Is a Mobile App Right for My Hotel?

By Tom O'Rourke President & CEO, O'Rourke Hospitality | December 25, 2011

By now, most hoteliers are aware of the fact that a large percentage of their guests are shifting from their desktop PC's and using their mobile devices to make travel plans. This percentage continues to grow at a rapid rate. Some larger hotel chains recognized this years ago, for example Choice Hotels, who created its hotel app as far back as April 2009. In the past year, many global hotel chains, luxury resorts, and five star hotels rushed to catch up, and created hotel apps and mobile websites for their own properties. Larger hotel brands are often quicker to embrace new technology given their higher marketing budgets and resources. Smaller independent hotels, however, tend to think that a mobile app is only useful for larger brands, and they often ask a common question, "I have under 150 rooms, why would my hotel need an app?"

From a marketing standpoint, my belief is that no matter what size your hotel is, no matter how many rooms you have, and regardless of your star rating, you as a hotel marketer should say 'yes' to any new technology that will help generate revenue, extend your brand into a new channel, and add convenience for your guests. Even if you have a limited guest base, aren't those guests just as deserving of the latest technology? Whether you have 150 rooms or 15,000 rooms, why wouldn't you want to increase bookings, increase guest loyalty, and improve brand recognition for your hotel? A mobile app will benefit your hotel in a number of ways and it has little to do with the size of your hotel.

Another common myth is that an app is too costly for smaller independent hotels, and is a luxury that only larger brands can afford. This may be true for hotels that opt to create an app from scratch and pay enormous fees for everything from initial design, app development, coding, technical testing, and content creation. As a hotel marketer, it was clear to me that these fees were unnecessary, and I knew I could find a way to provide my clients a mobile app for their hotels that was affordable, easy to set-up and use, and maintained the same high-quality and customization as if it had been created exclusively for one individual hotel.

I partnered with a proven app development company, DeCare Systems Ireland (DSI), and combining O'Rourke Hospitality's hotel marketing experience with DSI's technological expertise, we created a robust mobile app platform, which we coined SmartstaySM. This mobile app platform is a flexible framework, and we work with each hotel to help them create their own customized hotel app complete with their own logos, custom designed welcome pages, maps, images, videos, and hotel information. The pricing and business model of the Smartstay app makes it very affordable for smaller independent hotels to create their own hotel apps, and the apps often pay for themselves within a month or two.

With such a low-risk investment, small and large hotels alike will see an increase in ROI. Fergel Twomey, General Manager of the Cheval Phoenix House in London, reported that his Smartstay app generated over 19 bookings in just one month, the equivalent of €7,000. After having seen the benefits of the Phoenix House app, Cheval Residences is in the process of creating Smartstay apps for all of its other six properties.

By now you may begin to see that a hotel app actually is an affordable, viable option for your smaller independent hotel, but you may still have questions. Many hotels ask, "How does an app compare to a mobile website, and which option is best for my hotel?" This has been a debate for quite some time now. Forrester Research has just published its annual mobile technology outlook for 2011(1) and predicts that this debate will continue – and remain irrelevant. Brands do not need to choose one or the other, they can have both, and many hotels do.

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The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.