News for the Hospitality Executive
Earlier this month I presented at EyeForTravel’s Online Marketing Strategies for Travel 2012 Conference in Miami. The session, titled “Best Practices for Mobile Strategies in 2012 and Beyond,” focused on the expanding mobile distribution channel and explored tablets as a distinct digital marketing device. This article is a continuation of my thoughts shared at the conference, as well as an attempt to help hoteliers realign their mobile marketing strategies mid-year, by providing valuable action steps they can take now and beyond 2012.
The Mobile Marketing and Distribution Channel is Exploding
The mobile channel is not just a mere extension of the traditional “desktop” channel. Morgan Stanley projects that by 2014, mobile web users will surpass “traditional” desktop Internet users. This exploding distribution and marketing channel has its own rules and best practices, providing immense revenue opportunities and competitive advantages to smart hotel and travel marketers.
Hotel guests and travel consumers in general are already mobile-ready, and hoteliers and travel suppliers have to respond adequately to this growing demand for mobile travel services. Fifty percent of U.S. adults and 80% of business travelers already have smartphones. Twenty-four percent of leisure travelers and 36% of business travelers have already purchased travel via their mobile devices (PhoCusWright).
The mobile channel has already become a real travel planning and hotel distribution channel, especially for drive-in and last-minute travel markets. The U.S. hospitality industry is experiencing staggering growth rates in leisure and unmanaged business travel bookings via the mobile channel:
2010: $99 million
2011: $753 million
2012: $1,368 million
2013: $2,155 million (PhoCusWright)
HeBS Digital’s own data shows that having a hotel mobile website generates incremental revenue through mobile and voice reservations which, without a well-optimized property mobile site with rich content, would have easily gone to the competition or the OTAs. In Q1 2012, more than 5% of website visits and 5% of online bookings came from mobile devices across HeBS Digital’s hotel client portfolio versus 4.5% of hotel website visits and 3% of online bookings in 2011. These numbers continued to grow in Q2 of this year.
Hoteliers must understand that in hospitality, the mobile channel provides three distinct opportunities to market to and service consumers:
Do’s of Hotel Mobile Marketing & Distribution:
1. Budget for Mobile Marketing Initiatives
HeBS Digital’s 6th Annual Benchmark Survey on Hotel Digital Marketing Budget Planning results demonstrate that mobile marketing has already become a very important tool in the hotelier’s digital marketing arsenal. This year, over a quarter of hoteliers fit a mobile site (26%) and a mobile booking engine (27.4%) into their budget planning:
The results of the survey also identify a positive trend: fewer hoteliers (11% in 2012 vs. 38.4% in 2011) did not plan any mobile marketing initiatives this year.
In 2012, based on the property’s concrete feeder markets and key customer segments, hotels should be spending at least 10% of their overall digital marketing budgets on mobile marketing initiatives, including on optimization and upgrades to the mobile website, mobile SEO and SEM, mobile display advertising, SMT text marketing initiatives, etc. In 2013, hotels should allocate up to 15% of their overall digital marketing budgets for mobile marketing initiatives.
2. Focus on the Hotel's Mobile Website
The question of whether a hotel or a travel supplier needs a mobile website has already been categorically answered: mobile sites generate serious incremental bookings. The mobile web adheres to different rules than the conventional desktop Internet. Mobile users have even shorter attention spans and less time to browse than traditional desktop users. The mobile web features a number of limiting factors, such as slower speeds, yet-to-be-perfected mobile browsers, smaller displays, multi-step booking and more.
The biggest mistake hoteliers make is not having a mobile site at all. Today’s hyperactive travel consumers rely on mobile sites that download quickly, provide short and concise textual content, minimalistic visual content and easy-to-use booking engines.
