Mobile Apps for Competitive Advantage

In today’s competitive business environment hotels have to adopt every means to have an edge over other contenders and a key weapon in their arsenal is technology. Mobile apps are being used constantly by the industry to provide better service to their customers. Mobile websites and apps help customers to browse through the hotel’s services, read the reviews and book rooms. Latest technological advances have contributed towards making check-in and check-out and other guest related processes easy, seamless and fast. Some hotels have even made it possible for guests to have voice controlled rooms where they can control the lighting, temperature, TV, draperies, etc in their rooms vocally.  Ashok Malkani examines how hotels have managed greater guest satisfaction, while at the same time enabling them to have a better rapport with guests by understanding their likes and dislikes with the aid of mobile apps.   


The Indian hospitality industry has been progressing at a steady pace. Current trends represent a positive growth in the coming years. Presently over 29,000 rooms are under construction which are expected to be added to the country’s inventory over the next 5-6 years. This positive growth, according to analysts, is mainly due to advanced management system. 

Technology has, it is believed, impacted the hospitality industry in a positive way. Right hotel management system or PMS (property management system) can help the industry grow manifold. 

Adoption of right technology can help hoteliers to ensure enhanced operational capabilities. In today’s highly competitive market, hoteliers should not look at the investment in hotel management system as an added operational cost but as an advantage for securing more business. Rather technology can be used by hoteliers to save on operational costs and providing better services to guests. 

There can be no doubt that technology has impacted the hospitality industry in a positive way. Most of the customers today use mobile apps.  According to Nielsen (a leading global information & measurement company) data, a smartphone user spends around 85% of the time on apps. Clearly, mobile technology, powered by the internet and the presence of apps, is a game changing development for hotel industry for better consumer service and engagement

Yes, in this environment, it is imperative that hotels get on board with what mobile has to offer, otherwise they will find business slipping away f o r m them.

As the customer experience is top of the line for hotel business, hotel managers and owners are taking support of mobile apps. Some of the features of mobile apps for hotel industry are: 

Live and Up-to-date Information Sharing               
Better Trend Predictions Based on Customer Behaviour
Maintaining Long-term Relationships and Connecting with Customers
Leveraging the Loyalty Program Feature

Encouraging Self-service

Mobile technologies enable hotels to improve efficiency and lower operating costs. However, merely investing in mobile, without getting your priorities right would only result in over-expenditure without, in any way, making the customer’s life better   

Using technology that will aid the hoteliers and result in better services to the guests has become a dire necessity at the moment, particularly with the increasing millennial population which is believed to be more demanding, practical, impatient and enterprising. According to a report by the consulting firm, Deloitte India, and lobby group, Retailers Association of India, titled “Trend-setting millennials: Redefining the consumer story”, millenials are the chief wage earners in India  with a 47% share in the working age population. They are digitally connected individuals, driving various consumer segments, including the hospitality industry, towards rapid growth and development.

The use of technology by millenials makes it imperative for hoteliers to meet their individual demands and expectations to remain competitive and maximise the revenue opportunities that delivering individualised services can bring.

Kumar Rajagopalan, Chief Executive at Retailers Association of India, has, in a statement, said, “Millennials use digital methods to research a product before taking the decision to buy.” This is also applicable to the hospitality industry. Food is not the only criteria for choosing a particular hotel, nor is it the hotel room. There are several other aspects. Hotels have to perform more efficiently, and improve customer relations. 

Utility of Mobile Apps 

Hoteliers have not only to function efficiently but also ensure that it is done economically. So do mobile apps serve the dual purpose of efficiency and economy? Has technology succeeded in guest experience?

Ms. Tooba Hasan, Marketing and Communications Manager, The Surya New Delhi, avers, “Mobile Apps has helped hotels to give enhanced experience to guests. Guest can do online check-in, can place order f o r m app. He is also always updated on time about the hotel’s offers and deals through push notifications, etc.

