The smartphone revolution: why it pays to keep up with the latest technology

The increasing diversification of devices and operating systems is a persistent challenge for businesses. Even online travel company, HRS (Hotel Reservation Service), which has developed 17 relevant smartphone, tablet and PC platforms necessary for browsing, booking and managing their hotel bookings, this dynamic space demands continuous attention.

HRS focuses on several strategic platforms - iOS, Android, Blackberry and the mobile HRS website. The company has also optimised mobile pages for browser-based search for more than 7,000 models. Yet despite all this, the company can’tignore the increasing fragmentation of the mobile world.

“Continued development of the operating systems means that mobile browser sites are often technically obsolete by the next system update,“ says Jon West, managing director HRS UK & Ireland.

Here EyeforTravel’s Ritesh Gupta talks to West about new features in development and the popularity of tablets.

EFT: What would you term as the most important development in 2012 as far as your mobile portfolio is concerned?

JW: The new ‘speech-to-hotel’ function of the HRS app – the option of searching for a suitable hotel using voice control – was a stand-out development, making the hotel search process even easier for HRS users.

HRS also extended its existing mobile offering with its free Hotels Now iPhone app to find last-minute rooms for business travellers. Hotels in the deluxe, design, business and budget categories, situated centrally in 100 European cities, can offer their single rooms, with discounts of at least 30% on the current daily room rates. Last-minute deals are published daily from 6am and can only be booked via the app until midnight on the same day.

EFT: Is there any clear booking pattern that you would like to share?

JW: More than half of bookings from mobile devices on HRS are made on the day of arrival itself. Around two thirds of people booking via mobile devices reserve single rooms via the HRS applications, so the Hotels Now application was an extremely important development for us.

EFT: How are smartphones and tablets changing the way the whole travel planning, buying and in-trip phase is shaping up?

JW: The proliferation of smartphones has revolutionised the travel industry – last-minute bookings are on the rise among business travellers who, more often than not, have to react flexibly and change their travel arrangements at the last minute, and we have recognised that mobile technology paves the way for this.

In 2009, we were the first hotel portal worldwide to have an app available on the App Store, and today we have a presence across 17 mobile platforms. We have now established a mobile department within our headquarters, specifically for the continuing growth and development of new products for our users. We see a huge potential with tablets in particular, because their larger screens are more adept for quick mobile surfing and for data-intensive apps, such as video streaming. We are seeing a big increase in the number of hotel viewings and consequent bookings being made on iPads, particularly for private bookings.  

EFT: Considering that HRS is mainly focusing on several strategic platforms, are your efforts going to change in 2013?

JW: Mobile apps have become an increasingly relevant channel for HRS and its hotel partners. By 2014, more people worldwide will be using mobile devices as opposed to PCs and laptops to surf the Internet. The high annual growth rates and booking statistics confirm the increasing importance of mobile solutions, so growth and development in our mobile offering is incredibly important for us in 2013.

HRS intends to further develop its pioneering role in mobile hotel bookings over the coming years and the focus will be on additional service offers. One such offer we have planned is location-specific additional information, which is precisely tailored to the current needs of travellers and saves them the trouble of tedious Internet searches. This will include information on relevant events, recommendations for the area and travel guides. The extra services will also offer hotel owners new opportunities for customer acquisition and retention. For example, they can send guests information about their hotel stay with targeted additional offers.

EFT: HRS tripled its sales in the mobile-bookings segment in 2011. Can you explain how would you view 2012 from your mobile portfolio perspective?

JW: The mobile reservations share of total sales reached around 3% in 2011 and we expect this share to have doubled for 2012.

Business travellers make up a huge proportion of mobile bookings. According to an HRS study, almost one third of business travellers have already booked a hotel room from mobile devices on at least one occasion. By 2014, HRS expects that one in five business trips will be booked from smartphones or tablet PCs.

EFT:  Companies need a clear marketing strategy to make their app successful. How do you intend to sustain interest in your apps going forward?

JW: HRS has a very particular mobile marketing strategy, and a key focus for us is mobile display advertising and in-app advertising. All aspects of these campaigns are closely analysed and adjusted accordingly to keep pace with the speed of the short-term mobile market so that they reach the relevant target group. We have already conducted several successful campaigns with this type of brand and performance-based advertising. Mobile marketing perhaps best represents our vast service offering. We ensure store placement is continually improved, increasing visibility of the apps which leads to more downloads and hotel bookings.

EFT:  How do you assess the maturity of mobile payments today, and what should the travel sector be watching out for?

JW: People are still hesitant when it comes to mobile payment functions, citing ‘trust’ and ‘security’ as key holdbacks, particularly when travelling.

A recent HRS study showed that only 18.2% of respondents would like to pay for their hotel room directly with the app. But with much being done to reassure customers of the security of the service, we expect the volume of mobile payment transactions to increase sharply in the coming years. 

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