In June of 2012, more than 85% of desktop Internet users had a screen resolution of 1280x1024 pixels or higher. Trying to squeeze your wide-screen “desktop” hotel website onto the tiny screen of a mobile device is a futile exercise that inevitably destroys usability and conversion rates. Our analysis shows that more than 90% of mobile users access the hotel website via mobile devices with screen sizes of maximum 320 pixels wide by 480 pixels high. Accessing a “conventional” website via a mobile device, even the iPhone (320 x 480 pixels), often results in an undesirable user experience (the inability to find information needed), and a predictable outcome (abandoned websites and reservations).
To solve this issue, hoteliers should offer a mobile website specially designed to provide an excellent user experience in a mobile environment. At the very least, the mobile website should offer the following capabilities/functionality:
There is a growing need for a centralized digital content depository as hotel marketers are challenged to create and manage content through three distinct channels: desktop, mobile and tablet. HeBS Digital’s proprietary CMS Premium acts as a centralized digital library that services all three channels by pushing content to the property’s desktop, tablet and mobile websites simultaneously, as well to the property’s social media profiles on Facebook and Twitter.
3. Engage in Hotel Mobile Marketing
Having a hotel mobile website – even if developed according to industry’s best practices – is only the beginning. Just like with the mobile website, the mobile Web abides by different rules that require mobile Web-specific marketing initiatives.
Here are the top mobile marketing initiatives hoteliers should focus on in 2012 and beyond:
Any seasonal promotion (summer getaways, holiday specials, etc.) or customer segment campaign (e.g. family travel, leisure, weekend, etc.) should contain a mobile marketing component to reach the on-the-go travel consumer and drive-in markets.
4. Take Advantage of SoLoMo
This year, hoteliers have been hearing a lot of the buzzword SoLoMo (SOcial, LOcal, MObile). Meant to convey the convergence of these three major media, the term SoLoMo describes a “marriage made in heaven” between the three content and marketing platforms.
Why should hoteliers bring social, local and mobile marketing initiatives to the forefront of their hotel digital marketing plans this year? Hotel guests are avid SoLoMo services users. Most social network engagements by travel consumers are done via mobile devices. Consumers perform more than 3 billion local searches every month, and one in three mobile searches have local intent vs. one in five desktop searches [Google].
Unlike the desktop Web world, SoLoMo allows hoteliers to combine real-time customer geo-location with their demographic and psychographic information and time- and location-relevant promotions. Hoteliers need to consider how to best utilize SoLoMo to engage their guests and generate incremental revenues.
By focusing efforts on social media, local marketing, and mobile marketing, hotel marketers have the ability to deliver more personalized, relevant content and engage existing guests and potential customers like never before.
It is important to understand that local content means mobile content. Google has amassed the most detailed library of local content via its Google+ Local (formerly Google Places) and Google Maps. How optimized are your property profiles in the main data providers –
such as Localeze – which feed many local directories and geo-social sites? How optimized are your property local search listings on Google+ Local, Yahoo Local, and Bing Local? What about all the local online business directories and yellow pages? Do you have a local citation listing program in place?
One of the best examples of SoLoMo is the recent move by Google to “marry” its local content listings (Google Places) with its social network (Google+) and making this content the default in its mobile search results. By converting more than 80 million Google Places listings to Google+ Local pages, Google achieved an unprecedented level of dynamic, social content vs. static directory content. For example, Google+ Local includes integration of a circles filter to find reviews or recommendations from friends/family/colleagues.
Once you take care of your local content, it is time to enhance your mobile marketing presence. How deep, relevant and engaging is the local content on your mobile site? Do you have automated push of specials, promotions and local events from the property “desktop” website to the mobile site to keep your mobile presence “fresh?” Do you use micro-formats and Schema codes to relay the time- and location-relevant nature of these promotions and events to the search engines? Does your property take advantage of coupon promotions through Google?
