Can mobile apps make for happy hotel guests?

 —  Article by Suchi Rudra
Preparing for travel,reservation ticket close-up, mobile phone
Image credit: Shutterstock

For today’s tech savvy and time poor consumers, using a wide variety of apps to manage their daily activities has become second nature.

Their business and leisure trips are no exception – especially as the hotel industry increases the quantity and quality of its mobile offerings to improve the guest experience.

Most major hotel chains now offer a mobile app that takes care of room bookings, check-in, room service and check-out—in fact, hotels are projecting that as many as half of their reservations will soon be made through their mobile app.

Lauro Ferroni, JLL’s head of hotel research, says that there’s an incredibly high adoption rate of the mobile app in the industry, and it’s being used for a variety of services to improve accessibility and convenience.

“You basically have less interaction with the front desk. You won’t have to call to say you’re arriving late or traveling with a dog—you can just text the hotel through the app. It’s not all working 100 percent perfectly yet, but it’s absolutely the future of the industry.”

The soon to open Arrive Hotel in Palm Springs will offer a mobile app that allows guests to use their smartphone or Apple Watch for check in and as a room key—like the SPG Keyless system that Starwood Hotels already has in place in many of its properties. Virgin Hotel in Chicago has a mobile app that also allows control of in-room features like lights and temperature, while Delta Hotel in Toronto has partnered with Samsung to provide guests a complete smart room experience: a smart desk and a smart TV—which doubles as a menu for hotel services—are both controlled from the guest’s smartphone or tablet.

Taking it one step further, Singapore start-up GTRIIP is working with hotels in the US and several south Asian countries to utilize the iPhone’s biometric capabilities to streamline the check-in process.

And the mobile app is making life easier for the business traveler too, proving extremely useful with large groups who arrive for meetings and conferences. Marriott and Starwood have each introduced a meeting services mobile app to offer 24/7 help access via chat, with other major hotel brands soon to follow suit.

Ferroni suggests that hotels with solid mobile app usage can already reap the savings of reducing staff in certain departments.

“There’s potential for labor savings, although that generally hasn’t been quantified yet. But in theory, hotels can benefit by staffing fewer people in departments where a lot of phone calls are being received and instead cross-training certain team members to run the text message interface.”

Walking the hi tech tightrope

Luxury properties were among the first to provide new technology in an effort to impress. Some installed a portable device in the room during the past ten years through which the guest can control various room features like the temperature, lights and curtains.

“But that kind of device is old-fashioned,” Ferroni notes, “and costly. And being thought of as old-fashioned is the last thing that a hotel wants. People get turned off if the hotel is more old-fashioned than the house in which they live. If the hotel is not as nice as where you live, then why go?

“Today, it’s about making use of the guest’s own smartphone, rather than installing separate and costly hardware in the room,” he adds.

Indeed, a tech-centric guest experience is still a selling point for higher-end hotels. “This is a way for luxury hotel brands to appeal specifically to affluent and/or younger demographics both of which index high in mobile use and appreciation of ‘low-touch luxury,” Eleanor Powers, insight director at business intelligence firm L2 tells Luxury Daily.

“In addition, millennial travelers are less likely to become loyalty program members so mobile-based in-stay services are an enticing way to attract this demographic group beyond standard rewards and discounts.”

Keeping on top of tech

The need for technology upgrades to offer the most current experience can present a large challenge for hotels. Many hotels use web-based apps which require a good signal wifi signal throughout the building – a critical factor in the modern guest experience. A report by Hotel Internet Services found that poor wifi strength could prevent guests from returning.

Ferroni adds that there is also the risk of alienating a sector of customers who, although they may own a smartphone, prefer face-to-face customer service during their hotel stay.

With hotels ramping up their mobile app menu of services, they’ll need to maintain a careful balance of the newest technology with good, old-fashioned courtesy.

“As the trend toward tech-centric hotels becomes mainstream, every face-to-face interaction between guests and hotel staff from front desk associates to housekeeping room attendants will have to be that much more outstanding, gracious and courteous,” he says.

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