Hotel Bookings on Mobile – Lessons from China and what it could mean for Indian Hoteliers

With the advancement in technology and changes in user behavior, hotel industry dynamics are changing constantly. Many customers pre-book their entire trips online rather than go to a traditional travel agent. Mobile hotel bookings have been growing exponentially in recent years as consumers become ‘smarter’ with smart phones.
There is no doubt that China has been a success story for mobile hotel bookings. CTrip, the leading online travel agency in China, has seen phenomenal growth in recent years. In fact, Forbes reported an article on the success story of CTrip describing the journey of the company as “remarkable” According to Yahoo Finance “Ctrip’s mobile platform contributed to over 40% of total hotel booking transactions at its peak level, which exceeded the respective booking percentages from its websites and call centers. Mobile is becoming the key booking platform for Ctrip.”
Likewise, Elong, the closest rival to CTrip, has also developed its own mobile application that helps potential clients to easily book desired products. Hotel companies, after cleverly targeting their audience, are now launching their own apps that help bring in direct customers.

HotelMarketing.com writes in an article, “Several hotels have built their website and apps in such a way that it provides a complete guide to travelers during their stay. The mobile is a personal device and one can access it all the time. Thus, apps that provide mobile bookings should be the strategy of hotels for the coming years. It’s only going to increase from here.”
Tnooz, a leading newsletter focused on travel reports, “Talking of mobile penetration in China, 98% travelers carry at least one mobile phone. According to a survey by PhocusWright, it is estimated that, by 2015, more than 20% online bookings will be via mobiles.”
“Thus, the mobile booking tendency is trending in China and is likely to increase further. Also, the travel industry in China is worth around smashing $100 billion. However, mobile hotel booking in China is at an emerging stage at around $218.4 million,”
India is not far behind in this sector and Chindia (China & India) together are the fastest growing mobile markets in the world. Travelers in India as well are following the footprints of their Chinese counterparts, and now they too prefer online bookings over traditional booking methods.
India is a large country with almost 67 million Smartphone users in 2013. Indians are becoming increasingly inclined towards online booking as it has made life easy for them. (http://techcircle.vccircle.com/2013/05/30/india-has-67m-smartphone-users-desi-netizens-more-open-to-sharing-everything-online-mary-meeker/)
MakeMyTrip, India’s largest online travel company carried out a survey recently and found that 97% Indians would prefer to book hotels online. Also, about 77% of people have already reserved their travel plans online through OTAs. 40% Indian travelers had booked last-minute hotels for the same day check-ins. About 14% Indians have used mobile applications for hotel-booking. (http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/industry-and-economy/info-tech/indian-travellers-prefer-online-booking-for-hotels-makemytrip/article4973705.ece)
The survey also reveals that Indians don’t care about the brand value as much as they do for price, location and service. As per respondents of the survey, the most influencing factor for Indians while making an online booking is price. The least influential factor for Indian travelers is the brand value of the hotel; they don’t care if they are in Taj or any unbranded luxury hotel, as long as they provide same facilities.
All said and done, mobile bookings in India are going to boom in the near future and we are going to see a lot of travel industry experts revolving their marketing strategies around mobile phone bookings.

So what should you do as a hotelier to ensure that you do not miss out on this opportunity?

Responsive design website– The first thing that a hotel needs to have is a website that is optimized for mobile bookings. The mobile consumer is looking for an experience that is simple and ensures that bookings happen in a few clicks. Consumption of content on mobile is different from traditional desktop sites therefore if a hotel does not have a site that adapts for mobile consumers it would lose out on this very important segment of travelers. If 40% of the consumers are booking last-minute and around 20% on mobile, it is a good idea to see how a hotel’s website behaves on both Android and IOS platforms. Also ensure that location and user ratings come out clearly in the first few clicks and pictures are large and represent the key aspects of the hotel- the room, the lobby and the facilities.

Easy cancellation policy – Have an easy cancellation policy for last-minute mobile deals. As a hotelier you are well aware of the pick up of bookings and if you feel that your rooms are going to go empty, might as well take a chance and have a margin for a few no shows. Having a flexible cancellation policy is one of the key things that guests look for and having non-refundable rates here is a bad idea.

Mobile only rates – once you have a good platform that allows your customers to book easily, it is a good idea to experiment by offering mobile only rates to customers on-the-go. This could get you some incremental business that was not coming to your hotel in the first place and would add to your occupancy.

Participate in last-minute deal programs – Sites like MakeMyTrip and Booking.com are working hard to capture the last-minute customer. Do participate in their last- Continue reading

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