Marketing a Hotel App: Hilton Waikoloa Village

It might seem obvious, but there’s no point to developing a hotel’s mobile app, or any hotel technology if no one uses it. It can be a challenge to get people to download an app, though, with so many competing for their time and attention.

We recently had a talk with Leanne Pletcher, Director of Marketing Communications at Hilton Waikoloa Village in Hawaii, about successfully marketing a hotel app. The property’s app is currently one of the top 5 most downloaded out of all INTELITY-created hotel apps. In the following interview, Leanne explained how the hotel has found success in getting guests to download and engage through the app.

Did you have a strategy laid out in advance of launching the hotel’s mobile app at your property, or did you develop one as you went along?

Several years ago we determined that we needed an app for the resort. Part of this determination was based on what our competition was already doing. We had unique goals since our resort property is truly a destination in itself with an incredible range of services and activities.

For our guests, we have found that maps and directions are very important because our property is on 62 acres and is approximately one mile from one end to the other. With the app, we wanted to increase guest convenience by including restaurant menus, and contacts for our various services including Kohala Spa and the Luau. We recently added links to OpenTable for dining reservations at our two signature restaurants, KPC and Imari. The support of Hilton Hotels and Resorts helped, as well.

Which social media channels are the hotel active on and how have these been useful in increasing guest usage of the hotel’s mobile app?

We’re very active on a wide variety of social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube and Google+. We had the honor of being selected as the top property for social media engagement in 2013 out of all the Hilton Hotels and Resorts properties in the Americas. We do post about our INTELTY app from time-to-time to give our followers more options for resort information. Our social media posts tend to focus more on our location, events, activities and captivating imagery. We find that our posts get a lot of engagement that way.

What has the guest response to the app been? Have you faced any apprehension from guests who are resistant to digital amenities, and how have you addressed that?

It’s been very positive from the guests who do communicate with us, and we do find most of our guests are pretty tech-savvy. We haven’t really encountered any resistance.

I think in general the app is great to have as another option for our guests to learn about what is available on property. When a guest is checking in, our challenge is presenting our wide range of services and activities without taking too much time. It helps to expedite the check-in process if we can direct the “tech-savvy” guest to the hotel app, as well as our website for information.

Our concierge team finds the app to be a useful tool to share with guests, as well. The app gives us another tool to educate our guests, in addition to our website, the social media postings, and printed activities calendars that are placed in all the guest rooms. We actually do see a number of guests on property checking their smartphones for information, too.

Has your Marketing team been involved in the design and image of the hotel app? How does the content you select impact guest usage?

Our Marketing team did take the lead on developing and managing the hotel’s mobile app. We focused on using high-quality images because that generates more interest in going from screen to screen, as well as increases the chances that the guest will want to experience what they see. We have found this leads to increased revenue, too. For example, the guest may see the KPC restaurant sunset shot on the app and decide they really need to make a reservation through the OpenTable link.

We also link our app content to the website content so that everything can be updated at once. Because the resort is continually updating events, menus, and activities this feature has been extremely helpful in ensuring consistent information among all of our technical communications.

How would you say the app has changed your hotel’s relationship with guests or the ability to market to them?

The app has been extremely instrumental as another resort information resource for our guests. It has introduced our resort team and our guests to the possibilities of technology. We realize that there is still potential for more growth within the app, too.

It’s not an interactive app at this time. It’s purely informational. Eventually, we’d like to have it interactive to help with the guest experience. The way we look at it is it’s another point of digital content, and it supplements our website and our social media presence for our guests. We’re able to keep consistency with all of our digital marketing platforms.

Overall, what have you learned since the hotel app’s launch and what would you recommend to other hotels looking to market a new mobile app?

Probably the most important aspect is to keep it up-to-date and consistent. Guests will notice if the website has a different message or content than the app, which will raise questions.

Also, keeping the various channels linked to each other and making sure everything is working together ensures that our guests get reliable and helpful information. We’ve learned, too, that our guests really do use this as a tool and find it very resourceful. And we certainly enjoy working with INTELITY.