Other recommendations include engaging your local customers via time- and location-relevant check-in promotions and rewards, launching social media promotions, contests, and post series via Facebook and Twitter, and blogging. Geo-social marketing initiatives allow hoteliers to integrate with consumers’ lifestyles and connect (and stay connected) with them in ways that were not previously possible. Social, local and mobile marketing are great for time- and location-sensitive promotions.
5. Align the Official and Unofficial Content About the Hotel
A very important consequence of the convergence of social, local and mobile is the fact that today’s SoLoMo-enabled travel consumers have immediate 24/7 access to all types of content about your hotel: the “official” content about the hotel e.g. hotel website, Facebook pages, Google+ Local descriptions, etc. and the “unofficial” user-generated content on the social networks and customer review sites. This convergence of local content, social media and mobile allows potential customers to quickly check reviews on sites like TripAdvisor or Yelp, see the Google+ Local listing of the hotel with all of its user-generated content and reviews, and/or communicate with friends via Facebook or Twitter about their experiences at the hotel.
Now, more than ever, you need to align the official and unofficial content about your hotel. Example: You cannot claim your property offers luxury accommodations if reviewers on TripAdvisor or Google’s Zagat Reviews describe your rooms as suited for the budget traveler at best.
The bigger the discrepancy between the two types of content, the less credible the official content is since people trust user-generated content more. Avoiding major discrepancies here leads to higher website conversion rates and more mobile bookings.
6. Consider a Major Push in the Tablet Channel
Tablets are rapidly emerging as a separate device/channel category from desktop and mobile. According to eMarketer, global tablet sales are projected to exceed 232 million in 2016, growing from 64 million in 2011. Next year, there will be 75.6 million U.S. tablet users vs. just 13 million in 2010.
Search engines and many major media sites already consider tablets as a separate, distinct device category, characterized with its own unique user behavior and best practices for user experience and content delivery.
For all practical purposes, the desktop, mobile device and tablet address different needs at different times of the day and week. According to Google, users searching Google utilize:
7. Improve the Mobile Booking Process
Many reservation technology vendors do not have mobile-friendly versions of their booking engines. The three main issues as far as usability in the mobile booking process are:
8. Use Mobile Analytics
The explosion of social media and mobile marketing, along with channel convergence and multi-channel marketing, has made it imperative for hoteliers to track the effectiveness of hotel digital marketing initiatives and optimize returns from their limited budget resources. The available analytical technology tools today offer cost-effective yet powerful ways to track results.
In the mobile channel, this technology allows us to track conversions from the hotel website and all digital advertising campaigns such as SEM, banner advertising and re-targeting. In addition, call analytics allows us to track the effectiveness of the voice channel, as well as the mobile Web and print ads.
1. Don't Discount in the Mobile Channel
All travel suppliers – hotels, airlines, car rental companies, cruise lines, etc. – manage perishable inventory, so theoretically you would expect that these suppliers would be launching last-minute promotions to unload at least part of their unsold inventory. Wrong! In the case of the airlines, the closer to the date of departure, the higher the airfare – not the other way around.
The most common mistake by hoteliers we are witnessing today is the urge to discount in the mobile channel. My advice is not to discount in the mobile channel!
The mobile channel is a last-minute distribution channel by default. In this hyper-connected social and mobile world, the booking window has shrunk tremendously over the past few years and travel consumers have embraced the mobile Web as a legitimate booking channel:
Since people are booking closer and closer to the day of their arrival, it is easier for them to wait and see what the last-minute rates are on the hotel’s mobile site, on an OTA site or on a last-minute discount site such as HotelTonight.com, as opposed to booking in advance via the hotel desktop or mobile sites.
In the age of social and mobile word of mouth, it will not take long for all regular and frequent guests at your hotel to hear about the lower last-minute rates offered via an OTA or a service like HotelTonight.com. What will be the result? The hotel will soon see that:
2. You Don't Need a Mobile App
Here at HeBS Digital, we are constantly being asked by our hotel clients whether it makes sense for a hotel to develop its own mobile app or if the hotel should focus on developing and enhancing their mobile website. From the survey results table above, we can see the number of hoteliers planning for an iPhone app dropped dramatically: from 24.1% in 2010 to 8.9% in 2011.
