Smartphone hotel bookings lag behind research, why?

Mobile, and in particular, Smartphones are clearly having a huge impact on the travel industry. This article, Overcoming the Mobile Research-Booking Gap, shares some interesting stats on how smartphone users are using their smartphones to research travel, but doing their booking elsewhere.  Mobile is not just being used as a channel to fill last minute hotel rooms, but as a research tool for many travel planners.

This year roughly 36 million Americans will use a smartphone to research travel, and that number is expected to double by 2016. Meanwhile, smartphone bookings will reach 15.8 million and jump to 36.3 million by 2016.

These booking numbers are not something to brush off… hotels and hotel brands that are catching on to mobile are reaping the rewards. For example, Carlson and InterContinental Hotels Group are optimizing for mobile and seeing the results. Recently, IHG saw mobile revenue rise from $1 million to around $10 million in just 12 months.  Think Apartments, provider of luxury London apartment-style accommodations, saw a 200% increase of traffic to their mobile website, a 400% increase of mobile revenue and a 40% increase to their conversion rate after implementing a mobile website.

Despite this, some travel marketers are still questioning if they should be investing heavily into mobile optimized websites. The answer is obviously yes.

Hotel marketers need to ensure they are giving consumers a fully optimized experience through all stages of the booking process – dreaming, planning, booking, experiencing and sharing. The average traveler visits a variety of different sites– approximately 22 travel related sites during 9.5 research sessions— prior to booking[i].

Frederic Deschamps, Vice-President for Revenue Generation at Carlson Hotels furthers this point during his interview with EyeforTravel’s Ritesh Gupta. “We believe mobile distribution will continue to grow steeply for ‘looking’ and also but at a slower pace for booking,” says Deschamps.

One reason to explain why mobile booking is lagging is because hotels are not optimizing their websites for easy booking. As Deschamps explains, desktop websites are virtually impossible to navigate (let alone book) on a smartphone. Hotels are challenged when they try to display all available room options on the small screen of a smartphone. When a hotel scales down their desktop website to fit on the phone, they turn it into chaos. Links and photos get lost in the clutter and disorder of the unorganized website.

Smartphone screens are small, so mobile websites need to be implemented and designed with functionality in mind. Large, easy-to-press buttons must be placed in visible locations, and “Book now” buttons should be present on every page. A consumer shouldn’t have to go hunting around your website when they want to book with your hotel, it should be located in a place that is easy to find.

I’ve recently read that when a potential guest tries to navigate your website from their smartphone and it is not optimized, the chances that they will return to your desktop website to book are likely slim to none. When mobile users were surveyed about mobile web browsing, navigating websites (40%) and slow downloads (40%) were the two biggest challenges, followed by information that is hard to find or read (20%)[i].

Mobile will, eventually, be an integral part of the online marketing strategy  for hotels… But this isn’t going to happen until they start optimizing their websites for smartphones (and tablets – but that’s a discussion for another day). Consumers want hotel bookings, check-ins, social sharing, etc. to be done in the palm of their hands. They will do this once the technology allows them to do so seamlessly. Optimize for mobile, and bookings will follow.

Thinking about going mobile?




[i] MarketingProfs, 2011

[i] Google, 2011

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