Mobile Apps and technology have helped hotels to function more efficiently, but not economically as the development, integration and maintenance cost is high. Mobile apps help to enhance guest experience. Nowadays, guests prefer online check-in so that one doesn’t have to wait in queue to submit their ID proof at the front desk. They can do it online while coming to the hotel. They expect that as soon as they reach hotel, they should immediately have the room keys. Another benefit f o r m mobile app is the push notification feature, which helps the hotel to send offers, deals, room packages, etc. to the selected database. 

As far as The Suryaa New Delhi is concerned, we have made the maximum use of technology. We have installed table management system in our restaurants where detailed information about the guest can be saved. Table preference, taste preference, personal information such as birthday, anniversary, etc. can be captured and special offer can be given to the guest on such important dates. In case of repeat guests, their profile is updated in the PMS so that on their next visit we may exceed their expectations.

Technology has helped hotels in improving guest experience. It has become one of the most effective channels of communication. With the help of technology, we are able to take and feed guest experience in the hotel. Guest can share their stay and dining experience with the hotel team members and, in case a guest shares negative feedback, it can be turned into a positive one then and there. All this is possible with the help of technology. In case of repeat guests or long stayers, their preferences are fed into PMS for future reference.” 

Dinesh Rai, General Manager, Four Points by Sheraton Kochi, states, “One of the benefits of mobile apps is to cut down time, which would generally be spent in conversing with multiple people in different departments for various requests, to get information for ensuring guest satisfaction. This can now be centralised. This also creates an opportunity for clients to share real time feedback, which can be immediately addressed while the customers are still in house. It also works f o r m the hotels perspective where we can keep a steady and controlled flow of information for promotions/ deals to the customers via the apps.”

Divkar Shukla, General Manager, Holiday Inn Chennai, declares, “The Mobile apps have the advantage of ensuring constant engagement between the hotel and its guests in the following ways:  

  • Enhancing ease of room booking and transportation
  • Knowing details about the hotel, contact details, direction and weather
  • Getting the Hotel reviews
  • Viewing the stay history and redeeming reward club points   

Mobile apps have benefitted the guests and hotel team as the guests can get exclusive offers and benefit reminders, make a request directly to the front desk through the Apps, view guest invoice directly through the app, manage loyalty programme, have a hassle free check-in and check-out and live virtual chat.”

Apps used by Customers   

As customer service is of utmost value in the hotel industry, the necessity for property owners and managers to engage, interact and attract guests is vital. Since guests are looking for convenience at their fingertips the significance of different mobile apps has grown in recent times. Mobile hotel apps have helped not only in redefining guest experience or management but also in transactions. Travel Flash report by Criteo declares that up to 80% of last minute bookings are made on mobile devices and the conversion rate on app is 5 times higher that on mobile web. With more and more guests using mobile apps hotels have to keep track of the apps being used by the customers. So, what are the apps being used by the prospective customers and how do the hotels leverage these mobile platforms for branding, guest loyalty, marketing, advertising, cross-selling, etc?   

Dinesh states, “several mobile apps are in use like Hotel booking Apps (MarriottBonvoy App) Trivago/booking.com/expedia, Customer review apps (Tripadvisor/ Google). Customers find it user friendly to check out the websites and review it though the app. We found these mobile applications are very robust and are having update frequently to give a user friendly phase to the customers.

Mobile platforms allow us at Four Points by Sheraton Kochi, to ensure that the customers remain updated on the latest deals. It also allows for engaging opportunities like survey and competitions which keeps customers engaged and presents a marketing opportunity.” 

Tooba claims “Most of the guests use hotel booking app like MMT, OYO Rooms, Cleartrip.com, etc. for their stay reservation. Such mobile apps give them easy access to maximum of the hotels in a particular location. These days’ hotels have adopted a trend of maintaining their own app in order to give ‘WOW’ moment to the guests. f o r m the feature of online check-in to place in-room dining order, everything is available at one touch. Now, with the help of App, hotels are able to push offers directly on the app through push notification feature. Time to time upgradation of the app is done to make it more user friendly. It is now easier for hotels to upsell spa packages or F&B offer when the guests is booking a stay through hotel app. Heavy discounts are offered in order to encourage stay booking through app.”