I believe that hotels do not need a mobile app if they are a single-property, independent hotel. Nor do franchised hotels and resorts or smaller and mid-size hotel chains and multi-property companies. These hotel companies are better off focusing on building and enhancing their mobile websites and promoting the mobile site via mobile marketing initiatives.
A 2011 study by CEM4Mobile Analytics, which used an actual sample of over 56 million mobile impressions from mobile services supporting both applications and browsing-based access, concluded that the vast majority of users (90.15%) prefer mobile browsing vs. mobile apps:
Another survey by Adobe and eMarketer found that users prefer a mobile app only in the following three categories: social networking, music and games. For everything else they prefer to browse (i.e. search for mobile websites). In every other category that pertains to travel research, planning and purchasing, mobile users prefer to browse or search relevant mobile website content. Eighty-one percent of users preferred browsing when researching products/services and price; 71% favored browsing when comparing products and services, and 68% used browsing when reading customer reviews.
There are several other reasons why hoteliers should focus on a mobile website as opposed to building a mobile app:
About the Author:
Max Starkov is President & CEO of HeBS Digital, the hospitality industry’s leading full-service digital marketing and direct online channel strategy firm based in New York City (www.HeBSdigital.com). Erica Garza, Senior Copy+SEO Specialist at HeBS Digital, also contributed to this article.
Mariana Mechoso Safer
the Hospitality Industry Tango with Tingo? / Max Starkov / April
Digital Wins Big with Two 'Best of Industry' Advertising Competition
Awards / March 2012
Ten Search Engine Marketing Do's and Don'ts in 2012 / Tara
Rattigan and Toby Tornay / March 2012
Social & Mobile: Why 2012 is going to be 'The Year of SoLoMo' Part
II / Margaret Mastrogiacomo & Ritesh Gupta / March 2012
New Google Venice Update - Is Your Hotel Website Optimized for
Hyper-Local SEO? / Sue Wiker & Eric Rattner / March 2012
Plan to Ensure Your Hotel Website is ADA-Compliant / Gabriel Aponte
/ March 2012
TripAdvisor Transform Itself From an Industry Foe to an Industry Friend?
/ Max Starkov / February 2012
Digital Launches Landmark Sixth Annual Benchmark Survey on Hotel
Digital Marketing Strategies / February 2012
Price of HeBS Digital to Receive 'Top 25' Most Extraordinary Minds in
Travel Industry at HSMAI'S Adrian Awards; HeBS Digital Honored a Second
Time in Three Years / January 2012
Hotelier's 2012 Top Ten Digital Marketing Resolutions / Max Starkov
and Mariana Mechoso Safer / January 2012
2011 Top Ten Internet Marketing Resolutions / Max Starkov and
Mariana Mechoso Safer / January 2011
HeBS Perspective: Members-Only, Flash Sales and Group Buying Sites –
Are These New Retail Concepts a Good Idea for Hotel Distribution? /
Sara O’Brien / December 2010
HeBS Perspective: Hotel Mobile Apps vs. Hotel Mobile Websites / Max
Starkov / December 2010
on ROI Driven Hotel Website Design and Multichannel Marketing Results
in Significant Hotel Online Revenues and … Major Awards / November
eBusiness Strategies to Speak at EyeforTravel’s Customer Centric
Strategies for Travel 2011 in Atlanta / November 2010
eBusiness Strategies Continues its Tradition of Excellence in Website
Design with Eight W³ Awards / November 2010
eBusiness Strategies Wins One Gold and Two Silver Magellan Awards for
Web 2.0 and Multichannel Marketing Initiatives / September 2010
