As a hotel marketing expert, I foresee an alarming trend. I see a widening gap in the marketing success of the OTAs (online travel agencies) and traditional hotel operators. What’s driving this? Well, OTAs are hiring highly skilled digital professionals (who have moved the playing field and changed the rules) while those dusty hotel operators continue in their old routines of tired public relations campaigns, attending conferences, traditional media (print, television, radio), serving on tourism boards and hotel associations and stale networking. It’s not that these things are ill-advised, it’s just that they’re not going to get you the ROI (return on investment) that you want if you’re going up against the OTAs (and a scant few savvy hotel operators) who are actively responding to a public that wants choices, convenience, instant gratification, honest reviews, best prices, convenience and a non-branded return of results that fit a searchers’ parameters.
This is all playing out right now in a digital arena—particularly the mobile space of phones and tablets. However, there’s still an opportunity to make up lost time and ground with some simple strategies. Here I outline trends in the mobile/tablet sector and fundamental recommendations you can implement to right your ship as you go up against the OTAs and some of your smart, fellow hotel operators.
Trends in the mobile/tablet sector
Trend #1: Santa killed the PC
Well, not really, but 2013 holiday shoppers helped tables outsell PCs for the first time. This was huge. In December 2013, we saw a monumental shift as tablets started to outsell PCs. By 2015, tablets are expected to out ship PCs overall and be our number one choice to digest media. Tablets have changed the way we interact with media, the way we shop and, in many cases, replaced the PC as our primary computing device.
Trend #2: Google mobile queries may surpass PC search this year
For those who don’t know who Matt Cutts is, just Google his name. When he whispers, everybody involved in any form of search marketing takes note. Matt Cutts recently said that he “wouldn’t be surprised” if mobile search exceeded desktop queries this year.
Trend #3: Look, Mum, no keyboard!
Noting the increased numbers in mobile searches and tablet use, you’ll quickly deduce that the keyboard is slowly moving into the territory of cassette tapes, bell bottoms and dinosaurs. The input delivery has changed, folks, and output has to follow. Consumers will be using fingers and thumbs or a small mouse to navigate your website, and they’ll face browser issues like web font sizes and intelligent navigation.
Trend #4: The travel browsing mindset has changed
Instead of using the desktop computing model to search for and book flights, hotels and activities months in advance of a trip, consumers can now book a next-day flight with reward points, reserve a room upon landing at the airport and request a car to the hotel.
ROI = From Rotten Online Income to Return on Investment
So about now I have you sold on the new mobile phenomenon, but as a savvy operator, you say, “What is the ROI if I invest more in this arena?” And I am going to say, “Rotten.” See the graph below.
But, here I add a caveat. For those who get it right and implement the fundamentals I describe, the above graph won’t apply. For those that won’t even bother to pick up their iPhone and try to navigate through their own website, you’ll watch your customers join the ranks of the blue bars above.
A quick example to illustrate these points: Booking.com’s mobile bookings grew 160% to $8 billion in 2013. Looking back at 2011, Booking.com had $1 billion in mobile bookings. Now for the big jump—the total transaction value of mobile accommodation bookings for booking.com more than doubled from $3 billion in 2012 to over $8 billion in 2013. It is abundantly clear that mobile accommodation booking will continue to grow rapidly, and now I share some strategies to help you capture your piece of the pie.
Fundamentals of Mobile Travel Marketing
Fundamental #1: HTML5 is not a mobile website
Many will beg to differ, but I base that statement off the common misconception that HTML5 is an example of the “write once, run everywhere” theory. HTML5 will in most cases work nicely with the tablet browser size, but it doesn’t work well with the smartphone browser. You have to create a separate webpage for your smartphone user if you want to have any chance of converting them.
Fundamental #2: Consider the mindset and the input delivery
The presentation, menu and experience at a fast food restaurant are vastly different from a five-star, sit-down steakhouse. You wouldn’t give your McDonald’s hamburger purchaser a Wusthöf steak knife, and you wouldn’t give your fine diner a bag with their food in it. Your digital output should be no different. Chances are the mobile user is in a hurry and only has two thumbs to operate. Do not bombard them with the full glorious website and have them try and figure out how to read the text and navigate to your reservation page.
Fundamental #3: Test the output yourself
Get your head out of your sandtrap. Take the time to step back, pick up your smartphone and do what you want your guests to do. Ask a neighbor or a friend to do the same. Time them, and you’ll soon see your common issues. Push back at your design and development team, and get it right. Use the OTAs as good examples. The Booking.com mobile website is doing something right to get 160% increase in mobile bookings.
Fundamental #4: Analyze and respond to your statistics
If it is Google Analytics or any other tracking mechanism you are using to capture the mobile website traffic, analyze the data. What is it telling you? What is your conversion rate? What can you do to get it better?
Fundamental #5: Brush up on the effectiveness of your email campaign
Nearly 50% of unique email opens are mobile according to Experian Marketing Services. Think about that for a second—one-half of your emails you are sending are been opened on a phone. What is your open and click through rate? Are you converting or losing subscribers with every email blast?
Fundamental #6: Consider social media when building a mobile marketing strategy
According to Pew Internet Project’s research related to social networking, 40% of cell phone owners use a social networking site on their phone, and 28% do so on a typical day. Marketers who have integrated their mobile program with customer reviews and social media sharing buttons for Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest are reaping the rewards.
Fundamental #7: Pay attention to geo-location advertising services
A geofence is a virtual perimeter for a real world geographic area. A geofence can be dynamically generated—as in a radius around a hotel or point location—or it can be a predefined set of boundaries, like neighborhood boundaries. Geofence programs allow an administrator to set up triggers so that when a device enters or leaves geofence boundaries defined by the administrator, an SMS or email alert is sent.
Fundamental #8: Hire a UX Manager
Public companies in the US are familiar with Sarbanes Oxley, which in a nutshell mandates that senior executives take individual responsibility for the accuracy and completeness of corporate financial reports. Normally, they’ll hire a compliance manager to oversee the process. It found guilty, senior executives can face stiff penalties. Hotel operators can win by hiring a mobile compliance manager—or UX manager as we call them—to dissect every marketing campaign and website to ensure effective mobile compliance. Instead of a hefty fine (or jail time), the penalty for non-compliance is lost mobile revenue.
As a hotel travel operator In terms of mobile, you have a choice at this critical time. Set your mobile site up and leave it and you’ll be another sad statistic. Or, take the immediate opportunity to review, adjust and implement a new mobile strategy. Use your time and resources wisely, and follow the fundamentals above as the foundation for your success. Come up with your design and evaluate best practices recommendations, but allow the guest to dictate how they want to interact with you. Remember that any internet marketing campaign needs constant review and adjustment. Get the messaging and frequency right and you’ll have a solid stream of reservations.