George says, “Customers use mobile apps like IHG® Hotel Deals & Rewards. IHG Mobile app makes it simple for guests to book modify, find out the hotel & resort details of InterContinental Hotel Group. It also provides history of the guests’ stay and informs him about the reward club & scores. It also shows the promotions and offers of IHG.”

Serving the Customers

Hotels are adapting mobile strategies through creating mobile websites. Technologies like QR codes (a type of matrix barcode) are now being put to use by the industry. QR codes provide a way to quickly use a smartphone to scan a code and the user is then sent directly to a web page to get more information. This is being put to use by hotels in areas such as their restaurants. In some hotels, customers can now find QR codes next to menu items, which they can scan to immediately get more information about the ingredients and the preparation of the food.

Another service provided to the customers, in some hotels is to allow them the use of smartphones in place of room keys. Some hotels are now taking the idea of smartphone use in hotels to a new level. These include:

  • Shutting the curtains in the room
  • Turning down the lights
  • Adjusting the thermostat
  • Changing the mood settings
  • Changing the TV channel
  • Activating the lifts
  • Getting access to local information

Ordering Room Service

Tooba states, “Mobile technology allows the guests to avail most of the hotel facilities in just one touch. This has helped the hotel to add value to the guest stay. We all know that human touch cannot be replaced by technology however it enhances the services offered to the guest. Guests’ instant feedback is captured for current services and future reference as well. Hence, mobile technology has not only made the guests’ stay memorable but also have helped the hotel’s team member to provide enhanced services as per guests’ taste and preferences.”

Dinesh says, “Mobile platforms allow us to ensure that the customers remain updated on the latest deals. It also allows for engaging opportunities like survey and competitions which keeps customers engaged and presents a marketing opportunity. 

At Marriott we have internal mobile applications which can be used as a database to track customers preference during previous stays within in the company, we also allow to keep all stakeholders updated for any guest complaints or feedback during the stay which can be immediately addressed.”

Divkar declares, “Hotels use mobile technology to serve customers better in the following ways: 

Sharing of up to date hotel information and promotion for the guest

Offering personalized service (room preferences /dining preferences /transport request)

Leverage of loyalty benefits and program

Providing secured payment gateway

Redeeming rewards points for hotel nights and merchandise

Creating hassle free check in and checkout

Technology Galore 

Mobile apps are only a part of the story.  In the hospitality industry technology innovations, including customer relationship management (CRM) platforms and point-of-sale (POS) tools, have come a long way. Before the term CRM was coined sales people kept journals to track customer activity and acknowledge sale through hand written thank-you notes. Before POS systems there were cash boxes, which were followed by simple cash registers, then barcodes, mobile payments and now there is cloud-based technology. 

More recently voice and natural language processing technologies have been evolved which interpret questions and deliver intelligent answers. 

Some hotels are using Augmented Reality (AR) to make hotel experience more compelling and thematic. Biometrics is another key technology that is consistently improving and finding its place within many industries. Facial recognition has been well executed by Facebook, and Apple has shown that biometrics have proven consumer benefits with Touch ID and Face ID.

Divkar disclosed, “mobility, big data social media et al are changing the needs of the customer: 

Social Media - Regular hotel update and promotion as suited to the guest choice and recommendation 

Mobility - Opportunity to allow the guest with your service and product based on their needs

Artificial Intelligence - Voice activated services in room for IRD orders, controlling the in room devices using of Apple Siri or Google Alexa or Amazon Echo”

Dinesh disclosed, “There is a significant growth among people to search in the Social platforms before booking/buying anything. f o r m different analysis we know that they rely on Google – biggest search engine and there is a growth in Youtube searching also. As most of the travelers are tech – savvy we manage to stay live and updated in every social apps. We use a mobile app called Hyp3R, which is a real time customer engagement app, helps us to get information on what goes online about the hotel. 

F o r m the past 5 years, hotels have started investing in manpower for managing their digital platforms. Either they hire digital agencies or they hire e-commerce managers and many hotel chains have a separate digital marketing team in their corporate level exclusively for e-commerce.” 

Technology is constantly evolving to help the hospitality industry provide better service to its guests while also enabling it secure better business by knowing about guests likes, dislikes and preferences.
 

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