With all the excitement that spring brings—warmer weather, outdoor activities, more traffic—what excites hoteliers the most this time of year is the added revenue potential that spring travelers bring. Weary from the winter’s “cabin fever,” travelers make spring and summer one of the busiest times of year. But even with spring fever in high gear some hoteliers are still missing the mark when it comes to mobile strategy. Well here’s a bit of spring cleaning advice to get your hotel “mobilized” for the travel season ahead.
Like the technologies that have come before, mobile, from both the guest and hotel staff perspective, is rapidly maturing from mere add-on differentiation, to a staple of the hotel experience. Whether in-room, in-lobby, or anywhere else for that matter, the continued union of mobile technology and hotel guests and staff should be a given—just as the latest data reveals that millennials ages 25-35, not only demand, but expect their mobile devices be fully integrated into their hotel experience. In fact, many high-end hotels are already adopting free guest hotel-wide WiFi and in-room power stations to charge iPads, laptops, smartphones, etc. The Plaza Hotel in New York even offers complimentary in-room iPads (not for keeps) so guests can control lighting and other amenities, like ordering room service. Just as hoteliers wouldn’t have much to talk about (let alone stay in business) if they didn’t attract new guests, hotels that fail to incorporate mobile technology, catering to this age group —whose average travel spending rose 20 percent in 2010—and beyond, will be left in the digital dust.
Text “Mobile” to Win – Guest Loyalty
In the last few years, industries, most notably airlines, have embraced mobile’s revenue and loyalty-generating potential. Airline passengers in increasing numbers book flights, organize their post-flight travel arrangements and tap into the in-flight retail store—all from their mobile device. Taken as a whole, these changes have turned the perception of “ancillary revenue” from an industry phrase that transferred costs to travelers and transforms it into something that provides relevance and meaning.
In other words, costs that travelers are willing to embrace.
Hoteliers can learn a lot from this example. First, smartphones are becoming the standard. Just as travelers expect their mobile devices to work in-flight, they expect similar services be available on the ground at their hotel of choice too. And, as an “always on” technology with penetration rates exceeding 95 percent for standard phones and upward of 64 percent for smartphones usage in the United States (among the 25-34 age group), in-room (through hotel TV), the lobby or poolside are ideal locations to further engage tech-savvy guests in the booking and hotel stay process. But also through that same technology, sow the seed for future visits.
Increasingly mobile technology can be seen as the medium through which a host of both monetized and non-monetized services can be delivered, including:
· Connect with room service, requesting, for instance, dinner in your room before you’ve even arrived
· Offer mobile check-in and check-out, which may help reduce a hotels’ operating costs
· Leverage mobile to reinvigorate the hotel gift shop
· Gather critical shopper metrics and analysis to further improve virtual and brick-and-mortar offerings
· Offer discounts, coupons, deal packages and daily deals to further drive loyalty, improve return on investment (ROI), reduce vacancy rates
· Improve hotel-specific mobile booking apps in order to drive guests to specific lodgings, balancing out and better distributing the mobile booking capabilities that to some extent, OTAs (online travel agents) already provide
Text “Mobile” to Earn – Revenues
While adopting mobile is vital in attracting and retaining today’s tech-savvy guests, mobile also offers an assortment of possibilities as it relates to hotels maximizing their room rates, making automated pricing software even more valuable than it already is.
For example, it’s no secret that the booking window continues to shrink. What once took weeks of planning and travel agents, is now accomplished on the go as tech-savvy and dollar-conscious guests are working as hard as they can through their mobile devices (and other gadgets like laptops and desktops) to find the best room rates possible. But in the game of finding that optimal rate, it’s important that hotels are not handicapped. If guests, armed with their smartphones, can unduly “beat out” online travel agents (OTAs) or hotels’ real-time price changes, then the room rate game isn’t fair.
Automated pricing software solves this problem by updating real-time prices across multiple channels simultaneously. The technology also equips hotels with the ability to stay toe-to-toe with aggressive guests and their insatiable desire for rate shopping.
It’s about recognizing that the mobile phone is a guest necessity and guests are rightly using that technology to their advantage. For revenue managers, this side of the mobile equation presents an opportunity to collectively improve their technology tool belt, working with smartphones and not against them. So from both the direct revenue generation side of the equation and from the guest amenities side (also revenue generating) the future is already here.
Welcome to the Future
In fact, a recent Nielsen survey performed during the “2011 Second Quarter Global Hotel Industry Update” webinar found that 95 percent of survey respondents planned to at least maintain or expand their hotel workforce. And of those who planned to expand their workforce, nearly a third (30 percent) planned to hire staff for social media purposes.
The conclusion? Hoteliers continue to embrace mobile’s opportunities to drive demand, promote the online (and offline) conversation and drive revenue. But is it me, or does that 30 percent statistic cry out to be larger? The fact that 30 percent of hotels at a recent webinar planned to grow their social media staffs is great news. But what about the other 70 percent that presumably will be spending their staff budgets on other priorities? To be sure, the financial consequences of the recession and post-recession economy have meant that some hotels have had to trim their budgets. But as the global economic rebound gains momentum, mobile should be just as important a hotel staple as flat screen TV. Business and leisure travelers are already gathering critical information about their hotel of choice and planning their pre- and post-trip via their mobile devices, and they expect hotel services and amenities to go where they’re already heading.
So will 2012 be the year where hotel mobile amenities are as common as a flat-screen TV? We don’t have a crystal ball but as mobile devices continue to rise in popularity for travelers, for hoteliers to survive and thrive they must be equipped with a mobile strategy that not only responds to the increase in mobile booking but also embraces the additional revenue offering that mobile provides, leaving guests pleased and hotel staff paid.
Now that’s what I call a spring fever in full bloom.
Jean Francois Mourier is CEO and founder of RevPAR Guru, a company that provides automated revenue and rate optimization solutions. www.revparguru.com; 786-478-3500.