Most hotels should focus on mobile websites, not apps, study says

WORLDWIDE Most hotels, particularly individual properties and independent groups, would be better served to spend time and money developing a mobile website rather than a smartphone application, a new report says.

Recent surveys have found that smartphone users prefer mobile apps mainly for social networking, music and games. For everything else they prefer to browse the mobile web.

“Hotels do not need a mobile app if they are a single-property, independent hotel. Nor do franchised hotels and resorts or smaller and midsize hotel chains and multi-property companies,” Max Starkov writes in a blog post for Hospitality eBusiness Strategies (HeBS). “These hotel companies are better off focusing on building and enhancing their mobile websites and promoting the mobile site via mobile marketing initiatives.”

Mobile apps make sense for well-established hotel brands with millions of loyalty club members, and even then only as an additional option to well-developed mobile brand websites, Starkov says. “Smaller hotel companies’ apps have little chance of being discovered by mobile users, let alone becoming popular,” he says.

On average, hoteliers should allocate 7% to 7% of the 2011 Internet marketing budget to mobile website enhancements and mobile marketing initiatives, Starkov says.

A good hotel mobile app can cost US$15,000 and up, based on custom design, functionality, interactivity, handling of heavy graphics and even “sexiness.” At the same time, a hotel mobile website is a much cheaper endeavor; a 10-page mobile website should not cost more than US$1,500, including an integration of the mobile booking engine and Google maps, Starkov says.

A well-developed mobile website is by default a cross-platform entity that can be viewed on all platforms capable of browsing. In contrast, a different app or a customized version of an app is needed for every major platform, which greatly increases the cost of developing and maintaining the hotel mobile app.

Roughly 1% to 1.5% of visitors to hotel websites already come from travel consumers accessing the hotel site via mobile devices, research shows. Two-thirds of travelers and three-quarters of frequent business travelers have used their devices to find local attractions and services, including lodging.

Mobile goals for 2011

In 2011, independent or franchised hotels and resorts, as well as small and midsize hotel chains and multi-property hotel companies, should focus on building and enhancing their mobile websites. The main focus should be:

  • Creating mobile-friendly textual and visual content that presents the hotel product well.
  • Enhancing the mobile user-experience via well-thought out mobile site navigation, a mobile booking engine widget, mobile calendar of events, etc.
  • Increasing website “discoverability” via mobile search engine optimization and online media initiatives.
  • Making the mobile website more interactive via mobile-social media initiatives, interactive sweepstakes and contests.
  • Soliciting signups to the mobile opt-in list via the traditional hotel website and the mobile website, via hotel email marketing campaigns and various sweepstakes and contests, such as interactive scavenger hunts, QR Code promotions, etc.
  • Tracking conversions and user behavior via mobile analytics and special tracking phone functionality.