Industry Update
Opinion Article18 December 2012

2013: The year of three-screen hospitality

By Max Starkov, Adjunct Professor NYU Tisch Center for Hospitality and Hospitality & Online Travel Tech Consultant

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Over the past few years, hoteliers have been embracing the mobile channel. Industry experts have projected staggering growth rates in leisure and unmanaged business travel bookings via the mobile channel: from $753 million in 2011 to $1.4 million in 2012, according to PhoCusWright research. And yet, a careful analysis of all the industry stats and projections reveals a very interesting picture that not all hoteliers fully understand: The majority of the mobile bookings, roomnights and revenue are generated by tablet devices, not by smartphones.

Mobile and tablet devices and their respective marketing and distribution channels should be treated as separate device categories. Three distinct device categories constitute the three screens to which hoteliers should pay special attention in 2013: desktop, mobile and tablet.

Search engines and many major media sites already consider tablets as a distinct device category, characterized by its own unique user behavior and best practices for user experience and content delivery. Here's why:

Internet user behavior. Internet users exhibit different behavioral patterns when browsing the Internet. For all practical purposes, the desktop, mobile device and tablet all address different needs at different times of the day and week. According to Google, users searching Google utilize desktop during the day (office); mobile during lunch break and happy hour; and tablet later in the evening when lounging.

According to Google's data, 7% of all searches in 2012 already come from tablets versus 14% from mobile devices and 79% via desktops. Google also reports different search dynamics across the three device/channel categories and a dramatic increase in hotel queries in the mobile and tablet channels.

Different content needs.

The always-on-the-go mobile user requires short, slimmed-down and straight-to-the-point content: 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 website with specialized content.

Tablet users require deep, visually enhanced content about the property, its product and destination, etc. This is why all hoteliers serve their desktop website content on tablet devices today. Unfortunately, the desktop website cannot accommodate the touch-screen navigation required by tablet devices along with the high-resolution photography and highly visual presentation necessary to display the hotel product.

Different user intent.

As mentioned, travel consumers on the go use their mobile devices to get concrete information such as hotel location, driving directions and pricing information. Due to usability and security issues, six of every seven mobile bookings actually happen via the voice channel. Very few people are comfortable entering their credit-card information into their phone in a public place. Very few hotel mobile websites provide an alternative to guaranteeing your booking without entering your credit card.

In contrast, tablet users have no issues booking a hotel via their device. A well-structured, highly visual hotel tablet-optimized website can generate conversion rates several times higher than those of mobile devices. Across HeBS Digital's hotel client portfolio, tablets generate 200% more roomnights and 430% more revenue than the "pure" mobile devices.

Apple's iPad rules the tablet world; more than 91% of tablet visitors, 96% of tablet bookings and 98% of tablet revenue come from iPads.

Mobile versus tablet connectivity.

Tablets are portable yet stationary devices. They are predominantly used indoors with a high-speed Internet connection. Web analytics from major hotel brands, online travel agencies and HeBS Digital's portfolio show that 85% to 90% of tablet browsing happens via a Wi-Fi connection, while mobile devices use telecommunication carriers to access the Web.

2013: The year of three-screen hospitality

Google projects an overall increase in number of search queries by 24% in 2013, but search data differs dramatically across the three device categories. Searches from mobile devices will experience an increase of 68%, while searches from tablets will increase by more than 180%. Desktop searches will experience a decline of 4%.

So what should hoteliers do get ready for the three-screen battle in 2013?

Begin by treating the desktop, mobile and tablet as three separate channels.

  1. Desktop website. Make sure your desktop website is "in good health," in order to comply with best practices in hotel distribution and to adhere to the industry's best practices for design, site architecture and search-engine optimization. Most importantly, make sure it is compatible with the recent Google Panda and Freshness algorithm updates.
  2. Mobile website. A hotel mobile website generates incremental revenue through mobile and voice reservations which, without a well-optimized, content-rich, property-specific mobile site, would go to the competition or to online travel agencies.
  3. Tablet website. According to eMarketer, global tablet sales are projected to exceed 232 million in 2016, growing from 64 million in 2011. In 2013, there will be 75.6 million U.S. tablet users, up from 13 million in 2010. Hotel marketers should consider either enhancing their desktop website for the touch-screen tablet environment or building a tablet-only version of their website in addition to their desktop and mobile sites, which all should be managed via a single digital content depository-enabled content management system.

All three channels must be integrated in the hotel's multi-channel marketing strategy. Use analytics such as Adobe Omniture SiteCatalyst to determine contributions from and the dynamics of each of the three channels.

Max Starkov

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