Borrow from Google to create the best hotel app possible.
Google has slowly but steadily been making headway when it comes to the travel industry, with a collection of mobile apps designed to make travel easier. Google Travel is a product capable of serving as a digital travel agent or trip planner and more. It exemplifies the concept of mobile-first as well, due to the heavy use of mobile by travelers.
Here are some takeaways from Google for developing a better hotel app.
Ease of use is key to gaining and keeping users for a hotel app, or really any app at that. Being able to navigate an app without confusion is a major draw, and this should be kept in mind during the hotel app development process.
Google is a master of online search, being the go-to Internet search engine of choice for so long now, and their travel features reflect this. Various search filters can be applied by travelers looking to plan a trip or perform mobile hotel bookings, such as location, price and hotel type. These make it extremely easy for users of Google’s apps to find exactly what they want quickly and efficiently.
What better reason could there be for guests to use a hotel app than saving money? It adds incentive to taking the time to download and retain an app if there are exclusives offered through it that can’t be found on a company’s website or through a third party.
To note, Google even sends notifications to travelers about when great prices are available for their desired flights and hotels. The additional convenience shows true thoughtfulness for improving the user experience, and hospitality should be all about exceptional guest experience, no matter the channel or method through which it’s delivered. Convenience and financial discounts will no doubt increase the appeal and result in a better hotel app.
Complete Travel Experience Management
Google Travel features don’t focus solely on mobile hotel booking. Travelers can also access flight information, maps and directions, suggestions for building a vacation itinerary, and more.
A hotel app can be more useful if it presents multi-dimensional features that focus on the full travel experience, even before or after a guest’s stay. Incorporating useful information, such as flight information, maps, social media access, and hotel concierge recommendations for exploring the local area, will delight hotel app users and give them a reason to open a hotel app time and time again.
If there’s one inspiring takeaway from Google Travel (or Google in general) it’s the value of constant innovation. In order to develop the best hotel app, it’s necessary to experiment and take risks, not just follow the crowd. Thinking outside the box and jumping on leading trends can be difficult to justify, but being a hotel technology leader can pay off in the long run with modern guests who appreciate the conveniences afforded by digital amenities.
Will artificial intelligence find a place in hotels as an in-room virtual concierge?
A recent article, “Talking Technology: is this what hotel guests really want?” brings to light a potential future hospitality technology trend that is still in its infancy. Voice assistant technology, such as Apple’s Siri and Google Now, has emerged as a next-step development for mobile technology.
The article states:
“In the not too distant future, you will be able to lie on your bed in a hotel room and control room features and services entirely with voice commands. The technology behind this is already available. Many homes already have an Amazon Echo, an Internet-connected voice interface that connects you with Amazon’s Alexa voice service, providing on-demand music, TV, audio books, travel information and many other services through simple voice commands.”
Automation and artificial intelligence in hotels have received a fair amount of attention, especially with the emergence of robot hotels. Having a virtual hotel room assistant takes this current hotel technology trend to the next level, one that could be even more immediately impactful than robots in hotels.
Many hotels have in-room iPads or tablets installed that are capable of providing hotel room automation features, or room controls. From the comfort of their bed, guests can use a hotel room tablet to control the lights, temperature, drapes and more.
Voice technology takes this further. Devices with virtual voice assistants, such as the paired Amazon Echo and Alexa voice command platform, would allow guests to bypass picking up the touchscreen tablets for automated hotel room controls. They could simply say what they wanted aloud.
Available commands could also be expanded. For instance, Amazon’s Alexa can already be asked to give information about news and weather, play music, provide traffic reports. Imagine the possibilities of this talking technology in a hotel room of the future.
It would be like having a virtual concierge in the hotel room at all times available to serve the guest.
The virtual hotel concierge (think Siri or Alexa) would likely be able to improve the guest experience and become central to smart hotel rooms of the future, similar to how the Amazon Echo is being called by some the “Center of the Smart Home.” It could be a key piece of the hotel Internet of Things, providing easy control over numerous devices.
Hotels could personify the virtual hotel concierge for branding purposes instead of using the familiar names of Siri or Alexa. Different hotel brands could have different names for their in-room virtual concierge to create a more personalized experience for their guests.
Commands will be spoken directly to this virtual concierge, placing orders, making requests, or asking for information. There would be no delay in response, similar to the convenience of using in-room touchscreen tablets in hotel rooms now but with voice activations.
