on the go. They often depend on their mobile devices to make a reservation or access information about a hotel such as directions, check-in times, or restaurant hours. Guests appreciate the convenience of a hotel app or mobile web site.

Guests will enjoy exclusive offers and up-to-the minute news and information.
With an iPhone app such as Smartstay, guests can receive exclusive offers and promotions. Studies have shown that people are more receptive to receiving offers on their mobile phones than they are to more traditional forms of advertising. Guests will appreciate the news updates about special events at your hotel or in your city. Your hotel can also send guests last minute deals that they can take advantage of while they are on property such as a free drink at the lounge or a discount on a spa service. <> 

Mobile will engage your guests and enhance their stay at your hotel and in your city.

A mobile app can be very engaging and often includes fun and useful features. For example the Smartstay app comes with an interactive map that guests can use to find the location of all the hotel-recommended restaurants, bars, cultural venues and more. Guests can also view images and videos of your property and city. Users will also enjoy the fun features of the app such as the virtual postcards that they can send to their friends and family.

WHAT AMOUNT OF TIME AND FINANCIAL COMMITMENT IS INVOLVED?

Some hotels are wary of developing a mobile strategy because they are unsure of the time and financial commitment involved. As with any marketing endeavor there is a necessary amount of planning and execution time involved, however it is by no means an overwhelming amount of effort. Of course it also depends on the mobile strategy you choose. We believe an iPhone app is the best option for hotels for reasons that we will explain later on in this article. Therefore, below we will look at the time and financial commitment involved in maintaining an iPhone app.

What is involved in setting up and maintaining an iPhone App?
First let’s take a look at an iPhone app. We will use the Smartstay hotel iPhone app as an example. How much time is involved in setting up and maintaining the Smartstay app? The answer may sound too good to be true, but the reality is that you can get your own hotel app up and running within a matter of weeks.
 
O’Rourke provides you with the app and you can enter in your own content with the intuitive and very easy to use content management system that you can access online. There is no programming involved and all you have to do is simply type in the content. It is also very easy to upload images and videos. You can create and enter the content yourself, or O’Rourke can create and enter the content for you as an additional service.
 
O’Rourke then submits your hotel app to the Apple Store. The approval process varies, but the average waiting time is usually 2 weeks. Once the app is approved your guests can download it from the Apple App store on their iPhones, iPods, or iPads. The app is designed exclusively for the iPhone so your hotel won’t have to worry about any technical problems.
 
The hotel can now use its Smartstay App to send out exclusive offers and news posts to their mobile guests. Again, this is not a huge time commitment but it is a task that needs to be assigned to someone on the hotel staff. Typically someone in the marketing department will take on the responsibility. O’Rourke also offers to update content for the hotel as an additional service.
 
The quantity and quality of the offers and news updates depends on the level of commitment at the hotel (unless O’Rourke is updating content for the hotel). We recommend that hotels keep the news posts updated with fresh information on a daily basis. The posts must contain information that is valuable and relevant to your guests. Hotels can also include their Twitter stream in the news posts.
 
The hotel must also have clear goals in mind about what they want to achieve with the app. Does your hotel want to boost revenue on property - for example at the restaurant or spa?  Perhaps you want to use the app mainly to generate cutomer loyalty. The app can be used to achieve multiple objectives simultaneously. 
 
How much does an iPhone App cost?
The financial commitment of an iPhone App varies. For example it would be more costly to have an app made from scratch just for your hotel. A more cost-effective option is to invest in a ‘white label’ app such as Smartstay and brand it for your own hotel. There is typically a one time set-up fee which costs a lot less than a website, and then there is a minimal monthly charge to maintain the app. Overall it is a very small price to pay for such a powerful tool.

WHAT IS THE BEST MOBILE STRATEGY FOR MY HOTEL?

Some hotels don’t bother creating a mobile web site or an app because they think their PC style website will also suffice for mobile. Unfortunately that is not the case because a PC style website is very hard to read on a mobile phone. Other hotels would like to enter the mobile market but they aren’t sure where to start.

Two popular options are an iPhone app or a mobile web site. An iPhone app can be downloaded from the Apple App store and the app icon will appear on the main screen. When users click on the icon the app will open and display the hotel content and images in a very mobile-friendly way.

The mobile web site is also designed for small screens and render their pages in narrow columns. Below is an image of an app, a mobile web site, and a PC-style website (which is crossed out because it is simply not a good option).


