I have always said that mobile is a perfectly matched technology for travel as both are in use when you’re not at home.
Mobile, interestingly, also pairs extremely well with two of the other major trends currently affecting the travel industry: social and local.
As written previously, many companies in the travel space are still just trying to get the basics down – mobile optimized web sites and apps – and there is still much work to be done on that front.
On the last day of the recent HITEC show, The Prism Partnership’s Mark Hoare moderated a panel of hoteliers, giving some practical advice on what they’ve learned from rolling out their mobile initiatives.
Alongside covering the basics, panelists (Mandarin Oriental VP for ecommerce and interactive Chris Oberli, Affinia Hospitality director of interactive marketing Alex Zesch and Omni Hotel & Resorts VP for ecommerce Kerry Kennedy) also shared a couple of innovative initiatives.
Hoare began the session describing a situation where a traveler has to re-book a flight and book a hotel from their phone based on a schedule change.
The situation was quoted from a white paper written ten years ago, illustrating just how long people have been talking about the promise of mobile, but how little has been achieved. But what is being done today?
Let’s turn to the panelists.
Mandarin Oriental’s Oberli provided a good overview of what they’ve done (launched critically acclaimed mobile web and iOS apps) and solid advice for other hoteliers on how to approach the process.
But two things stuck out for me in his presentation:
1. iPad conversion ratios
Mandarin rightly keeps stats on usage and engagement based on device type and OS. As they only have iOS apps, and my guess is that their demographic matches the Apple audience quite well, it’s not surprising that 85% of their mobile traffic comes from the iPhone (52%) and iPad (33%).
But what did surprise me was the conversion factors. iPad visits account for 73% of revenue booked from mobile devices. Now this likely is due to the larger screen size allowing for a better presentation of MOHG properties, but I thought that the disparity was worth highlighting, even if the evidence is only directional.
2. Transaction v. Engagement
The first point was interesting, the second counter-intuitive…at least initially. Oberli said that he views the mobile web site as a "transactional" platform while the app is a mechanism to engage existing clients.
At first I didn’t expect there to be a significant difference and that perhaps one could expect the app, with a better user experience, to have higher conversion ratios.
But in talking to Oberli after the session he offered a few reasons:
- Search drives most of the traffic to the mobile site, so that is the most frequent path for people looking to book
- Due to the relatively small number of properties and higher price point associated with a luxury brand, there can be a longer interval between stays at a MOHG property which may reduce the likelihood of downloading an app to be used for a future stay. Further, because of geographic distribution of the brand there is little cross-sell between properties.
- The app is used by people who are already at the property during their stay, making opportunities to up-sell and engage during the stay the focus of their efforts.
- Guests are less likely to download the app due to the lack of a loyalty program at Mandarin.
Meanwhile, Affinia’s Zesch had similar thoughts sharing that they viewed the mobile web primary purpose for promoting awareness, and driving consideration and purchase while the app’s focus is on purchase, pre-stay, stay, loyalty and advocacy (via social media).
Affinia had gotten started in mobile using the Synxis Sabre solution providing a very basic mobile site.
But the response has been so positive (30:1 return on investment) that they are expanding their mobile solutions, building out a new mobile site.
Omni Hotel & Resorts may have had the most interesting concept that they’re testing – hyper-proximity mobile marketing.
By using distributed wireless access points (Bluetooth and WiFi) around the property, they are able to push promotional offers and highlight services in order to drive ancillary revenues and hopefully improve the guest’s experience during the stay.
It’s being used not just for things like golf (50%+ conversion rate) and spa services, but less glitzy areas like room service. Interestingly, they have noticed a $7 increase in the average value of room service through this channel as more choices are offered and the system always suggests other add-ons that an individual answering the phone might forget to recommend.