Skift Take

If mobile is increasingly becoming a more popular channel, not only for booking and search but also for in-destination travel experiences, this report is proof that hotels have a lot of work to do when it comes to their apps.

Most of the hotel apps out there aren’t worth downloading onto your smartphones. At least that’s what researchers from business intelligence firm L2 Inc. found when they conducted a recent survey of 311 hotel brand apps.

While hotel apps are abundant, very few are considered useful or essential. “L2 research found that the majority of hotel apps don’t crack the list of the top travel apps in the iTunes App Store, nor have they even been updated in 2017,” said Michael Silverman, senior client strategist at L2 Inc. “Only 14 percent of apps reviewed ranked in the top 1,500 apps in their native categories in the past year.”

Worse yet, only “34 percent of apps haven’t been updated since 2016 and 20 percent haven’t been updated since 2015 or earlier, which we call ‘left for dead,'” Silverman added.

And while there are, he said, “a lot of interesting, in-stay experiences that some hotel apps offer — from keyless entry and ordering room service to streaming Netflix on your TV — currently most hotel apps with in-stay functionality only allow you to book your hotel reservation or message the concierge.”

Of the original 311 apps L2 looked at, only 57 percent (178) were considered to be “core apps” that handle at least one of the following functions: in-stay services, loyalty connections, and booking. Of those 178 apps, only 6 percent could do all three.

The Best & The Worst Hotel Apps

More often than not, what gave a particular hotel app an edge over others related to functionality.

“The best hotel apps that meet user needs are the ones that handle booking, in-stay experiences, and loyalty management all in one,” Silverman noted. “L2 found only 11 of these apps which, unsurprisingly, include the major hotel groups: Marriott, IHG, and SPG.”

Robert Cole, the founder of RockCheetah, a hotel marketing strategy and travel technology consulting firm, said that “having it [different functions] all together makes a lot of sense but you have all these tradeoffs, too.” Why? “Companies need to appeal to the lowest common denominator and then they often wind up with a milk-toast brochure which just isn’t very exciting or compelling or engaging, but has some base level of functionality.”

That may be the reason, he suggested, why some hotel companies thought it was a good idea to have brand-specific apps. But Cole concluded that ultimately it’s better, especially for larger players, to have apps that are multi-purpose, multi-brand, and connected to loyalty. The L2 research found that just 10 percent of the core apps included loyalty capabilities.

Cole said the fact that such a small sliver of the 178 core apps handled loyalty was a “head scratcher” and “a big gap.”

“If you look at all the things that hotels have been doing to get more loyalty members and get them to book direct, why aren’t they trying to engage those members through their apps?” he said “These are some concerning numbers here.”

While the majority of apps reviewed by L2 had very little functionality, Silverman did point out that two apps, in particular, had a variety of features that made them more valuable to guests.

“Aside from these all-in-one apps, the Radisson RED and Virgin Hotels apps were our favorites that featured a broad range of digital control elements, from messaging hotel staff to ordering food, either to your room or to go,” Silverman said.

Messaging, as Skift noted last year, is a function some major hotel companies are beginning to add onto their mobile apps.

Cole concurred, saying the best hotel apps he’s seen are able to do more than book a room. They’re often tied into global positioning systems (GPS), offer mobile check-in, enable phones to become room keys, and let you pick a specific hotel room (like Hilton’s app already does).

The worst apps, Silverman said, are those with the least functionality or those that are developed for a single hotel location or property. “L2 found 31 of these apps that serve as no more than digital versions of in-room hotel guest services brochures,” Silverman said. “Also, a lot of the stale or left for dead apps that haven’t been updated in 2017 are not helpful for hotel guests, as they can contain broken app elements and outdated information.”

Cole noted that a possible reason why hotels may not be updating their apps as often as they should is because it’s a big investment, especially when you’re developing apps for usage across multiple devices.

Cole also wondered if L2 had considered whether or not the apps offered the ability to seamlessly share content on social media channels in its review.

What Hotels Should Be Doing With Their Apps

In addition to cutting down on the number of apps they have and beefing up the functionality of those apps that remain, L2 said that hotel companies should be just as focused on marketing their apps as they are in building better apps.

L2 found that Apple App Store Search Ads appear against 94 percent of unbranded luxury hotel queries, but the majority of hotel brands reviewed by L2 are not yet paying for any ads, meaning it’s often harder for consumers to know that these apps even exist.

“The travel category is extremely competitive when it comes to mobile apps, and hotel brands need to step up their game,” Silverman concluded. “In order to remain relevant in the saturated travel space, hotel brands should be consolidating their apps into one per brand, updating those apps frequently, and begin buying Search Ads on the iTunes App Store.”

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Tags: hotel marketing, mobile apps, virgin hotels

Photo credit: L2 singled out the Virgin Hotels app as an example of a particularly good hotel mobile app thanks to its multi-purpose functionality. Virgin Hotels

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