Aiming to attract customers on-the-go, mobile applications (apps) and user-friendly mobile sites have become extremely important for hotels and restaurants.
In fact, many claim that mobile apps are opening up a whole new field by enabling bookings at the press of a button, especially for same-day stays. Such apps are an easy way for customers to book a stay, get directions using GPS navigation, check hotel facilities and can even be used to promote special offers using push notifications. With smartphone penetration reaching 10 million last year and Indian research company, IMRB suggesting that one out of three urban Indian internet user has access to a mobile phone application, the hospitality sector is eager to cash in on these latest technologies.
Jumping onto the mobile app game is Marriott International, which launched its free mobile app for iPhone and Android devices and an ‘app-like’ mobile website in December 2011. The app gives access to its 3,900 hotels across 13 brands in 71 countries. The company currently has 16 hotels in India and four more are coming up by the end of the year. “The primary objective behind launching these new mobile tools is portability in a simple manner,” says Prasad Iyer, e-commerce manager (India, Malaysia, Maldives), Marriott International Inc.
The new Marriott mobile tools enable travellers to find nearby hotels, make or cancel bookings, check-in, join Marriott’s customer reward programme and even find out what’s happening in the local area. Guests like Srimanth Raghav, a Pune-based financial investor and an avid traveller, who use Marriott’s app on his iPhone to make last minute bookings, says, “It’s convenient to have an app that enables bookings at the last minute. As a business traveller, most of my visits are decided at the spur of the moment and cannot be planned in advance.”
ITC Hotels joined the list with the release of mobile application for ITC Grand Chola. Available for both iPhone and Android devices, the ITC Grand Chola, Chennai, app also provides information about places of interest around the hotel and integrates social media forums like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) has launched seven iPhone apps — one for each of its sister brands. In 2010, it released a Priority Club Rewards app, to cater to its loyal users. That application has generated considerable revenues.
According to the company data, in just over a year, the hotel group has seen nearly 1,000 per cent increase in night bookings from mobile devices. IHG hopes to raise more than $130 million in revenue from mobile bookings.
The Marriott mobile web and mobile apps are bringing in 3.1 million visitors a month from across North America, Europe and the rest of the world. “Through the new initiative, we did $25 million in property-level revenue a month globally, and India gets about three per cent of that.” Iyer adds.
Users are also taking to apps that bring deals from different hotels. The Expedia Hotels mobile app (iOS devices) has been the top travel app in more than 40 countries on the iTunes App Store. “Travel is intrinsically a mobile experience. As more consumers use mobile devices, Expedia.com will become a personalised travel assistant that is always with you whenever you want to plan, book or enjoy travelling,” says Scott Durchslag, president, Expedia Worldwide, in an official release.
Developed by US-based start-up, apps like HotelTonight connect guests with nearby boutique hotels. The app helps hoteliers to sell yesterday’s empty hotel room to today’s travellers, giving them a chance to push out a last-minute discount on rooms that would otherwise earn no money.
HotelTonight offers travellers three hotel options per night, starting at 12 pm and closes at 2 am, to book the room and secure the deal. Since its launch in January 2011, the app has already seen a million downloads.
“HotelTonight, which recognises user's location by using the GPS feature, recommends relevant hotels as per user’s location. In another two years, handsets will become the primary touch point for all major hotel chains,” adds Prakash Sreewastav, CEO, WinIT Software, a mobile application strategy and development company. WinIT has developed a web-based platform that enables users to generate a mobile app for hotels and restaurants within five minutes. Users can check room availability, events and meetings and access picture galleries.
Hyderabad-based Mojostreet.com, a location-based mobile game company, has developed hospitality apps for smartphones like BlackBerry, Nokia, iPhone and Android. It has launched a free-to-download real world game that doubles up as a friend finder, city guide, social network and loyalty rewards app and is expecting 1,00,000 downloads by the end of this month.
One stop mobile apps like TripAdvisor, Hotels.com, iXigo.com, Kayak, etc that provide deals from various hotels and resorts, are emerging as a popular option among young travellers.
For frequent travellers like Gurudip Sukhi, a 30-year old marketing professional, iXigo.com, TripAdvisor and Kayak are the most helpful apps. “These have full-featured flights and hotels search applications. Since I have a defined budget while travelling, the most useful feature for me is the ability to compare fares across multiple airlines and hotels,” he says.
Travel websites like Expedia and Kayak, too, have rolled out hotel reservation apps that are expected to be the cornerstone of their broader push into mobile.
With inputs from Priyanka Joshi