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Mobile Marketing & Mobile Distribution Channels:
Debunking the Myths Around Mobile Apps for Hotels

Hotel-Online 3Qs Series on Best Practices in Hotel Marketing and Operations

Roswell, GA – May 30, 2012 - The Hotel-Online 3Q series continues its interviews with industry experts on notable trends and best practices in hotel marketing and operations with the topic of mobile marketing and mobile distribution channels. Hotel-Online asked Mike Murray, TripCraft’s CEO and Co-Founder, to clear up the confusion around mobile applications and websites in the hospitality industry.   

Hotel-Online Q1

How can I compete with mobile apps of big brands and OTAs?

Mike Murray:
First, accept the fact that you must compete.  Many hotel brands have delayed or put little emphasis on mobile, which is a mistake that will result in lost revenues and customers.  Just like the early days of desktop web bookings and emergence of OTAs, if hoteliers disregard mobile, someone else will capitalize on the ignorance.  With consumers increasingly using mobile for everything they do, hoteliers must keep up.  Otherwise they will find their competitors developing creative ways to engage guests, and then begin to lose market share, and (worse) be seen as an obsolete and out of touch place to stay by a younger audience.

Next, be creative. Mobile is a brand new playing field and there are many ways to innovate and differentiate your mobile app by offering capabilities that other brands do not have and OTAs cannot provide.  Incorporating unique features for marketing and communications, spa and restaurant bookings, check in/out, concierge, in-room dining and more, are all ways to provide your customers with a truly useful and engaging app.  You should also leverage guest history and preferences to engage customers in a personal and relevant manner.  Mobile consumers are much more responsive to personalized communications than customers using desktop computers.  Many of these features and capabilities have yet to be offered by the bigger hotel brands, and most of them cannot be offered by OTAs as they require on-property fulfillment.

Having a strong mobile presence for your property is absolutely essential.  Mobile websites provide a great way to reach a broad consumer audience, while mobile apps provide the best means to engage guests and build brand relationships.  Simply put, mobile is the new face of engagement for businesses – of any kind. Hotels should stop thinking about it as a fad, and start thinking about mobile as being a deeply embedded system of engagement (Forrester Research, 2012).

Hotel-Online Q2

Can and should any hotel use a mobile app?

Mike Murray:
Absolutely.  Even single properties, independents, and franchise hotels that are not able to launch a marketing or booking app because their size just does not justify it or their flag already has one, can still offer their customers a guest services app to improve the stay experience.  In an increasingly mobile world, guest service must be at the top of every hotel brand’s priority list, and there’s no better way to accomplish it than with a mobile app.  You should also help your guests find your app in the app store.  Marketing campaigns, eMail communications, and on-property QR Codes are all easy ways to get your app downloaded.   And remember that guests using mobile apps are much more inclined to tell friends about great brand experiences than their browser-based counterparts.  This is a result of the better performance, usability, and personal experience of an app versus the web.  So make sure the app is easy to use, has plenty of useful features, and is a great representation of your brand.

For those brands that do need a marketing or booking app, there is a recent report from TripAdvisor that might be the best guide yet to help you decide when to launch it.   TripAdvisor theorizes that if customers are visiting your mobile website five or more times a year, it’s probably worth creating a mobile app.  When a customer is loyal enough to repeatedly interact with your brand, you should take advantage of the opportunity and provide the best means of engagement.  Though mobile websites provide a broader consumer reach, apps provide the best customer experience.  This theory is further backed up by a recent ComScore study where they found that mobile users spend 18.5% of their time browsing websites, compared to 81.5% of their time on apps.  The reasons for this are many, but it all points to the simple fact that apps are more engaging. 

Hotel-Online Q3
How can I protect my mobile technology investment from becoming obsolete in a rapidly changing environment?

Mike Murray:
Looking at all the opportunities mobile presents, its easy to jump in quickly and deploy a tactical solution like room bookings only to realize you don’t have the ability to offer more services like in-room dining, concierge, etc., within the same solution.  If brands don’t think strategically, they will quickly see their mobile offering obsolete in as little as six months.  Adopting solutions based on extensible foundations like open systems and cloud-based services will establish a baseline on which to grow and evolve your mobile services.  Remember, with all the confusion and uncertainly around mobile technology, one thing is sure - it will change.

Here are some key points that hoteliers should consider with mobile:

– Don’t simply take your desktop web design and transfer it to mobile.  Screen sizes, consumer behavior, and the priority of information are all different with mobile.   Finding the right balance between design and usability is critical.  Mobile websites should use Responsive Web Design (RWD) and offer relevant information like hotel location and booking engines on initial pages.  Mobile apps can be more dynamic as the experience is about engagement, but navigation should be simple and consistent so the guest intuitively knows how to get at what they want.