Which is better, an app or a mobile web site?
There are advantages and disadvantages to both the app and the mobile web. We believe an app is the better choice for hotels for the following reasons; an app is faster, it has a better user interface, it allows for more features, it provides an easier navigation, and has better overall usability.
 
The main advantage that a mobile web site has over an app is that it can be used on many different phones and browsers. However this can cause technical problems and the site may not display correctly on so many different devices. Many apps, including the O’Rourke Smartstay app, also offer a mobile web version which can be used by guests who have smartphones other than an iPhone.
 
In a recent article, Adam Kirby referenced Tishman Hotel Corp. who uses both mobile web sites and iPhone apps. He stated, “ Even the best mobile sites are not as user-friendly as downloadable apps, which have the benefit of operating even without an Internet connection. In terms of usability, if accessing the mobile web is like flying coach, then using an app is like upgrading to business class.” 2
 
People prefer to use apps on their mobile devices over search. On a PC people typically search to find what they are looking for, but on a smartphone they can quickly access the information they need from an app. As Steve Jobs said in his introduction to iPhone OS4, when people want to go out to dinner, they don't search for restaurants on their iPhones, they go right to the Yelp app.  People do the same with hotels. It is much easier just to tap on a hotel app icon then it is to search for a hotel website.

THE MOBILE MARKET TODAY

When deciding on a mobile strategy that is best for your hotel, it is important to look at the mobile market today and predict where it is going. What technology is currently available and which smartphones do people use most to download apps? How popular are travel apps, and do your guests download them?
 
Do my guests use Smartphones?
The use of smartphones is growing at a very rapid pace and experts predict that they will overtake feature phones in the US as early as 2011.3 Below is a recent survey by the Nielsen company which shows the rapid growth of smartphones. The falling blue line in the chart below represents feature phones (phones other than smartphones) and the rising green line represents smartphones.

























source: Nielsenwire: http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/consumer/smartphones-to-overtake-feature-phones-in-u-s-by-2011/


Which phone do people use most to browse the web and download apps?

O’Rourke decided to create an app for the Apple iPhone because people clearly use it more than any other mobile device to browse the web and download apps. As mentioned earlier there is also a mobile web version available for guests with smartphones other than the iPhone.
 
The chart below was used in Steve Job’s presentation of the iPhone OS4 and reveals that the iPhone has the largest share in US Mobile Browser Usage with 64%. Everything else added together is only half the iPhone.



















source: Steve Jobs: http://www.apple.com/iphone/preview-iphone-os/

People also download more apps with the iPhone and iPod touch than any other mobile device. The chart below shows the average number of apps downloaded per user per month. As you can see the average user downloads about 8.8 apps a month on the iPhone and 12.1 on the iPod touch.




















source: AdMob Mobile Metrics: App Usage Survey, February 2010
http://metrics.admob.com/2010/03/january-2010-metrics-%E2%80%93-app-survey-data/


Will my guests download my hotel app?

Travel Apps are extremely popular and rank in the 5th category (out of the 20 categories in the Apple App store). Guests will be happy to download your hotel app because of the convenience it will offer them.
 
The hotels that currently offer mobile apps have reported a very high number of downloads. Choice Hotels International was one of the first hotels to create an app and as of August 2009 it had reportedly been downloaded more than 225,000 times in 73 countries. The Starwood Hotel app is also very popular and is being downloaded at a rate of 2,000 per week. 4 

WHAT ARE THE OPPORTUNITIES IN MOBILE?

 
Mobile is a new frontier that offers hotels numerous opportunities to connect with their guests, tap into a new source of revenue, enhance customer service, and increase customer loyalty. Hotels are aware that they need a mobile solution but they are still trying to work out which strategy would be best for them and understand what their opportunities are in mobile.
 
Below is a chart from an EyeforTravel report based on a survey of people working in the travel industry and the opportunities that they have identified in mobile. 

OPPORTUNITIES IDENTIFIED BY THE TRAVEL INDUSTRY















In closing, Mobile is here now and it is here to stay. As a recent EyeforTravel report states, till recently the “growth and uptake has been slow and identifying the right opportunities continues to be the hardest part of setting a mobile agenda,” but it is emphasized that the use of mobile in travel distribution is “unavoidable” and “the key success of any travel business in the future.”5
 
If you would like to learn more about the Smartstay iPhone App for Hotels please call the mobile division of O’Rourke Hospitality Marketing at 888-965-5966 or send an email to info@smatstayapp.com. You can also visit the Smartstay website at www.smartstayapp.com.
 