Consumer reviews of AI assistants have been very positive so far, but the day when we’ll see this type of talking technology fully embedded into hotel rooms is likely still far off.
Hotel in-room tablets and touchscreen control panels are the most advanced options widely embraced by hospitality as a means of providing guests with the conveniences of hotel room automation. The widespread popularity of touchscreen tablets like the iPad and the falling prices of the hardware have contributed to this hotel technology trend, as well as the improvements to the guest experience in-room tablets carry. They even contribute to the hotel AAA Diamond ratings.
Eccleston Square Hotel, known as one of the world’s most high-tech hotels, boasts a variety of cutting-edge hotel room technology, including in-room tablets with the INTELITY hospitality technology platform. But James Byrne, manager at luxury London hotel Eccleston Square Hotel, is quoted in the EyeforTravel article as being skeptical of how guests would respond to virtual voice assistants in hotels.
“I’m not sure this would work for all guests. Some might even find it frustrating,” Byrne said.
INTELITY CTO Chris Grey echoes the sentiment but believes this might appear on future hospitality technology trend lists. “It’s not hard to imagine a hotel guest speaking their requests aloud with phrases like, ‘Housekeeping, please bring me extra towels,’ or ‘Room Service, I’d like the Caesar salad at 7 o’clock please.’ The only significant unknown is whether guests will have concerns that microphones are present in their room.”
Why Pokémon Go could mean the future of augmented and virtual reality in hotels is a promising one.
You’re a rarity if you haven’t yet fallen prey to the addictiveness of the new Pokémon Go app or heard about its effects on the world around you.
The concept behind Pokémon, a media franchise that was created in 1995, is fairly simple. There are creatures in the world called Pokémon that people, called “Trainers,” try to catch. The Pokémon Go app is a game that allows app users to become Trainers and find Pokémon in locations all around them using augmented reality (AR). Their smartphones provide information to the app about the user’s geography, including location and time, which impacts gameplay.
The augmented reality app was released on Android and iPhone in limited countries by The Pokémon Company, (partially owned by Nintendo) and developer Niantic on July 6, and within 5 days it had been downloaded more than 7.5 million times. That’s more than popular dating app Tinder and nearly more than social media platform Twitter. More average time is spent on Pokémon Go than is spent on several other leading mobile apps, including WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook.
Not only did people download it, but early figures are also showing the app has strong user retention (a modern marvel when one in four users abandon an app after only one use). More than 60 percent of people who have downloaded the app in the U.S. use it on a daily basis.
It’s become more than a game for many people. It’s an obsession.
And more than that, it shows just how popular the new technology trend of augmented reality, or if you take it a step further, virtual reality, could become in the near future.
Augmented reality is the mixing of a fabricated, digital world and reality. Unlike virtual reality, which immerses the user completely in a 3-D digital world through the use of hardware such as a headset, augmented reality adds such elements into the real world. For example, with Pokémon Go, users “see” Pokémon around them through their smartphone screen.
Both augmented and virtual reality technology are seen as up-and-coming game changers, and leading technology companies are investing in both, including Facebook, Google, Apple, and Samsung.
Virtual reality in hotels is not a completely new concept either. So far, the application of virtual reality in hospitality has primarily been for the purpose of showcasing guest rooms and other areas of properties to travelers before they arrive.
For instance, the Best Western Virtual Reality Experience provides 360-degree VR views through hardware such as Oculus Rift or Samsung Gear VR. The hotel brand virtual reality feature was created by utilizing 1.7 million property photos and Google Street View.
In an article, Best Western CMO Dorothy Dowling said, “To go that next step before they go, and actually map out a lot of those things in their mind before they arrive, I think is going to be transformative for the business.”
Other hospitality brands with virtual reality projects available include Starwood, Marriott, Shangri-La Hotels, Carlson Rezidor and Holiday Inn Express.
“Shangri-La is investing significantly in technology and the future of travel content, which is why we are embracing virtual reality on this scale…VR is a revolutionary new sales tool. The technology has evolved so that it is now affordable, light and portable.”
As part of its Travel Brilliantly campaign, Marriott went a step further than virtual reality hotel tours to offer travelers the opportunity to view VR postcards of stories and experiences around the world on Samsung virtual reality hardware.
But the uses of augmented and virtual reality in hotels has great potential for expansion.
Imagine having relaxation sessions added to the list of services available at the spa, where guests could choose to be virtually immersed in a new environment, such as a beach or a hot spring, during a treatment. Or virtual reality fitness classes that guests could watch and participate in from the comfort of their hotel room.
