As more consumers begin to rely on smartphones for even the most ordinary daily tasks, companies across all industries are looking to take advantage of the opportunities presented through mobile apps. This allows brands to interact with their customers, and in many cases, offer more convenience and options than a website.
“We are looking at mobile as something our guests use in increasing numbers,” says Josh Weiss, vice president of brand and guest technology at Hilton Worldwide (www.hiltonworldwide.com). “We will soon pass 200 million smartphones and tablets in the U.S. alone. To ignore those channels would be at any travel company’s peril.”
A recent ForeSee Mobile Satisfaction Index: Travel Edition measured user satisfaction with hotel, airline and car rental mobile websites and apps. The results showed higher satisfaction among app users than mobile websites, according to Eric Feinberg, director of mobile at ForeSee (www.foreseeresults.com), reinforcing the importance of the app space.
As smartphone technology evolves, apps are becoming more interactive, whether it’s ordering food at a restaurant, communicating with hotel staff during a stay, sending out push notifications or integrating loyalty programs.
“Brands may be able to convince a user to install the app, but if it doesn’t offer them anything, they won’t use it,” notes Jonathan Stark (www.jonathanstark.com), mobile strategy and training consultant based in Providence, Long Island. He recommends hospitality operators capitalize on loyalty programs within apps and build them to be more powerful over time.
“First track points and then progress to where a user can pull up a barcode and redeem it at partners,” he says, noting the smartphone technology already exists to do this and more. “Today, a hotel app can allow me to book my room, and know when I’m in a taxi on the way to the hotel. It can automatically order my Caesar salad and chardonnay, and then know when I arrive so I can just go directly to my room.”
Smartphone technology will eventually allow for even more data intelligence and analysis in understanding customer behavior, such as how a person walks, whether they are in a hurry, or even what emotional state a person is in, according to John Jackson, mobile applications analyst at IDC (www.idc.com), who also believes augmented reality apps are something to watch closely.
Augmented reality already exists, allowing consumers to scan location with their smartphone and access information about their surroundings — something particularly useful for hotel operators with larger resorts. One example of this is MGM Mirage’s app for the Las Vegas strip. As users hold up their phone, interactive information displays about area resorts, casinos and points of interest. They can also book shows and restaurant reservations with one touch.
“This is clearly where the industry wants to take itself, and it’s a great concept for the hotel and restaurant industry,” explains Jackson. “If they are not already, operators need to focus very keenly on how augmented reality is going to manifest itself in the marketplace.”
Next-Gen Hospitality:There SHOULD be anApp for That
As smartphone technology and consumer needs continue to change, mobile apps follow. As a result, companies are continuously working on upgrades to take advantage of the newest options and trends.
Jersey Mike’s Subs (www.jerseymikes.com), with more than 630 stores in 34 states, released its first app in January 2012, and is getting ready to release a new version, with plans for future enhancements also in the works.
The original version, created with SkyPop (www.skypop.com) debuted along with the chain’s Shore Points loyalty program, allowing customers to check their points and get alerts when they reach a reward level. The next version will incorporate online ordering and social media engagement, says Rich Hope, CMO at the company.
“We have 85,000 customers who have downloaded the app out of our 1.4 million loyalty members, and the feedback was that the app was missing online ordering,” he admits.
The future versions will take advantage of geofencing so when a customer logs in, they will be able to find the nearest store, place an order and check their points. It will also allow for push notifications when a customer is near a Jersey Mike’s location, and have an advertising section with special offers to be redeemed at the restaurant.
“We will also offer mobile payment in the future, and allow people to purchase and send a gift card to a friend through the app,” Hope notes. “We might also incorporate different rewards like apparel or other merchandise, and produce a barcode to be scanned.”
On the hotel side, companies with a number of properties are moving toward one universal app rather then having brand specific options. Both the Four Seasons and Hilton are introducing a branded app to allow customers to choose the property they are staying at rather than download individual apps for each location.
“The key to a hotel app is search functionality and the ability to easily and quickly whittle down the hotel choices,” describes Feinberg. The ForeSee study rated Choice Hotels and Marriott the top apps in the hotel category based upon Choice’s search functionality and one-touch access, and Marriott’s ability to save the user’s loyalty information. Also, hotel apps should offer the same information available on their mobile websites.
“If there is any pruning of content on the app — pictures, local things to do, maps of the properties — consumers will see it,” Feinberg says.
Hilton recently released its Hilton HHonors app that will be the foundation for its future mobile endeavors, according to Weiss. No matter what brand within the Hilton family, consumers can book a hotel room, view upcoming stays and check in through the one app, although the company will still offer individual brand apps.
Hilton is also testing more sophisticated technology via its Conrad branded app, including the ability to preorder meals, amenities or order ground transportation.
Explaining that guests see a significant utility in room service orders, amenities, spa treatments and ground transportation via the mobile app, Weiss says, “What guests tell us is they want fast, easy hotel booking, and also access to property services and amenities via mobile.”
The Four Seasons (www.fourseasons.com) is also working on a universal brand app, but the Four Seasons Toronto property is already offering guests the ability to interact with their hotel room through in-room iPads, and network with the hotel via a mobile app. All the services a guest would normally use the in-room telephone for are now available through the mobile app, created with Intelity (www.intelitycorp.com).
Whether placing a wake-up call, reporting a lamp is out in the room, ordering a newspaper or requesting room service, it can all be done from the Four Seasons Toronto app.
“You can also order gift cards, access social media, order a non-allergic pillow and tell us what time you want your room serviced,” says Dimitri Zarikos, regional vice president and general manager at the hotel. “You can also order room service from the car so it is waiting for you in your room when you get to the hotel.”
Zarikos says the most popular app requests are for room service, wake up calls and having the room serviced, and he believes the future will allow hotels to track guests from when they get off the plane, something Stark sees coming as well.
“I should get off a plane and have a push notification from the hotel [stating] when I can get the next shuttle or cab and where the location is, and it can be based on loyalty,” Stark asserts. “For restaurants, I should be able to drive up, order something, and if I have favorites be able to reorder something, pay through the app and have them bring it to my car in the parking lot.”