Hospitality is on the Move - How Mobile Apps are Empowering Guests and Boosting Hotels' Bottom Lines

By Cris Davidson Sr. Director of the Americas, FCS | January 13, 2013

As consumers are now spending more time on their mobile phones than ever before, travelers are expressing a growing preference to engage in business transactions from their own mobile devices. This has given rise to a whole new world of marketing opportunities, consisting of terms such as smartphone, mobile tagging, mobile sites, geo-location, and social media marketing. Today, approximately one half of local searches are performed on mobile devices, and it is estimated that by 2014, mobile Internet access will overtake desktop Internet usage.
With those statistics in mind, all major hotel groups worldwide are now focusing on mobile strategies in order to enhance the guest experience, offering fully customizable mobile apps that make all types of digital transactions simple for hotel guests -before, during and after their stays. As guests' mobile apps are changing the way travelers interact with hotel staff and vice versa, staff mobile apps are also changing the way owners, managers, franchises and hotels groups are operating their properties. Mobile technologies have the unique potential to streamline hotel operations on the backend, and digital solutions for staff allow instant communication for enhanced employee efficiency and accountability.

Self-service is superior service

While superior guest service in the hospitality industry has traditionally meant attentive personal interaction with property staff, it is now very important to allow guests to make the ultimate determination of how they would like to interact. This is especially true, given the multiple generations that hotels are now required to accommodate. For instance, today's hoteliers need to offer guests the choice of bypassing the front desk in order to access their rooms faster. In particular, Generation Y, for whom self-service has become the overwhelming preference - finds it far easier and more convenient to leverage automated self-service than to stand in line waiting to interact with hotel staff or to engage in transactions over the phone. Moreover, guests realize the tertiary advantages of making service requests digitally, including minimizing miscommunications from voice interaction and the ability to multitask at one's own pace, just to name a few. Just as so many consumers prefer to book rooms online rather than over the phone, they likewise appreciate the opportunity to execute similar self-service transactions during their hotel stay.

Technology vendors are raising the bar

To meet the growing demand for self-service offerings, hotel companies and technology vendors have developed numerous mobile applications that automate and simplify requests for both on- and off-property services. Properties that deploy self-service mobile apps, whether independent hotels or as part of a chain, almost invariably report improved guest satisfaction scores, increased use of amenities and higher booking rates at onsite outlets. Digital interaction with the guest is possible prior to the guest's arrival, throughout the duration of his or her stay, and continues even after departure, providing ample opportunity to reinforce the hotel's branding messages and gain enhanced long-term guest loyalty. Besides making the service experience more satisfying for the guest, these apps have significant bonuses of streamlining efficiency and boosting revenue opportunities for the hotels. Because mobile apps have a direct line to the guest at all times, wherever they are and at all stages of their stay, they provide a unique platform for offering promotions, such as upselling rooms, offering discounts at the hotel restaurant or cross-selling add-on services or amenities at the property.

Some other examples of potential revenue opportunities that can be realized include filling unused spa and golf time slots, dynamic video upselling for specials of the day, creating clearly defined differentiators between a hotel's offerings verses all nearby competitors to the wedding party that is trying to choose which hotel to utilize for their out of town guests, and even preventing the wasting of food prior to expiration by running specials. Today, hoteliers truly have the ability to communicate that "WOW" factor to their guests that will keep them returning for many future visits and creating continuous revenue streams.

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Human Resources: An Era of Transition

Traditionally, the human resource department administers five key areas within a hotel operation - compliance, compensation and benefits, organizational dynamics, selection and retention, and training and development. However, HR professionals are also presently involved in culture-building activities, as well as implementing new employee on-boarding practices and engagement initiatives. As a result, HR professionals have been elevated to senior leadership status, creating value and profit within their organization. Still, they continue to face some intractable issues, including a shrinking talent pool and the need to recruit top-notch employees who are empowered to provide outstanding customer service. In order to attract top-tier talent, one option is to take advantage of recruitment opportunities offered through colleges and universities, especially if they have a hospitality major. This pool of prospective employees is likely to be better educated and more enthusiastic than walk-in hires. Also, once hired, there could be additional training and development opportunities that stem from an association with a college or university. Continuing education courses, business conferences, seminars and online instruction - all can be a valuable source of employee development opportunities. In addition to meeting recruitment demands in the present, HR professionals must also be forward-thinking, anticipating the skills that will be needed in the future to meet guest expectations. One such skill that is becoming increasingly valued is “resilience”, the ability to “go with the flow” and not become overwhelmed by the disruptive influences  of change and reinvention. In an era of transition—new technologies, expanding markets, consolidation of brands and businesses, and modifications in people's values and lifestyles - the capacity to remain flexible, nimble and resilient is a valuable skill to possess. The March Hotel Business Review will examine some of the strategies that HR professionals are employing to ensure that their hotel operations continue to thrive.