Virtual reality in hotel rooms could mean expanded hotel in-room entertainment options, with guests able to actually feel like they’re part of movies, shows or games rather than just watching on a 2-D hotel TV.
Hotels could also allow guests to use augmented or virtual reality in guest rooms to browse items they’d like to purchase, whether in-room dining items or gift shop souvenirs, before placing orders. The items could appear virtually to the guests using various hardware or even smartphones (similar to how Pokémon “appear” on smartphones using augmented reality) to give them a 3-D, realistic shopping experience in their hotel room without having to go to a different location.
The rise of Pokémon Go could just be the fad of the moment, but it could also foreshadow a future of augmented or virtual reality as mainstream technologies. If AR and VR technology continue to rise in popularity, especially as developers find other creative applications beyond games, they could become commonplace elements within society, in the same way, that smartphones and mobile technology have.
And once that happens, hotels will have to embrace this innovation, as with any other technology that travelers come to expect as part of their daily lives. Augmented and virtual reality technology in hotel rooms as a standard could be just around the corner.
Image courtesy of Twitter account @HyattRegencySA.
There was a record attendance at HITEC 2016, and anyone who was present will tell you it was a flurry of sights and sounds. From awesome robots, like Savioke’s Relay the Robot, to a range of upcoming start-ups in the HITEC Entrepreneur 20X showcase, there were a large number of exhibitors at this hospitality technology conference covering a range of products and services, from hotel WiFi to hotel keyless room entry solutions to hotel staff uniforms. With so much going on, it was hard to pick out the dominant hospitality technology trends this year, but here are a few that stood out.
Guest Engagement Technology
This could be considered a very broad category, but guest engagement is the main focus for hospitality right now due to increased competition and dwindling guest loyalty. Hotel technology has become a key competitive differentiator, and there were a number of HITEC exhibitors showcasing ways hotels could improve appeal with guest-facing technology.
Mobile was the strong underlying theme of the majority of guest engagement technology being showcased, which makes sense given that 9 out of 10 modern travelers around the globe reportedly don’t take a leisure or business trip without at least one mobile device with them. Mobile has become invaluable for business to reach customers, regardless of industry.
Using mobile for direct and text messaging guests was a recurring topic of discussion, with hoteliers taking interest in expanded methods of reaching guests through mobile technology. David Temple, CEO & co-founder of Hello Scout (a HITEC Entrepreneur 20X participant), gave a presentation during this year’s HITEC 2016 Tech Talks focused on the benefits of text messaging hotel guests. According to David, messaging apps now have higher usage than social media apps. One of the benefits of hotel guest messaging is the extreme personal connection this enables hotel staff to have with guests, he added.
Interest among hoteliers was also in how these guest-facing technologies could provide insight into guest behavior and preferences through a collection of Big Data in hotels.
Hotel WiFi & Connectivity
Strong WiFi has been one of the most important aspects of hotel technology for years, and that hasn’t changed. But as travelers increasingly pack a wider variety of devices, such as smartphones and tablets, it’s put more demand on hotels when it comes to supporting guest connectivity needs.
Daran Hermans, the senior product manager with Zebra Technologies, said, “It all has to do with the mobile devices that guests bring into the hotels. They’ve changed completely. Not only the devices have changed, but they’ve also changed the way the network and the hotel operators have to respond to that.”
Daran identifies the introduction of the iPad as one example of a new technology that impacted connectivity in hotels by altering WiFi demands. Hotel networks weren’t designed to accommodate the use of tablets and mobile technology. Networks had to become more powerful as guests began carrying more mobile devices.
“The trend line is going toward putting one access point in every single hotel room and getting very personal with wireless,” he said.
Mobile technology and the BYOD trend among hotel guests have created other changes in hotel network needs.
Daran said, “Repeatedly hoteliers are saying I’ve got really bad cellular coverage inside my hotel.’ And we all understand that. Newer LTE phones actually don’t work as well, don’t have as good coverage as the older 3G technology did. So one of the trends that have happened to solve that problem is all the major U.S. based cellular carriers are all supporting voice over wireless LAN.”
“So between [these major carriers], your phone calls are now running over WiFi, they’re not even running over the cellular network anymore. That means now you have great cellular voice coverage inside your hotel. Now that’s a great trend. It’s great for me as a WiFi vendor because it really means that now we get to design products that work really well with those voice over wireless LAN type phones that guests are going to be bringing into hotels.”