O’Rourke will be attending HITEC 2010, June 21-24, Orlando, Fla. Stop by our booth (#1234) and enter to win an Apple® iPad.

1
Mary Meeker: Mobile Internet will Soon Overtake Fixed Internet (April 12, 2010)
http://gigaom.com/2010/04/12/mary-meeker-mobile-internet-will-soon-overtake-fixed-internet/


2
Adam Kirby: Hotels Get App Happy (Aug 31, 2009)
http://www.usablenet.com/in-the-news/hotels-get-app-happy/

3
Smartphones to Overtake Feature Phones in U.S. by 2011 – March 26, 2010
http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/consumer/smartphones-to-overtake-feature-phones-in-u-s-by-2011/

4Adam Kirby: Hotels Get App Happy (Aug 31, 2009)
http://www.usablenet.com/in-the-news/hotels-get-app-happy/
 
5Eye for Travel: Travel Industry gets serious about Mobile
http://www.eyefortravelresearch.com/liveresearch?h=91#tab-recentfindings
 
About O’Rourke Hospitality Marketing
Founded in 2001, O’Rourke is an award-winning hospitality marketing firm headquartered in Newburyport, Massachusetts. Serving national and international clients, O’Rourke provides hotels with a complete range of services including Internet marketing, hotel website design and development, and print design. Clients include major brands as Marriott International, Renaissance Hotels, and Winegardner & Hammons, Inc. For more information see the O’Rourke website: http://www.orourkehospitality.com/ 

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Contact:

O’Rourke Hospitality Marketing
44 Merrimac Street
Newburyport
MA 01950

http://www.orourkehospitality.com

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Also See: O'Rourke Launches Smartstay iPhone App to Open Mobile Channel for Hotels / March 2010

Should My Hotel Use Facebook Ads? / March 2010

Quick ‘Critical’ Tips and Latest Trends in E-Mail Marketing; Re-cap of presentation ‘Critical Email Prospecting Strategies for 2010’ / February 2010

What’s the Link Between E-Mail Marketing and Social Media? How your hotel can blend both tactics for stronger messaging in 2010 / January 2010

New Media Transformed the Obama Campaign, Can it Transform Your Hotel? Dan Siroker Shares Lessons Learned From the Unprecedented Campaign / January 2010

20 Secrets of Top-Converting Websites and How they can Boost Your Hotel Bookings; Re-cap of Bryan Eisenberg’s presentation at SES Chicago / December 2009

Has Your Hotel Ever Asked, “What Would Google Do?”; Recap of Jeff Jarvis presentation at SES Chicago / December 2009

Install Analytics on Your Hotel Website / December 2009

Attract Guests to Your Hotel by Producing Video Content Related to Travel; O’Rourke Interview with Tubemogul Co-Founder Brett Wilson / December 2009

Prepare Your Hotel for Google Sidewiki Comments! Tips on What your Hotel Should Do, and How to Monitor Reviews with RSS Feed / November 2009

Innovative Hotel Website Ideas for 2010; O’Rourke Interview with Chris Brogan / November 2009

InterContinental Hotels Online Videos Prove More Effective / November 2009

How can Social Search Impact my Hotel? / November 2009

Sir Martin Sorrell’s Forecast for 2010, Is Your Hotel Looking Ahead? / November 2009

Chris Brogan Interview - Hotels that Listen to Social Media Generate Business / October 2009

Create Videos about Your Hotel - Your Guests Already Are! / October 2009

Thought, Reason, and Emotion Affect Consumer Decision / October 2009

Southwest Airlines is Riding the Blogosphere Like a Wild Horse! / October 2009

Don’t be Invisible Online - Learn which Websites Travelers Use to find Hotels and be Seen! / September 2009

What can a Blog do for my Hotel? The General Manager from Hawthorne Hotel Shares Insight! / September 2009

How to Edit, Export, & Upload Your Hotel Videos – Easy Technical Tips / September 2009

How Hotels Can Build Links by Leveraging their USP, PR, and Organic Growth; an O’Rourke Video Interview / September 2009

Will Google Caffeine Affect my Hotel SEO? / August 2009

Don’t Hide From Trip Advisor Reviews! / August 2009

5 Ways Hotels can Improve and Track Return on Investment from Twitter – Oh wait, there is no investment! / August 2009

Leverage Blended Search and Boost your Hotel’s Search Ranking Position / August 2009

How to Optimize Your Hotel Website for Natural Search / August 2009
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