Are we on the cusp of something very big related to mobile booking and planning?
By Ritesh Gupta
As far as the mobile activity is concerned, a company of InterContinental Hotels Group’s (IHG) stature believes one should focus on driving unique experiences, which will eventually lead to channel preference.
For its part, IHG recently launched its free Concierge Insider Guides app designed specifically for the Apple iPad. In doing so, the company became the first major hotel brand to offer consumers an iPad app.
IHG is gearing up for several key initiatives this year.
“In 2011, from a marketing standpoint, we want to test and build out more capability related to mobile marketing inclusive of ad serving across networks and within our owned media with a focus on location aware targeting, utilising of QR codes and sms for acquisition and potentially some carrier based solutions,” Bill Keen, Director, Product Management, Mobile Solutions and Emerging Products, IHG told EyeforTravel’s Ritesh Gupta.
Keen added, “From a booking point of view, we are very much focused on our international expansion especially in markets will mobile is a skip technology or where the mobile ecosystem is more advanced (such as Japan and China). In addition, we will be looking at ways to better support emerging devices such as tablets, Windows 7 along with developing a tiered mobile web experience.”
“Finally, I think this year you will see some interesting integration with property management systems as we get into the back half of the year. Looking out, we need to define a better strategy for corporate account and managed travel.”
In order to know more about the trends in the industry, EyeforTravel’s Ritesh Gupta spoke to Keen. Excerpts:
How do you expect the usage of mobile phones in the hospitality sector to shape up in 2011? Where do you think the sector is headed as far as both planning and booking is concerned?
I think we are on the cusp of something very big related to mobile booking and planning.. This time last year we were excited to see booking gains but they weren’t necessarily material to management when it was compared or indexed against our broader web volume. Now however, we are projecting mobile/web mix of over 3% to 5% in our forecasts.
In addition, our booking window is expanding further out which means customers aren’t just using mobile for the last minute or distressed situations. They are actually using it for planning and convenience - granted we still see a very high index of same day bookings over our other channels, but it is lower.
With rapid advancements in mobile technology, the lines between mobile apps and mobile websites are disappearing. Newer, more sophisticated mobile devices, mobile operating systems and mobile browsers have enhanced the quality of the mobile web browsing experience tremendously. How do you think is this is going to significantly impact the plans and results for hotels as far as their efforts in this arena is concerned?
We originally started off our mobile efforts as a pure mobile web player thinking it would naturally go in that direction, but there is no doubt mobile applications have been a very big part of our volume growth. However, device fragmentation is a recurring topic for us as we do want to make good use of the native features of phones and optimise the customer experience to ease user tasks. However, we don’t have unlimited resources and budget so we are focusing on what our mobile site analytics are telling us – which devices and operating systems are most commonly visiting our sites and in what countries and languages. We then combine that with what we are see occurring in the app marketplace and focus building apps for those with the highest adoption.. For all other devices, we make sure that the mobile site renders optimally for them and drive them there..
There are more than 300,000 apps in the Apple App Store alone. Hundreds of apps are available for Google Android, BlackBerry, and now Windows Mobile. A mobile website needs good mobile SEO and SEM such as Google Mobile AdWords in order to reach potential customers looking for accommodations in your location. At the same time, it is also being said that 2011 will NOT be the year of mobile search in the U.S. A study indicated that the industry is expected to see mobile driving less than 5% of overall search advertising. In this context, what should one expect as far as reaching out to customers is concerned? Are travel companies really focused on increasing website “discoverability” via mobile SEO and mobile SEM (e.g. Google mobile AdWords) and online media initiatives?
We do have some resources allocated to sponsored search and display and see good volume out them in particular related to “click to call” However, I do believe traditional SEO practices for mobile will be different. For us, it is more about “location aware” and less about optimization of key words and phrases. I may be wrong, but we see consumers using more local and location centric search terms so I just don’t see long tail search terms we can optimize around. For other online media, we are experimenting with at ad network options with a focus on location and context - where is the consumer and can we derive any type of context from them being on a particular site or utilizing a particular mobile app.
Going by the trends so far, would it be right to say that in the hospitality sector, the success of a hotel mobile app is directly correlated to the strength of the hotel brand? It is being highlighted that mobile apps make sense for a) well established hotel brands with millions of members in their loyalty programmes and b) only as an additional option to these brands’ well-developed mobile brand websites. Smaller hotel companies’ apps have little chance of being discovered by mobile users, let alone becoming popular. What do you make of this assessment?
Well, being a major brand certainly helps as users, especially our Priority Club loyalist, seek us out for basic search, booking and pre-stay travel management services, but in some ways I do think smaller boutique brands have an advantage in that they can probably do a better job of integrating mobile at the property level to deliver a unique experience as they don’t have to worry about scale like the major brands do. As for independent hotels who carry a major brand flag, I do agree they are better off leaning on the core brand to focus on mobile.
Earlier this year, you told me: IHG’s statistics show that roughly 70% of mobile web bookings are same day compared to 11% via the web. Customers who book that day utilize the convenience of “always on, always tethered” mobile devices with location based capabilities to ease the booking and pre stay experience. How do you think the overall experience of a customer when it comes to booking this way has been enhanced be it for the interface or the handset capabilities?
We talk constantly about usability and how form entry needs to be thought through or eliminated as much as possible and not just adapted from the web. Certainly, the utilization of GPS through the app or browser has become common place so customers don’t have to go through the process of entering locations when they search. In addition, Google is reporting that 20% of their mobile searches are voice activated so that is a factor. I think the next stage of evolution will be where the device can eliminate redundancy with other travel aids like the credit card or room keys by consolidating them onto the deck through wallets or NFC.
A lot is expected from Location+Social . There's lot of excitement in the air when it comes to location+social, and geolocation check-in services have gained much momentum in this space. How do you think the travel industry will leverage such trend?
Travel is the most social form of commerce because consumers are in a constant state of asking “where am I” and “is this the right place to be”. With that said, social integration can be a huge delighter with the guest experience at or near the property.