These days, it seems, no industry has been left untouched by the rapid proliferation of smartphones and tablets. The rise of this technology has transformed the way businesses connect with consumers. According to comScore, a technology site that provides internet analytics, as of May 2015, 189.7 million people in the U.S. possess a smartphone — all potential customers that companies are hoping to win over by creating an app that cements brand allegiance.
It’s no surprise that hospitality companies are joining those ranks of businesses trying to tap into the engagement and commercial opportunities of apps. According to Statista.com, travel rated as the seventh most popular category in the Apple App Store for June 2015, scoring above music and health & fitness.
With major hotel chains offering their own apps — developed either in-house or with the help of an app-production company — and a host of smaller boutique hotels also capitalizing on this opportunity, the question isn’t should a hotel offer an app, but rather what features should a hotel app boast to set it apart from the crowd.
It may seem like a no-brainer to give users the ability to book a room via an app, but not all booking widgets are created equal. Hilton’s app gets it right by allowing guests to sort and filter regional Hilton Worldwide offerings by distance from their current location, price, or brand, as well as giving them a map-view option. In addition to offering detailed amenity information and multiple accommodation photos, the company also provides guests with the ability to choose an exact room location.
Loyalty program account management
For larger chains, the ability to manage loyalty program points is key for achieving a successful hotel app. With so much of their revenue depending on repeat business travelers, brand allegiance is made and broken by the strength of a hotel’s loyalty program and its ease of use. That means there is a lot to be gained by designing an app that seamlessly integrates a rewards system and a lot to lose if you don’t. Again, Hilton’s app excels in this department, as does Marriott’s main app, Marriott International; both allow users to check, apply, even earn points in a way that’s simple to track and summarize room charges for painless expensing.
Check-in/out and virtual key
Smart hotel apps are zeroing in on even the most basic of services, as they’re often the most frequently occurring pain points. Who hasn’t spent an exhausting day of traveling only to arrive at your hotel to stand in line for check-in? Or how about the headache of losing your room key? From the ubiquitous, like Hyatt, to the high-end, like Ritz-Carlton, many chains are giving guests the freedom to sidestep those common aggravations by offering mobile check-in and check-out via their app. Starwood goes one step further, offering keyless technology at all W, Aloft, and Element hotels that lets guests use their phone as a key via their app.
Though it may be hard to imagine the hospitality industry without the actual hospitality of a hotel staff, the Four Seasons and Mandarin Oriental now offer apps that all but eliminate the need for that veritable hotel mainstay, the concierge. Instead, guests can book a spa session, order room service, request specific room products, and make special requests from the comfort of their room.
By providing services that extend beyond the hotel itself, many chains have created more robust apps with a lifestyle feel. These hotel apps highlight museums, restaurants, historical sites, and other spots of interest in the area surrounding a guest’s hotel with the intent of making local exploration easy and exciting. Virgin offers an outstanding app where you can browse notable places in the neighborhood based on traveler “types.” Simply select your preferred label from categories like The Artist, The Partier, The Foodie, or The Daredevil, and find personalized recommendations.
The best hotel apps think beyond the typical, with imaginative features that reinforce their brand identity. This allows customers to connect with hallmarks of the hotel, even when they’re not currently staying there. As a franchise known for a lively atmosphere, W Hotels is smart to reflect that reputation in their app by offering music channels that users turn their living room into a happening lounge. Ritz-Carlton upholds their reputation as one of the poshest places to stay with a QR code feature that lets you scan your way around the hotel to highlight notable hotel details, such as art or furnishings.
For hotels looking to create their own app, or upgrade their current offerings, these features will ensure guests not only download but use the product.
About the Author
Abi Mandelbaum is co-founder and CEO of YouVisit, a fully integrated platform for creating, distributing, and monetizing virtual reality and other immersive experiences across all devices, including headsets, mobile, and desktop. YouVisit has worked with thousands of businesses and institutions such as Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, Carnival, Yale, Zumba, and New York’s Central Park.