Happy hoteliers and customers: maximising and monetising mobile services

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INTERVIEW: The power of the mobile interface can drive more business from existing services through greater access to the guest. But it is still early days and hotel firms can go much further to tap the emerging opportunities.

Some hotel firms are placing complimentary tablets in rooms, others are looking to promote on site services like a meal in a restaurant or a deal in the spa via a guest’s smartphone. Indeed, the mobile hospitality monetisation opportunity is mostly about using mobile as either a more intelligent or more convenient front-end to existing moneymaking services. Now hotel companies need to work on areas like mobile content, featuring visuals and real-time updates, to evoke action from guests, says Derek White, president, Interactive & Media Networks, LodgeNet Interactive.

EyeforTravel’s Ritesh Gupta speaks to White about how mobile apps can be used for monetisation throughout the customer journey, what needs to be sorted out to propel mobile commerce forward and why guest-centricity matters.

EFT: How are hotel companies currently making use of mobile apps for monetisation?

DW: Almost every major hotel has a mobile booking app, which is currently their primary way to monetise mobile traffic. In addition, the very high-end of the market has experimented with putting iPads in each room for the device to be used as an ordering tool. This appears to be gaining significant traction with guests of that class of property, although it is a very expensive solution.

EFT: Can you cite some examples of monetisation that stand out today?

DW: We are still relatively early in the deployment and implementation of mobile-based services across the hospitality industry. The revenue focus has not really expanded beyond booking or loyalty initiatives. Next up should be mobile promotions geared to drive on-premise business like food & beverage, spa, conference services, and partner or local advertising. 

EFT: How can mobile apps be used for monetisation throughout the customer journey?

DW: Since the mobile device is with the guest pretty much 24/7 hoteliers can utilise the before, during, and post-trip periods to define, offer, and deliver information and services to the guest.  This provides a tremendous potential palette of services that can both provide tremendous benefit for the guest and of course monetisation opportunities for hoteliers.

These services might include: hotel room upgrades, on-property dining reservations, other on-property amenities like spa reservations, in-room services like in-room dining, guest requests, room environment controls, TV controls, real-time marketing messages and/or coupons. The list is only limited by the hotelier’s imagination and resources.

EFT: What factors should a hotel consider while launching services that are linked to monetisation?

DW: The mobile hospitality monetisation opportunity is mostly about using mobile as either a more intelligent or more convenient front-end to existing monetised services. Take for example in-room dining. Using a mobile interface for this service can expose more choice with more visual appeal then can static images.  It also enables real-time updates to the service, both in terms of selection and pricing, which would allow the hotel to provide specials for the evening and to very easily communicate those specials to guests say at 5:00 in the evening. 

The same goes for on-property restaurants, which can use mobile to not only send service specifics for the evening but also offer special incentives to drive guests out of their rooms and into the restaurant. 

The power of the mobile interface can drive more business from existing services through greater access to the guest.  To support this properly, and this really gets to your question, the hotelier has to learn how to work the mobile channel and they have to incorporate it into their workflow.  That means that someone, for example the hostess or the head of the kitchen needs to be in charge of a mobile interface and author and deliver marketing and merchandising messages to the guests.  That is a whole new level of job description that most properties are ill-equipped to handle.  Hoteliers must consider this before initiating a mobile-enhanced service.

EFT: Why are hotel brands still lagging behind when it comes to mobile commerce?  

DW: Branding and ownership structures are proving to be impediments as are point-of-sale (POS) and property management system (PMS) integration issues with existing vendors.  The hospitality industry is comprised of a combination of brands, management companies, and independents.  With brand standards requirements still ruling the day throughout the industry many ownership groups are waiting to understand what they can and can’t do in the mobile space.  Clear guidance has still not been established at many of the brands.  In addition, full integration of mobile services with properties’ various PMS and POS solutions are taking time and slowing deployment.

EFT: Hotel companies have been focusing on mobile web and mobile apps so how are they preparing to facilitate payments?

DW: Since hospitality companies have been handling web-based credit card transactions for a long time now they are well equipped to make the leap to mobile, particularly in the area of booking. 

The next step of on-property and in-room mobile services requires integration with existing point-of-sale and PMS systems to provide an optimised transaction experience.  This work is ongoing throughout the industry.

EFT: What do you make of developments pertaining to mobile contactless payments?

DW: With so many major companies all proposing different solutions at this point in time it may be best to wait to see how things progress.

EFT: Guest-centricity is said to be one way to strengthen of m-commerce initiatives? Can you expand on this?

DW: As the name implies ‘guest-centricity’ is about putting the guest experience in front of everything else.  And as it relates to mobile services it impacts decisions about how best to create, deploy, and present mobile services to the guest.  Currently the mobile hospitality space is extremely fragmented with many different apps available from brands, management companies, and independents.  It is very confusing for the end user as they are effectively asked to download, install, and learn a new app for every hotel experience.  Such a burden is unrealistically high to expect broad guest adoption and vigorous usage.  A better, more ‘guest-centric’ approach is to identify and support a common solution that spans multiple brands and properties and lowers guest hurdles to gain mobile access to hoteliers’ services.   Since such an approach allows the guest to repurpose their acquired app knowledge mobile service utilisation and monetisation becomes much easier.

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