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Establishing a Mobile Strategy

Many hotel brands are so eager to get involved with mobile—mobile marketing, mobile booking, mobile services, etc.—that they don’t stop to consider what that involvement should achieve and what it can offer guests while remaining consistent with their brand goals and customer expectations. Others, meanwhile, are reluctant to take the leap and invest in a comprehensive mobile strategy at all.

Either way, hotels recognize the vast majority of their guests will be carrying at least one Web-enabled mobile device. With that in mind, it’s time to consider the mobile strategies within the hotel industry and whether enough thought has been given to the feature versus value implementation equation. Recently, I got a call from a hotelier who was looking to formulate a mobile strategy based on the following scenario:

“Hotel guest Susie wants to order a sandwich by the pool but there isn’t a cabana server in sight. Susie takes out her mobile device and orders a meal right from her sun lounger.”

The hotel in this example took the first steps to a successful mobile campaign: recognizing a guest need, analyzing the property’s capabilities to serve that need and utilizing mobile as a solution provider. But not every property has the staff necessary to fill and deliver orders to mobile-equipped guests relaxing poolside or at different locations across the property.

Thus, although tech-savvy travelers and guests are very much engaged with mobile, hotels must decide how to properly support a multi-service app or site as part of their mobile strategy and adopt a plan for deployment that involves the entire hotel team – from headquarters to housekeeping – not just the marketing department.

Before any hotel (and the relevant marketing, IT, loyalty and mobile commerce teams) begins devising a mobile strategy, it needs to explore its options and determine which are best suited to its objectives and its core brand values.

One Size Does Not Fit All
As with many hotel industry innovations, luxury properties appear to have been the most adventurous in developing and deploying mobile services (e.g. equipping guest rooms with iPad® tablet devices). But as attractive as equipping every room with an iPad seems, it’s naïve to think that every hotel can afford this option. Depending on the individual property, there are many engagement opportunities that can be created via a mobile strategy that includes guests’ own devices to connect with the hotel’s services – without the capital expense of providing mobile devices to guests.

Depending on the desired goals—be they to boost awareness of amenities, reduce check-in/check-out wait times, or drive on-site restaurant traffic—hotels need to implement an intuitive mobile strategy that balances guest expectations with property and personnel infrastructure, taking into consideration questions such as:

• Does it raise or lower a guest’s burden? Can guests complete transactions in just a few clicks or taps, or do they have to jump through a lot of hoops to get what they want? Too many steps will only end up frustrating guests.

• Are there operating cost efficiencies? For example, hotels need to consider the best content delivery vehicle for their individual needs. Native apps for iOS or Android are more expensive but more visually appealing, while mobile websites are more economic alternatives whose graphics will improve as browser and coding technology advances.

• Will our property be able to deliver? Careful consideration of what resources, such as staff and training, will be needed to deliver on promised mobile services. To return to the earlier example, it won’t help to implement a function for poolside food delivery if a hotel doesn’t have the staff to deliver dishes from kitchen to pool deck.

What to Expect When Expecting Mobile Travelers
Today, the vast majority of travelers wouldn’t dream of embarking on a trip without their trusty mobile devices. 75% percent of travelers carry smartphones on their trips while 64% of business travelers also bring their tablets along. A traveler’s mobile device has become a personal concierge, with guests relying on their smartphones for directions, local attraction information, travel planning and even for bookings. With that in mind, a launching point for hotel brands is creating a mobile-optimized site that at the very least makes your hotel easily searchable through the mobile screen. What’s more, as mobile and social become more integrated, travelers are utilizing their smartphones to document their trips with 72% posting photos on their social networks and 70% updating their status throughout their trip.

These numbers are only bound to increase and as they do, travelers’ expectations of quick, simple and seamless interactions with hotels – both on- and off-property – will grow as well. Eventually, every hotel will need some kind of mobile strategy if it wants to remain competitive.

Regardless of which services an individual hotel decides are best for its property, there are a number of points to keep in mind:

• Connect with guests before they arrive. Engage them through mobile with customized offerings (such as having a room prepped to their specifications or requests), which can be useful while they are in transit to the hotel.

• Keep your user interface simple and consistent across all channels, making it easy and pleasant to use. 80% of consumers abandon mobile interfaces that are too complicated or assault the eyes.

• Avoid app fragmentation. If you decide to go with an app, make sure it can run on as many different devices as possible.

• Explore opt-in push messaging to guests’ mobile devices and make it day-, time- and/or location-triggered. The more relevant the message is to a guest’s current context, the more likely the guest is to respond positively. But use this tool sparingly; don’t bombard guests with messages as they’ll get turned off very quickly

• Explore partnerships. Working with a third-party technology provider to develop a mobile platform can cut development costs without sacrificing on capabilities. Select a third-party developer that allows customizations such as property-specific images and compelling promotional copy to ensure your brand identity is clearly and effectively communicated.

eMarketer estimates that there will be 115.8 million smartphone users by the end of 2012 and 137.8 million by 2013. With so many mobile devices “checking in” daily, it’s clear that mobile has become the new utility.

Of course, testing is critical as is identifying mobile goals, and understanding which strategies will bring those goals to life without sacrificing guest expectations. With the revenue potential of channel growing exponentially, now truly is the time for hotels to embrace and invest in mobile. Whether the best strategy for your hotel’s needs is to fine-tune your mobile site, implement a mobile app, create mobile service offerings, or place display ads across mobile ad networks, there is much to be gained from having a well thought out mobile game plan. Embrace these strategies now, and you could find your hotel mirroring the growth of the mobile market in penetration, interaction, and success.

Derek White is president of interactive & media networks for LodgeNet Interactive Corporation. He is responsible for all of LodgeNet’s guest merchandising and marketing as well as revenues generated both from in-room entertainment sales and third-party sponsorships.

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