Successful hotel marketing recognizes the paradigm shift between engagement and interruption. In the present market, travelers want information and memorable experiences—not hype and persuasion. Furthermore, they want what they want on their own terms and timelines as they organize trips and activities that are often spontaneous and rarely linear.
Racing along on a parallel track is a run-away freight train in the form of a mobile revolution. More than 90% of the U.S. population has a mobile device of some sort. By the end of 2013, there will be 308.7 million mobile subscribers in the U.S. (96.7% market penetration). By 2014 online bookings will reach $414 billion worldwide—50% of which is expected to be mobile.
Despite these trends, hotels are failing to use mobile applications to serve guests in a way that ensures repeat bookings through enhanced experiences. In an era of mobile support, most guests walk out of their hotel lobbies with directions to local points of interest that are scribbled with magic markers on paper pad maps.
Also sitting on the sidelines are destination marketing organizations that are failing to coordinate with hotels to promote hyper-local economies and events surrounding hotel venues.
They say, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” While this may be true, hotel marketers can certainly use mobile interactive tools to show travelers where the best water is. In doing this, they can ensure that their hotels are seen as authoritative sources of satisfaction and opportunity.
By providing visitors with mobile tools coupled with a compelling list of opportunities, hotel marketers support the rationale for choosing one hotel over another. They also build customer loyalty by engendering a sense of community and identity that surrounds a hotel location.
Obviously, this type of support has been going on for ages in the form of brochures in hotel rooms that list local activities, places to shop, and places to eat. The difference between the past and the future has less to do with content that it has to do with the distribution of materials through network enabled mobile devices.
In effect, hotel marketers don’t need to change what they are doing as much as they need update their methods in the face of indisputable trends in consumption.
With this in mind, several bits of advice can guide hotel marketers in utilizing contemporary mobile strategies to attack markets of engagement.
To start, mobile solutions in the hotel market need to be agile. No one can tell what hotel marketing or communications will be like in five years. Insomuch as this is the case, hotel marketers must avoid being painted into corners by investing in technologies that cannot move as the market inevitably migrates.
Ease of use
Hotel marketers must insist on easy-to-use mobile applications. Given the lingering realities of the global recession, it is simply foolhardy to invest in tools that require high-skilled or high-paid maintenance. The best tool asset should be capable of being managed by the least technologically skilled member of any marketing organization or hotel staff. Any technology that needs an MIT graduate to run it is an organizational liability—not an asset.
It is imperative that hotel marketers protect their investments by emphasizing re-usability. A good rule of thumb is to think of a current mobile solution as only a temporary construction. Each tool must be like a Lego block and each solution one of many possible Lego architectures. In order for this to become a reality, all tools must have the same resident architecture so that they can be quickly disassembled and reassembled to address unforeseen changes in future markets.
Considering the above, 9 golden rules emerge.
(1) The ideal mobile application is a two way street—it sends data out while bringing information such as traveler profiles and preferences in.
(2) The ideal mobile application develops and deploys rapidly.
(3) The contemporary mobile model needs to integrate with social media.
(4) The ideal mobile application anticipates change and grows with the market and with the organization.
(5) The ideal mobile application anticipates success and is scalable both up and down depending on organizational priorities, resources, and changes in visitorship.
(6) The ideal mobile marketing strategy needs to reflect what is expected from a tool savvy traveler. For example, QR codes are rapidly becoming a technology of preference in a mobile travel market. Use them and any other solutions that keep pace with your customers.
(7) Tools should integrate hotel websites and social media by identifying and sharing tasks to an articulated end. For example, Facebook pages need to be more than stripped down versions of larger and more inclusive hotel or chain websites. Make them mobile hubs and distribution centers.
(8) Marketers should emphasize mobile applications that deliver content in real time. This is what the public wants and embraces.
(9) Finally, mobile strategies must build virtual and real communities through data mining and engagement. These are the foundations of inwardly directed flows of interest to hotels. They are also the aspects of destinations that are most easily tracked and mined for use in developing advanced and targeted marketing programs.
In conclusion, hotel marketers need simple, learnable, robust, go-live features in any mobile application. If they can have these, hotels will thrive in a market that rewards engagement, scalability and social/organizational exchange.