|Hospitality eBusiness Strategies to Present during Mobile Technology & Travel Keynote Session at EyeforTravel s Travel Distribution Summit / August 2010|
|Hospitality eBusiness Strategies Wins Best in Class Interactive Media Award for the Silver Legacy Resort Casino Website / July 2010|
|HeBS to Address Mobile Marketing at HSMAI Conference; Max Starkov of Hospitality eBusiness Strategies to present on mobile marketing at HSMAI s Revenue Management & Internet Marketing Strategy Conference on June 21, 2010 in Orlando, FL. / May 2010|
|Hospitality eBusiness Strategies (HeBS) to Present at the European Hospitality Technology Educational Conference (EHTEC) / January 2010|
|Hospitality eBusiness Strategies Unveils its Latest Web 2.0 Application: A Multi-Channel Interactive Scavenger Hunt for the City of Indian Wells / January 2010|
|Hospitality eBusiness Strategies (HeBS) Wins the Prestigious Best in Class Interactive Media Award / January 2010|
|Hospitality eBusiness Strategies (HeBS) Dominates Again in HotelMarketing.com s Most Popular Articles of 2009 / January 2010|
|Hospitality eBusiness Strategies Announces the Fourth Annual Benchmark Survey; Survey to Measure Hotel Internet Marketing Strategies, Budget Planning and Best Practices / December 2009|
|HeBS Wins Major Web 2.0 Design & Development Awards / November 2009|
|Hospitality eBusiness Strategies Wins Three W3 Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Web 2.0 and Website Development / October 2009|
|Hospitality eBusiness Strategies (HeBS) Announces Hotel Indigo New York City-Chelsea Website Launch / July 2009|
|HeBS Awarded “Best in Class” Interactive Media Award for Outrigger Lodging’s Grafton on Sunset Hotel Website / May 2009|
|Max Starkov of HeBS to Present at the CRM & Loyalty Strategies for Travel Conference in Atlanta; Chief Strategist Will Discuss How to Use Your Website as a Retention Tool at EyeforTravel Conference / February 2009|
|Max Starkov of Hospitality eBusiness Strategies to Receive Top 25 Most Extraordinary Minds in Sales and Marketing 2008 Honor At HSMAI Adrian Awards Gala Annual Gala Dinner to be Held Jan. 26 in New York City / December 2008|
|Hospitality eBusiness Strategies Wins Five Prominent Interactive Media Awards including Best in Class; Luxe Worldwide Hotels' New Brand Website Honored as Best in Class in Travel and Tourism 2008 / December 2008|
|Hospitality eBusiness Strategies Partners with The Tides Inn Chesapeake Bay Virginia; HeBS to increase direct online bookings and boost Internet marketing presence for The Tides Inn / October 2008|
|Hospitality eBusiness Strategies Announces the 2009 Benchmark Survey; Survey to Measure Hotel Internet Marketing Strategies, Budget Planning and Best Practices / October 2008|
|Hospitality eBusiness Strategies (HeBS) Announces Luxe Worldwide Hotels New Website Launch / October 2008|
|Hospitality eBusiness Strategies to Present at MICE Asia 2008 in Kuala Lumpur / July 2008|
|Hospitality eBusiness Strategies Receives Top International Creative Awards - 2008 Summit International Awards / May 2008|
|Hospitality eBusiness Strategies Receives Official Honoree Distinction for the 12th Annual Webby Awards in 2008 / May 2008|
|Hospitality eBusiness Strategies Wins Gold Adrian Awards in 2007 / December 2007|
|Hospitality eBusiness Strategies Wins Three W3 Awards / November 2007|
|Hospitality eBusiness Strategies Wins Gold Adrian Awards in 2007 / December 2007|
|Hospitality eBusiness Strategies Receives Seven New Website Excellence Awards; Highest 2006 Interactive Media Awards and W3 Awards / November 2006|
|Hospitality eBusiness Strategies Wins Five Web Marketing Association Awards; 2006 WebAward for Best Travel Website / October 2006|