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Creating a More Memorable Experience for Guests Through Their Mobile Devices;
An Interview with Kerry Kennedy, Vice President, Omni Hotels


By Ritesh Gupta
October 2010

Mobile technology is particularly useful for all types of travellers, because it provides them with easy access to important travel information while they are on the road. Both leisure and business travellers need to keep their plans organised and have trip information like flight numbers, hotel addresses and driving directions readily on hand.
 
For their part, conceptually, hotels would like to connect with the guest at all stops along the buying lifecycle. 
 
As far the mobile technology is concerned, at this stage, one needs to assess where the focus should be: Should it be related with being more about a service tool or offering `manage my booking’ and check-in functions plus accessing travel information such as hotel maps and directions? 
 
It should be both, says Kerry Kennedy, Vice President, Omni Hotels.
 
“Guests are using mobile sites and apps for both bookings and other travel functions.  Appropriate focus should be given to ensure that “bookability” is quick, easy, and intuitive to ensure an appropriate ROI for the tool.  However, added functions to enhance the guest experience should not be overlooked such as mobile check-in and check-out, resort walking maps, location based services suggestions, as well as GPS functions and more,” pointed out Kennedy, who is scheduled to speak at the forthcoming Travel Distribution Summit North America 2010, to be held in Chicago (13-14 October).
 
Kennedy spoke to EyeforTravel’s Ritesh Gupta about the utility of mobile devices, the scope of improvement and lot more. Excerpts:
 
Booking – especially last minute bookings – along with pre stay planning and in market arrival can be natural fits for the mobile channel.  How do you assess the utility of the mobile phones in the hotel industry?
 
Kerry Kennedy:
 
Mobile is becoming increasingly important in the hotel industry.   With the proliferation of smart phones expected to surpass regular mobile phones in 2011, more and more savvy business travellers (as well as astute leisure travellers) are coming to expect full functionality of a business’ website via their smart phones and other devices such as iPads.   These mobile devices serve the hospitality industry well in allowing us to showcase our properties in ways we never could before and reach loyal guests and new potential guests at the point of purchase decision or even during stay to enhance their overall experience with us.   Touch screens, larger iPad screens, HD screens and faster 3G, 4G, and WiFi connections are making it easier to serve the guest rich media that envelops their site experience and leads to higher conversion ratios.
 
One area where mobile can help the deliberate planning process is with social networking. Users can quickly share plans and get feedback from co-travellers who are not collocated for the planning process. How do you assess the potential of such approach?
 
Kerry Kennedy:
 
The potential for social and mobile integration is high.  It is already virtually impossible to purchase a new smart phone without the social apps already loaded as part of the mobile desktop setup.   Going forward, I envision that mobile and social functions will be married together to create a more interactive and compelling experience whereby users will be able to have dialogue, seek advice, and share & post their thoughts and opinions of their travel purchases and stays with their social network circle which will have a great effect on the hospitality industry to ensure that the best experience is provided to all guests.
 
The choice of hotel for most people is an involved process – location, facilities, brand, price all have a role to play especially when people are choosing their annual holiday. This perhaps makes it more suitable for PC-based browsing. What’s your opinion regarding mobile screen vs PC debate? 
 
Kerry Kennedy:
 
At this time, I think that is still true for the most part as PC browsing is a bit easier for navigate during the shop and comparison process.   However, the quality of mobile screens are becoming better and better with the advent of larger screens on the iPad, high resolution HD screens, high performing backlit screens and easy-to-use touch screens.  This gives hoteliers the opportunities to quickly and easily showcase their properties in ways we’ve never be able to before and reach a new niche of guests that are on- or near-location at the point of purchase decision.   I see mobile distribution as another up-and-coming channel that will allow us to grow our over share of the pie, not merely shift the existing pieces of the pie.
 
One of the major developments this year has been the availability of free navigation systems on mobile handsets. And the way applications are mushrooming around location-based services, one can only expect more excitement in this arena. What do you make of such developments from the travel industry’s perspective? 
 
Kerry Kennedy:
 
I think this is a very important shift in the way we can reach and market to guests from a new platform.   In addition to marketing a hotel based on guest demographics, loyal members, price, and other traditional factors, we can now also develop strategy around marketing to guests who are visiting a city for a particular reason, event or location.   For example, we can now pair our hotel with a specific service or address location and parallel the sale of the hotel to the primary reason for the guest’s trip.   That’s not to say this strategy should replace traditional sales strategies, but it’s a new one that can enhance the overall distribution of the brand.
 
Has the industry realised that focusing on location is just one of the ways to best use mobile capability to drive optimal consumer response to your efforts?
 
Kerry Kennedy:
 
The industry has not fully realised that yet, but it is fast approaching.  This is one way that we can create a more memorable experience for the guest and have great interaction with them during their stay.   Providing the guest with relevant information through their mobile devices at the desired and initiated request of the guest helps to garner a more satisfied and loyal guest.
 
Recently, a travel guide publisher in the US introduced travel guides for iPhone, featuring Augmented Reality feature along side user-generated content and automated trip planner (the guide suggests the most personalised trip). How do you assess such developments related to applications for smart phones?
 
Kerry Kennedy:
 
I think these are great pilot ideas that fill a need of the more discerning traveller.  However, I think it important to note that these apps should be easy and intuitive to use, serve the user relevant information, and not bombard the user with mobile display ads or push notice advertisements.   If they do, they will turn off the user.
 
Travel Distribution Summit North America 2010
Kerry Kennedy, Vice President, Omni Hotels, is scheduled to speak at the forthcoming Travel Distribution Summit North America 2010, to be held in Chicago (13-14 October). The two-day event will feature over 80 speakers, including the ones from Hilton, Wyndham, Travelport, Lufthansa, Expedia, Google and from many other such organisations of repute.

For more information, click here:

About EyeforTravel
EyeforTravel is a leading media company specializing in business intelligence for the travel and tourism industry. EyeforTravel provides a series of senior executive travel conference on a diverse range of topics including travel distribution, online marketing, social media, mobile and revenue management.  EyeforTravel also provides some of the most in depth research into global online travel markets and trends. For more information visit www.eyefortravel.com
 
Contact:

Marco Saio
Event Director
marco@eyefortravel.com
0044 (0) 207 375 7219

or

Rosie Akenhead
Event Director

rosie@eyefortravel.com
0044 (0) 207 375 7229

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