Hospitality Cloud Technology
Hospitality has got its head in the clouds, and there are a growing number of hotels currently in the process of or interested in migration to the cloud. There are numerous benefits to the industry that come with the shift, including diminished internal hotel IT support needed to maintain onsite systems.
Tom Cook, the marketing manager of Evolve Guest Controls, said he thinks cloud technology in hotels will be a primary focus moving forward. “Trending in hospitality you’re going to see a lot of reduced onsite infrastructure and a major shift into the cloud.”
“It’s slowly making its way into hospitality. Renovation cycles, new construction, and if there’s a way to reduce onsite infrastructure and offer managed services and cloud services, I believe that’s going to be [a trend] in the next five years, in tandem with the Internet of Things and Big Data.”
Hotel Internet of Things
It’s a phrase you can expect to hear repeatedly this year, and it’s possibly the biggest hospitality technology term being discussed at the moment. It was certainly one of the hottest topics at HITEC 2016, with a number of speakers leading sessions on it.
Dr. Ajay “AJ” Aluri, the assistant professor at West Virginia University, presented a Tech Talk about the hospitality Internet of Things, during which he said surveys show that people are interested in value-added experiences in hospitality as a result of the hotel Internet of Things. In time, this trend will create demand for fast, convenient accessibility of automated functions.
He also said IoT will increase the importance of hotel integration between multiple systems in order to have seamless interaction between various devices and systems. If data can’t be fluidly communicated through these hotel system integrations, it could cause disruptions to the guest experience that would potentially decrease guest satisfaction.
In a corresponding special report for HFTP, Ajay wrote this bit of advice for hoteliers wondering about how to prepare for the coming of IoT: “The first step to the future of IoT among businesses is to embrace the Internet and Wi-Fi as the source of valuable consumer data for creating new customer experiences, no longer just for customer personal use.”
A shift is necessary for the hospitality industry. Hoteliers must embrace all the existing hotel technology trends that are widely available, and also become more open-minded and swift when it comes to adoption of emerging hospitality technologies that hold potential to allow businesses to thrive in a modern, connected age of travel.
Contact us today to learn more about our complete hospitality technology platform.
The benefits of hotel mobile apps are a hot debate throughout the industry. A sampling of those benefits includes Improved guest satisfaction, more efficient staff interactions, and better communication with guests, all of which increase a hotel’s competitive advantage. Yet, while leveraging mobile to result in increasing guest satisfaction and operational efficiency is a top priority when implementing mobile technology in hotels, increasing revenue through the use of mobile apps can also be a major part of justifying the investment. When used correctly, hotel apps can maximize revenue in order to provide significant ROI.
This is the most straightforward method to generate revenue from mobile apps. Allowing for mobile hotel room reservations is a primary source where hotels can create profit. With hotel bookings on smartphones rising (including 65 percent of same-day bookings), mobile reservations are a lucrative and sensible feature to enable when seeking to generate revenue through a hospitality app.
And booking room reservations don’t have to be the end of it. Hoteliers can also generate revenue by allowing for in-app booking for other hotel amenities, such as hotel spa services, golf or sports activities, restaurant reservations, in-room dining, and more.
Mobile Ads and Marketing
The benefit of guests utilizing a hotel app is that it gives hoteliers the opportunity to market directly to guests through a channel that is always on and always in the palm of a guest’s hand.
Push notifications give hoteliers an increased reach to market their services to their guests and the ability to provide consistent reminders and prompts to app users. Implementing advertisements into a hotel app is also an effective and clever way to generate revenue when done in a way that isn’t disruptive to the user experience. Hoteliers can boost revenue through pay-per-click or banner ads embedded in mobile apps.
Enabling guests to act on these prompts and mobile ads through in-app purchasing features can be very lucrative, as 76 percent of profits from apps stem from these types of purchases.
Hotels can take advantage of partnering with local companies to maximize available space through a mobile app. Allowing these partners to seamlessly advertise on the hotel app interface for a fee can generate revenue for you and provide guests with information about relevant services, such as local boutiques. It’s important to select partners that enhance the existing brand image or provide significant benefit to a hotel’s most common demographic of guests, though.
As the landscape of the hospitality industry is shifting to focus more on mobile technology in response to guests who are demanding more sophisticated digital engagement during travel, developing apps that are functional on multiple levels and provide an ROI that offsets investment is growing more important as well.
For more information about how to generate revenue with a hotel app and determine the ROI of hospitality mobile technology, explore our mobile solutions or schedule a demo with a member of our team.
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.