Customer focused technology: Going mobile

By Carina Perkins contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Starwood hotels & resorts worldwide

Mobile minds: customers now expect to be able to research, book and pay for services online
Mobile minds: customers now expect to be able to research, book and pay for services online
Mobile technology offers the chance to completely revolutionise the customer experience, with clear benefits for business. In the first of this three-part focus on technology in hospitality, we look at the meteoric rise of mobile, and how operators can harness the latest technology to boost bookings.

According to the latest estimates, there are now more mobile connected devices than people on Earth. Around 61 per cent of UK mobile users now own a smartphone, and tablet sales are set to outpace PC sales by 2015. This is translating into a huge increase in mobile data traffic, which rose by 70 per cent last year and is set to grow a further 66 per cent a year for the next five years.

The rise of mobile is having a huge impact on the customer journey, with smartphone users now expecting to be able to search, book and pay for a variety of products and services on the go.

“Mobile has been the major development in customer focused technology over the past 12 months,” says David Backshall, EMEA sales director at Omnico Group.

“With more new smartphones being purchased per day globally than babies being born, businesses need to develop their strategy around mobile.”

Online hotel booking and mobile check-in

When it comes to the hospitality sector, hotels are leading charge towards mobile. This has in part been driven by the rise of online travel agencies (OTAs), whose apps and mobile sites enable customers to compare and book hotels in a few clicks.

Mobile check-in and virtual keys can streamline the customer experience
Mobile check-in and virtual keys can streamline the customer experience

According to Ariane Gorin, Expedia’s vice president of market management for EMEA, UK consumers are fast catching up to the rest of the world with their mobile booking habits, with some interesting results.

“The latest trends on mobile devices indicate that a customers’ ability to book travel from anywhere means they are taking more last minute trips,” she explains.

“Our research has found that around 70 per cent of mobile bookings are for the same or next day, compared to 22 per cent of bookings made using a desktop computer, and of these mobile bookings 36 per cent are made on a Friday or Saturday.”

Hotels are also taking matters into their own hands and developing branded apps offering a range of functions, from property searches to booking, offers and promotions, videos, maps and directions and mobile check-in and check-out.

Perhaps the most radical development has come from Starwood Hotels & Resorts, which is developing a virtual key as part of its app, allowing customers to unlock their room with their smartphone, and bypass the front desk altogether.

The company said this would ‘redefine the age-old arrival experience’, allowing for the first guest interaction with hotel associates to be personal rather than transactional.

Latest developments:

  • Starwood is trialling keyless technology​ at its Aloft hotels in Harlem, New York and Cupertino, California. The virtual key system uses Bluetooth technology and if it proves successful, it will be rolled out across Starwood’s Aloft and W hotels in 2015.
  • Thistle is rolling out Express check-in service​ across its hotel portfolio, enabling customers to check-in on their smartphones and collect their keys on arrival.
  • Marriott Hotels added mobile check-out​ to its mobile app earlier this month, meaning Marriot Reward members can now check-out at the push of a button and receive a bill by email rather than waiting at the front desk.
  • Sofitel Luxury Hotels recently launched a new mobile application which allows customers to search hotel by destination or near their current location, access bookings, search offers and promotions, view videos and galleries and contact the hotel in one click.
  • Expedia has invested more than £300m on technology over the past 12 months to improve its mobile app.

Case study:

Maria Church, owner of the Dexby Townhouse in Cardiff, says Expedia has helped her improve her mobile distribution, resulting in more bookings.

“Being located in a busy town which hosts numerous high profile stadium events, we witness the speed at which bookings are made as soon as event dates are announced,” she explains.

“Mobile technology allows people to book and confirm their stays wherever they are. We ultimately benefit from the way in which our online partners have introduced reliable methods to deliver us these types of bookings.”

Mobile reservations

Mobile booking is also becoming increasingly important for restaurants, with both own-brand and third-party apps giving customers the opportunity to reserve a table on-the-go. Shannon Arnold, director of marketing for Maitre’D, says this is part of a wider movement towards online reservation, which can boost business for hospitality venues.

Online reservations can improve customer service before the guest even arrives
Online reservations can improve customer service before the guest even arrives

“The convenience of allowing customers to view availability and book a table online, whenever they want usually leads to an increase in bookings,” she explains.

“Not only do online reservations systems make it very easy for customers to book and confirm their reservation, they make it easy to share booking information with friends, family and colleagues via social media outlets.”

In a bid to get a slice of the mobile market, several EPOS providers are now developing integrated systems which deliver online booking information directly to the till, allowing staff to effectively manage bookings and walk-ins through one system.

Latest developments:

  • Maitre’D by Posera has developed a two-way interface with online booking service and app ResDiary. The interface draws bookings data from ResDiary and sends it to the Maitre’D EPOS, so front-of-house staff can see who is expected to arrive through the till. Additionally, booking arrivals, walk-ins, meal progress, wait lists and customer-spend recorded in the EPOS system are automatically updated to ResDiary.
  • Zonal has also launched an EPOS integrated table management system, iZone Tables. The system can manage online, telephone and walk-in reservations, giving staff complete control and visibility of the dining process from sit-down to payment. Diners can be notified by SMS when their table is ready, reducing waiting times.
  • TablePouncer has teamed up with ResDiary, giving restaurants signed up to the ResDiary system the ability to offer last-minute table availability on and its app.

Case Study:

Spanish restaurants Salvador and Amanda have signed up to the ResDiary app, and manager Selina Dagger says the new partnership with TablePouncer is helping maximise turnover.

“There’s nearly always a point in the day when we know we’ll have a couple of empty tables spare,” she explains.

“We can now fill these tables through TablePouncer with a healthy profit margin and without the hassles usually associated with ‘dining deals’. The reservation appears instantly in our diary and the TablePouncer model, which charges a booking fee to the customer, ensures that no-shows are non-existent.”

For all of our articles in this customer-focused technology special feature, click here.

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