Leveraging the “always on, always tethered” nature of the mobile device
Interview with Bill Keen, director of product development, IHG
From a hotelier’s perspective, Bill Keen, director of product development, IHG, says the experience will need to be tailored to shorten key transactional flows either through utilisation of key features of the phone - geo-location, mapping and integration with voice –better use of the content such as highlighting select key amenities that are important to last minute bookers, and integrating in profile data such as room preferences and credit card information.
Keen is also clear that the mobile experience will not replace the deliberate planning process involved with something as important as an annual family holiday.
“The mobile experience is designed for a real-world context with lots of distractions. It is designed for somebody making a booking while waiting on a busy street corner or hurrying to figure out if a hotel room is available at the next subway stop,” said Keen, who is scheduled to speak at the Online Marketing Strategies for Travel USA conference which will take place in Miami (2-3 June).
Keen spoke to EyeforTravel’s Ritesh Gupta about the utilisation of location based services and a number of other issues. Excerpts:
Recently, an executive from Nokia told me: Mobile will likely not be the preferred planning and booking environment in the near future, at least not in Europe. In Asia, this could be a different story, as the mobile Internet is for many the first Internet they experience. How do consumers wish to engage with travel companies via mobile in a market like the U.S.?
Bill Keen: If you look at the regular booking cycle of trip planning/research, book, pre stay planning, in market arrival, hotel stay and post book activities, I tend to agree that trip planning is an activity best suited to other channels.
However, booking – especially last minute bookings – along with pre stay planning and in market arrival can be natural fits for the mobile channel.
Our statistics show that roughly 70 percent of mobile web bookings are same day compared to 11 percent via the web.
Customers who book that day utilise the convenience of “always on, always tethered” mobile devices with location based capabilities to ease the booking and pre stay experience.
Travel information importing services are huge time savers, and open the door for many other complementary context services. For example, if your flight is delayed and you are going to be late for your meeting, why not automatically prompt a message to the attendees letting them know about this? What according to you are the new trends as far as the development of applications or tools, which facilitate travellers’ planning and booking process, is concerned?
Bill Keen: Safe and secure payment methods that save customers time with form entry would be a huge win across not just across the travel industry but all industries wanting to do commerce with a mobile device. While the concept of wallet has had limited success on the web, it would be a huge win for customers from a time savings and ease of use perspective.
The other key area will be in the utilisation of location based services that trigger contextual information or messages to our guests and our properties. For example, if we detect a traveller’s arrival, we could trigger messaging about check in and have their portfolio prepared while they are in transit and ask the needed particular hotel service such as room service.
Up until now, in-destination booking was done either over the phone or by walk-in, and there was very poor visibility and transparency into what was available for the mobile traveller. Location-aware apps, in particular those using augmented-reality literally surround you with real-time results. Do you think this will greatly increase traveller spontaneity and adventurousness?
Bill Keen: Location is the holy grail of the mobile experience. If you know what customers are in your vicinity and you know a little about their travel preferences, you can yield at an optimal price.
Conceptually, hotels would like to connect with the guest at all stops along the buying lifecycle. At this stage, where do you think 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?
Bill Keen: If we can leverage the “always on, always tethered” nature of the mobile device to ease the anxiety points of travel - such as in market/property arrival and check in - it will build comfort and familiarity that will lead to incremental bookings.
I always look back at web-based banking. At first, it was all about providing a quick way to check balances but over time they added in the utility of bill payment to make the channel stickier. Now they are realising tremendous revenue as customers never have to go to a branch to purchase products as they have cross sold everything on the web. I think ultimately we will see tremendous gains in mobile bookings and revenue when we can solve for the simple components of property arrival and easing the check in experience.
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?
Bill Keen: The mobile experience will not replace the deliberate planning process involved with something as important as an annual family holiday. For a full planning process, customers need a large screen with multi-tasking and easy inputs. More importantly, the context of the mobile experience does not lend itself to this type of deliberate planning process. Users need a stable environment with few distractions.
The mobile experience is designed for a real-world context with lots of distractions. It is designed for somebody making a booking while waiting on a busy street corner or hurrying to figure out if a hotel room is available at the next subway stop. Tasks should be easy to complete and in small enough chunks that users can complete them while dealing with real-world distractions.
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.
Online Marketing Strategies for Travel USA 2010 Conference
Bill Keen, director of product development, IHG is scheduled to speak at the Online Marketing Strategies for Travel USA conference which will take place in Miami (2-3 June).
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