Timing is everything, and in a COVID-compromised travel environment, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts’ new booking app is landing at an opportune time – even if not that many people are traveling right now.
“What we’re really excited about is how the app lends itself so nicely to what’s happening right now in the world,” says Jessica Davidson, Wyndham’s senior vice president of digital.
While the Parsippany, New Jersey-based hotel company had been working on its “digital transformation” for more than four years, some of the features of the new app, introduced on September 24, leverage solutions that customers might find particularly useful now.
“Lightning Book,” which allows guests to find and book the nearest Wyndham hotel in a few taps, is useful when traveling by car; mobile check-in and check-out, which the company says will be available at nearly 6,000 hotels before year-end, can minimize person-to-person contact. Same with digital room key, which will be expanded over the next year from the few U.S. locations where it’s currently available; and an “in-stay” mode, which prioritizes relevant information as guests near their reservation date, encourages stickiness and higher guest engagement.
The app is geared toward the everyday traveler, says Davidson, who spoke with HOTELS about the app and where she thinks digital trends are moving in a post-COVID era.
HOTELS: Is it a challenge to determine whether the introduction of the app is a “success” or not given that so few people are traveling?
Jessica Davidson: One of the greatest things about the app, I think even apps in general, is you get a highly engaged user base. Of the folks that are most interested in engaging with the brands, they’re going to come through a mobile app… We also have other features that enable repeat engagement and visit, so we’re really bolstering the value proposition to our Wyndham Rewards Members. This caters to that group.
In addition, you can check out and book as a guest very easily. In fact, we have a feature called instant holds where all you need to do, if the hotel has the rate plan enabled, is book with first name, last name and mobile phone, to reserve a room.
H: Can you describe the “in-stay” mode?
JD: Within three days of arrival … you have where your stay is, the dates, the hotel, mobile check-in, amenities, tours and activities, an option to call the front desk to extend the stay. If this property enabled texting, virtual concierge, that would be applicable here. You see text hotel, call hotel, get directions. Ultimately, this is where you will have your mobile room key and then choose your room. And that comes later in the roadmap. Digital key will also be offered here… That is a point of differentiation for us in terms of the economy and mid-scale space.
H: What is the timing of the rollout of mobile check-in?
JD: Around 300 currently, and then October through November, at a pace of around 1,500 (hotels) per week in North America… It’s giving owners options to deliver the services that they choose to and address their guests’ needs. By year-end, nearly 6,000 hotels (will be) on mobile check-in and check-out, we will also have enabled digital room key for (two North American hotels) toward year-end. And that will be our blueprint as owners are interested, enabling the addition of more. Past that, “choose your room” is a functionality that is almost fully developed. We need to just test and roll that out.
H: Any other features coming in the longer term?
JD: A Spanish version of the app. While this app is available in different regions for download in English, we know that there is interest and need for Spanish… We’re listening to feedback, we’re continuing to collect and capture, so we can optimize an offer the things that resonate the most for guests and owners.
H: Wyndham has a big presence in China. Are you developing an app for that audience?
JD: There’s not a particular roadmap in place for it, but we are having those discussions… It’s interesting to see how an individual app would fit into that overall ecosystem and the expectations of the consumers in that market. Because they’re very mobile savvy, highly penetrated, highly adopted. And eager to travel.
H: You have a background in retail, and you’ve been at Wyndham now for more than five years. How has that informed your approach in the hotel business?
JD: One of the things that brought me to Wyndham was the fact that the company was investing in digital transformation… From a retail perspective, it’s always been about that strong connection to brand. It’s always been exciting to me to be able to bring brands to life digitally, to create that emotional connection and that experience. So in addition to the transactional, there are ways to do it that are brand-enhancing, emotion-driving. Applying that to the transactional and the practical, and then that the softer touches, has been just extremely meaningful.
The creation of brands and the supportive brand is something that I feel passionate about and that has followed me my whole career… In my early retail days, there were immersive experiences considering the physical and digital worlds, whether it be a fashion show, so I think, to me, we are in the business of delivering travel and experiences like that.
H: Hotels are never going to be on the bleeding edge of technology because they have to adapt to what their customers want, or else nobody’s going to use it, right?
JD: That’s right. It has to be practical, it has to be anticipatory, transactional. There’s a lot of different facets to achieving that right balance. To me, orchestrating all that is so exciting. Also, it’s just widespread guest expectations. So as digital is evolving and people are using digital means in all different parts of their lives, one thing spills into the next and there you have those expectations, you just deliver on them, whether you’re in travel or retail or entertainment.
H: What digital trends are you watching?
JD: I’m very curious about what 5G is going to bring to the table in terms of speed and the ability to process large amounts of data, and how that will impact people’s expectations and experience. I know everyone mentions artificial intelligence and machine learning, but really, what is the impact of those advances on our world? And then, in terms of the many broad applications from biometrics and facial recognition and all those different ways to apply personalization and predictive things, I find that to be very interesting. I do a lot of reading and that’s an area more recently, I’ve been opening up my eyes to, and I want to learn so much more. The more you read, the more you realize there’s so much more to learn.