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By Max Starkov 

The results from Q1 of 2014 demonstrate a tremendous and continuous shift in hotel bookings and customer engagements from desktop to mobile and tablet devices. Over 36% of web visitors and nearly 34% of page views were generated from non-desktop devices (mobile and tablet), while over 15% of bookings and nearly 14% of room nights and revenue came from tablets and mobile devices. There is no doubt that hoteliers must up their marketing and distribution game in this multi-channel, multi-device world we live in.

The Mobile vs. Tablet Argument

When analyzing the shift from desktop, the three devices - desktop, mobile (smartphones) and tablet - and their respective marketing and distribution channels should be treated as separate device categories. 

The majority of "mobile" bookings, room nights and revenue reported by some research firms, are actually generated by tablet devices such as the iPad, Samsung Galaxy and Google Nexus, and not by "pure" mobile devices like the iPhone, Android and Windows Mobile-based smartphones. Across HeBS Digital's hotel portfolio, tablets generated 218% more roomnights and 311% more revenue than "pure" mobile devices. 

Tablets are portable yet stationary devices; they are predominantly used indoors with a high-speed Internet connection, at home or work, in a coffee shop or in-flight. Web analytics from major hotel brands, OTAs and HeBS Digital's portfolio show that 85%-90% of tablet browsing happens via a Wi-Fi connection, while mobile devices use telecommunication carriers such as AT&T or Verizon to access the web. 

Mobile users and tablet users require different content. The always-on-the-go mobile user requires short, straight to-the-point information: hotel location, maps and directions, summary of the hotel product, easy to use mobile booking engine, and a click-to-talk property reservation number. Hence the need for a mobile-enabled website with specialized content.

Tablet users require deep, visually enhanced content about the property, its product and destination, etc. This is why many hoteliers serve their desktop website content on tablet devices today, unless they have a specialized tablet version of their desktop website which can accommodate the touch-screen navigation required by tablet devices along with the high-res photography and highly visual presentation necessary to display the hotel product.

The Shift from Desktop in Q1 2014 is Massive: 

Across HeBS Digital's hotel client portfolio, consisting of thousands of hotel properties, we saw this shift occur in every data category. 

The most notable developments in Q1 2014:

  • Over 36% of web visitors and nearly 34% of page views were generated from non-desktop devices (mobile and tablet).
  • Over 15% of bookings and nearly 14% of roomnights and revenue came from tablets and mobile devices (not including voice reservations originating from the mobile websites of our clients).
  • Tablets generated 218% more roomnights and 311% more revenue than "pure" mobile devices. 
  • The iPad outperformed all other tablet devices and was responsible for 80% of tablet revenue and nearly 87% of visitors.

Compare this to Q1 2012, when: 

  • "Pure" mobile devices generated 2.2% of bookings; 1.4% of room nights, and .9% of revenue, as well as 10% of visitors and 8% of page views.
  • Tablet devices generated 4% of bookings; 4% of room nights, and 4.5% of revenue, as well as 7% of visitors and 7% of page views.

The explosion of the mobile and the emergence of the tablet channel present a major challenge to hotel marketers: creating and managing digital presence across three distinct distribution and marketing channels (desktop, mobile, tablet). 

The Shift Away from Desktop is Accelerating Year-over-Year: 

The year-over-year growth in the mobile and tablet device categories is staggering, while the desktop continues to lose ground. 

Percent Increase/Decrease in Results in Q1 2014 vs. Q1 2013:

The most notable developments in Q1 2014 compared to same period in 2013:

  • Hotel website visitors to desktop websites declined by 10.32%, while increasing by nearly 35% via mobile.
  • Mobile bookings and roomnights increased by 84% while mobile revenue nearly doubled as travel consumers are becoming more comfortable transacting via their smartphones and as smartphone penetration reaches an all-time high - over 50% in the U.S.
  • Revenue from desktop devices is on the decline, year-over-year, by 3.05%.
  • Though the iPad continues to be the king of tablets, bookings via tablet devices outside iPad increased by a whopping 437% and revenue via 544% compared to Q1 2013.

In fact, a recent study by Google showed that smartphones are the most common starting place for online activities, with 47% of users starting their trip planning process via the smartphone, 45% continuing on a desktop and 3% continuing on a tablet. Tablets are most often a starting point for shopping and trip planning.

What Should Hoteliers Do About the Three Screens?

So what should hoteliers be doing to drive the most conversions from this dynamic shift from desktop to mobile and tablet? To begin with, they should be treating the desktop, mobile and tablet as three separate channels. 

Here are a few actions steps to help hoteliers address this multi-device user behavior we are seeing today:

  • Hoteliers must boost their presence in all three screens to provide the best user experience on each device (desktop, mobile, tablet).

Hotels should serve the right website content in the right device category (desktop, mobile, tablet) while ensuring the maximum user experience, relevancy of information and conversions. Technology available today, like HeBS Digital's award-winning CMS Premium 6.0, allows for a hotel to manage all digital content in one place, yet still provide a customized user experience for each device. This technology, adaptive web design aka Responsive Design on Server Side (RESS), does the work for the hotelier, meaning they don't have to manage three different websites. 

  • This dramatic shift makes year-over-year web analytics meaningless.

Call analytics or "offline reservation tracking" is now more important than ever: the majority of mobile bookings come via the voice channel. A recent case study by HeBS Digital and Navis demonstrated how a whopping 44% of a property's online marketing revenue was made through voice reservations, thus leading to a shift in marketing spend and increased ROIs for the client. Use sophisticated analytics - such as Adobe Omniture SiteCatalyst - to determine contributions from and the dynamics of each of the three channels. 

  • Multi-channel campaigns must be launched to reach consumers at every touch point. 

All three channels must be integrated in the hotel's multi-channel marketing strategy. 

These campaigns utilize the right combination of online channels effectively (paid search, email marketing, SEO, online media, social media, etc.) to promote one campaign theme. This strategy is the most effective way to increase reach and boost revenues for a need period.

About the Author and HeBS Digital

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). 

HeBS Digital has pioneered many of the best practices in hotel Internet marketing, social and mobile marketing, and direct online channel distribution. The firm has won over 250 prestigious industry awards for its digital marketing and website design services, including numerous Adrian Awards, Davey Awards, W3 Awards, WebAwards, Magellan Awards, Summit International Awards, Interactive Media Awards, IAC Awards, etc. 

A diverse client portfolio of top-tier major hotel brands, luxury and boutique hotel brands, resorts and casinos, hotel management companies, franchisees and independents, and CVBs are benefiting from HeBS Digital's direct online channel strategy and digital marketing expertise. Contact HeBS Digital's consultants at (212) 752-8186 or success@hebsdigital.com.

Contact: Mariana Mechoso Safer

mariana@hebsdigital.com / 212-752-8186

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