The Future of Hospitality Hangs in Balance of Mobile and Social Implementation

By Glenn Withiam, director of publications, Cornell Center for Hospitality Research | January 14, 2013

The Center for Hospitality Research recently conducted the second Cornell Hospitality Research Summit, and some of the most popular presentations covered the hospitality industry’s continued efforts to make the most of social media and mobile devices. Mobile devices and social applications are connected in my mind as two of those “future is now” topics. We know they’ll be bigger in the future, but they’re plenty large right now. A study by Expedia presented at the conference pointed to the fact that more internet access occurs through mobile devices than by laptop or desktop. Moreover, two-thirds of Americans sleep with their mobile device in range, something we cannot say about desktops. Expedia anticipates that the current number of bookings via mobile device, currently about 16 million, will double by 2016.
 
So, besides sleeping with them, what are people doing with their mobile devices? Many of them are booking a hotel for tonight. Expedia has found that a substantial number of mobile bookings are for same-night stays. This sets up a scenario of someone setting off on a trip, and deciding to stay in a particular town that night, totally at the last minute. Mobile makes this possible. That’s the present, but it’s also the future. Most of the people who are using their smartphones and tablets in this way are under 30.
 
Mobile writes a similar story for restaurants. People who are seeking a restaurant at the last moment tend to be your younger customers, and they simply expect the technology to be there. They want to be able to check out your menu and wine list, make a reservation, or perhaps just place an order and pay for it on line. A study by the National Restaurant Association confirms that these mobile guests are checking out customer review sites as they make their choices.
 
Customer reviews are also important to the hotel industry, but the jury is still out on exactly how hotels should interact with people who post reviews. One presenter related the story of a recent trip to New Orleans. Things did not go well at the hotel, and she subsequently posted a negative review on TripAdvisor. She never heard from the hotel, even though this review received over 1,300 hits. In a previous column, I mentioned a study that found that many restaurant operators are not sure that social media fit their concept. Another study, which will be published next year in the Cornell Hospitality Quarterly, studied the same question for hotels — and got the nearly same answer.
 
This study, by Sun-Young Park and Jonathan P. Allen, found that the management of most hotels do monitor social media commentary. As you might expect, some of them respond publicly, but others almost never comment. Those chains believe that the postings to TripAdvisor and other social media represent the extremes, the very pleased and the very unhappy, just as you might find in guest-comment cards. That does not mean, however, that these chains fail to note and fix any problem identified in the posting.

The hospitality industry and its allied businesses will continue to expand their interaction with mobile devices and social media. Things are moving fast, but we also can be sure that there are curves ahead.

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