– One of the more interesting trends of mobile are same day room bookings.  Though they primarily originate from consumer phones by users hastily looking for last minute deals, tablets also have same day bookings mixed with more typical reservation patterns due to their near-desktop shopping capabilities.  Optimize your mobile booking process by providing a personal and streamlined interaction.  Automatically set check in/out dates to the current day and average length of stay.  Use geo-location services to pre-populate the closest hotel to the customer’s location, and leverage profiles to pre-fill customer data.  Wouldn’t the guest be impressed if all they had to do was hit “go” to perform an availability check?  And don’t forget about all the other services your brand offers.  Booking capabilities for spa, restaurant, activities, and other services should all be considered for a truly engaging mobile app.

Marketing and Communications – Mobile apps provide a direct and personal means to communicate with your always-connected guests.  Much more powerful than websites, apps also differentiate themselves with proactive guest recognition and dialogue.  The results are increased marketing success as you communicate with customers based on location, history and personalization.  Add to this, the ability to interact through in-app chat and messaging services to answer questions and provide more details, and you have a powerful marketing, sales, and service platform.

Guest Services
– Your mobile guests are always connected and they want self-service.  In-room phones will eventually be a thing of the past, as will all the other electronics used to control property and in-room services.  Guests will still require interaction with these features, but they will want it enabled on their mobile device.  Everything from local travel guides to in-room dining, entertainment, climate, housekeeping, valet, and concierge can all be enabled with a mobile app.  And don't forget about offering other local area activities and services.  Over 40% of active travelers used their mobile devices to research activities during their last trip, and nearly 40% reported reserving/purchasing activities. 

Mobile Staff and Operations
– A new category of mobile apps emerging are designed to streamline business processes in order to increase efficiency and guest service.  Typical uses include housekeeping, check-in/out, valet, bell desk, spa management, maintenance, etc., but we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg.  Hotel staff can now be freed from their desks and computers to roam about the property with mobile devices and bring service to the guest.  As this trend grows, brands need to think about the many single point mobile solutions they will be facing.  Property system vendors will ultimately offer their own mobile capabilities, but brands need to consider an integrated solution so they don’t end up with a mixed bag of mobile apps and websites. 

– The best solutions are always platforms that provide technical and product extensibility, a modular framework, and of course reasonable cost.  A strategic platform should also provide capabilities for mobile websites, native apps, all devices, and solutions for guests and operational staff.  If you can’t develop your own solution, look for partners with expertise and a primary emphasis on mobile.  Many hospitality technology vendors are behind the mobile curve and/or rushing to market with tactical solutions.  So make sure you consider the strategic capability of off-the-shelf products and services.

Key factors to consider when selecting a mobile technology platform:
  • Offers a neutral and scalable foundation for adding users and applications
  • Integrates with other mobile applications and your existing back office systems
  • Offers a management dashboard that allows operators to control all aspects of their mobile presence including booking, marketing, communications, and on-property services from a single solution
  • Utilizes industry standard XML interfaces based on OTA and HTNG specifications
  • Provides capabilities for both mobile web sites and native apps
  • Supports iOS, Android, and any other mobile operating system
  • Can power both guest and staff solutions
By establishing a mobile platform that will change with your business, hoteliers can protect their investment and maximize their return on mobile technology. Forward-looking planning can ensure you have the capability to support new trends and technology into the future.

Mike Murray is the CEO and Co-Founder of TripCraft, developer of the hospitality industry’s first mobile commerce platform for guest and operational applications. With over 25 years of experience, Mike is a hospitality veteran who cuts through all the hype and confusion over mobile technology to help hoteliers implement practical solutions that drive revenue, improve productivity, and enhance guest service. Contact him at or

Please note that the opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Hotel-Online. We welcome your feedback and suggestions for future topics.


Michelle Renn
Editor, Hotel-Online

Previous Hotel-Online 3Q's

Mobile Marketing & Mobile Distribution Channels: Maximizing Your Options: Hotel-Online 3Qs Series on Best Practices in Hotel Marketing and Operations / March 2012
Guestroom Entertainment: IPTV, is it for Your Property? What Exactly is it and What are Some of Your Options with Craig Ziegler: Hotel-Online 3Qs Series on Best Practices in Hotel Marketing and Operations / January 2012
Cloud Computing - The Why and How it Benefits Hoteliers with Gregg Hopkins: Hotel-Online 3Qs Series on Best Practices in Hotel Marketing and Operations / December 2011
Introducing Hotel-Online 3Qs Series on Best Practices in Hotel Marketing and Operations: How an Industry Expert Sees It: First Up, Max Starkov / November 2011

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