The “Mobile Front Desk:” The Effect on the Hotel Brand
How Hotels Need to Respond to the Age of the Mobile Channel
By Vanessa Horwell Founder & Chief Visibility Officer, ThinkInk & TravelInk'd | May 15, 2011
Everyone remembers the relatively gradual shift to online booking, right? A little over a decade ago, online travel agencies (OTAs) and proprietary booking engines were just becoming mainstream-from test platform, to customer convenience feature, then finally to a required marketing channel for hotels. By 2009, 60% of leisure and 40% of business travel were booked online. It was a natural progression, a smooth transition, using the available technology and cutting-edge industry platforms to revolutionize hotel operations and marketing.
Contrast this with the emergence of the "mobile front desk"-a whirlwind of mobile technology and split-second change. In a very short timeframe, the mobile front desk has begun to take shape; let's take a look at this evolution further:
- In 2007, effective mobile browsers simply didn't exist.
- By the start of 2008, after a successful launch of a revolutionary device-Apple's iPhone (introduced in June 2007)-mobile browsing and the use of mobile supported application software became mainstream.
- By 2010 (proclaimed the "Year of Mobile" by some industry analysts), booking a hotel room via a mobile device, whether by browser, or by app, became mainstream. Well, sort of.
- In 2011, 95% of Americans have cell phones, half of which are smartphones.
- Experts predict that by 2012, over fifty percent of digital content will be accessed via mobile devices.
- Within three years, booking a hotel room through a mobile platform-the mobile front desk-has become expected.
Always On, Always Tethered
The mobile channel is a separate entity from the traditional online channel, and includes such elements as mobile-optimized browser engines and both proprietary and third-party (OTA) mobile apps. The untethered nature of the mobile channel affects the way in which hotels must respond to the customer's booking decisions. Because customers can actively compare rates-literally standing on the sidewalk between the hotel's and its competitor's doorstep-hotel revenue managers must increase the speed at which they react to pricing variables throughout all online and mobile booking channels. Reaction to these variables is quickly becoming impossible for humans, and software automation is becoming a necessity in the age of online and mobile channels.
With the mobile front desk, the nature of the customer's decision has also changed entirely. Not only is the customer able to perform a rapid price-comparison within feet of the front door, he or she is able to make a thorough and comprehensive booking decision seconds before checking in. Bill Keen, director of product development at International Hotels Group (IHG), said, "Our statistics show that roughly 70% of mobile web bookings are same day compared to 11% via the web. Customers who book that day utilize the convenience of "always on, always tethered" mobile devices with location-based capabilities to ease the booking and pre-stay experience."