Options Expanding For Mobile Hotel Bookings

By Michael B. Baker

The palm of your hand may be the most convenient place to book at hotel room, but risks to travel procurement programs of mobile booking include deteriorated data and compromised compliance. Still, negotiated corporate rates increasingly are available in mobile channels.

Mobile booking of hotel is going to happen because employees are going to make it happen,” Rearden Commerce senior director of product marketing Becky Waller said. “If you look at the rise of tablets and better web interfaces, travelers are going to expect to be able to do it, so travel managers need to embrace it and find a model that works.”

Many mobile hotel booking technologies are being designed with the travel buyer in mind. GetThere, for example, earlier this year updated its mobile services to allow travelers to shop for and book hotels in line with corporate policies. It uses HTML5 technology, meaning travelers need not download an application or constantly update in order to use it.

Rearden by year-end plans to launch technology capable of originating hotel bookings, Waller said.

Up And Running With Corp. Rates

In the meantime, several multi-brand hotel companies aggressively are developing and marketing their own apps. InterContinental Hotels Group in the past few months launched a series of iPhone apps for all seven of its brands—Candlewood Suites, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Hotel Indigo, InterContinental and Staybridge Suites—through which travelers can check rates, book rooms and track reservations. The good news for travel buyers is that each app can provide travelers with corporate negotiated rates, as long as the corporate ID field is filled in, according to an IHG spokeswoman.

Other chains have similar capabilities. Hyatt Hotels Corp. allows travelers to access corporate and group rates through its iPhone app, as does Starwood Hotels & Resorts via apps for W Hotels and Starwood Preferred Guest. Choice Hotels International and Marriott International also allow travelers to enter corporate codes through their mobile sites to access negotiated rates.

Even with access to negotiated rates, however, these mobile capabilities present a new set of challenges to travel buyers. Mobile bookings through hotel apps are harder to capture on the front end, making it difficult for companies to track travelers for security purposes through booking data. In such cases, companies might have to tighten mandates in booking channels or find a way to adapt to changing traveler booking preferences.

Setting Priorities

“Travel managers will have to prioritize,” Waller said. “They might have to restrict booking to some apps or change reimbursement rules.”

Even those with tight policies in place need to monitor how the proliferation of mobile hotel booking affects traveler behavior in the long term. Travel Tech Consulting president Norm Rose said it stands as one of the biggest threats to managed travel programs.

IHG, for instance, reported that its mobile bookings are growing rapidly, with more mobile bookings during the first five months of this year than throughout 2010. Almost two-thirds of guests booking through mobile devices stay the same night or the next day, according to IHG. That jibes with mounting data showing most mobile hotel bookings are made within 24 hours of a stay, Rose said. Many corporate programs encourage booking hotels earlier in advance, as travelers run the risk of having preferred rates not be available if they book last-minute in high-volume cities.

“It is unclear whether this is an anomaly based on the early adopters using these tools or whether this is a permanent shift in consumer hotel buying behavior,” Rose said. “It is also unclear whether these are corporate travelers, SME travelers or leisure guests; either way, this is something the corporate travel community needs to monitor.”

Additionally, travelers using mobile devices in conjunction with hotel loyalty programs could be inundated with direct marketing from hotels, such as special offers and upgrades, Rose said. Such offers could encourage them to buy counter to company policy.

Read this article on Business Travel news

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Posted on August 16, 2011, in Luxury Brand Influence and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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