technology, hospitality, and plumbing…

Mobile Websites: What are the Hotel Big Boys Doing?

In General on October 21, 2010 at 22:42

Mobile WebsitesI’ve been working on mobile sites for some clients just recently, and this has been informative, if slightly depressing! In a previous post i talked about how little distinction there is between hotel sub-brands. If you look at the mobile space, there’s very little distinction between the main brands themselves. Follow me while i take a look.

Marriott

The Marriott site is, as might be expected, straightforward. Function wins out over form from this, perhaps the most conservative of the majors (in terms of their regular web presence).

Marriott mobile site Marriott mobile site

The user can find and book a hotel — although there is more emphasis on the booking than than the finding — as well as modify booking, check loyalty points, and view city guides.

Hotel information is sparse.

The Marriott mobile site redirects users from Marriott.com to a Usablenet.com URL.

Starwood

Purely out of laziness i chose to look at W (i knew that whotels.com would save me some typing), but all Starwood brands share the same platform, with branding differences. The home screen is not much more complex than Marriott, with similar choices, but looks a lot more inviting.

W (Starwood) mobile site W (Starwood) mobile site

The property page continues the look and feel, and makes some attempt to provide interesting content. Saying that “Features luxury playground” lead to a single page of text, and “General Directions to the Hotel” lead to a page which apologised for the lack of directions (my fault for choosing the Maldives!).

The Starwood mobile site redirects users from Starwoodhotels.com URLs to a Usablenet.com URL.

Hilton

Next up is Hilton. This has modern branding that is easy on the eye. However, do you notice a pattern forming?

Hilton mobile site Hilton mobile site

The property homepage is heavier on the graphics, and has a more minimal layout, which i think looks more inviting.

The Hilton mobile site redirects users from Hilton.com to a Usablenet.com URL.

Intercontinental

This site was much faster to load than the previous 3. Coincidentally, it was also the only site of the 5 i looked at that was served under its own URL, suggesting that IHG are doing their own mobile site development (although i could be wrong).

IHG mobile website IHG mobile website

Again, a simple, well designed screen that invites users.

The hotel information page is, to my mind, more useful and usable than the limited information served in the previous apps.

Accor

Accor mobile site Accor mobile site

This site is attractive, and pushes specials on the home screen. Obviously not location specific (given that i’m in Bangkok), but is better than the plain start screens of some of the other offerings.

The property page is simple and well designed. Accor also seem to be using a 3rd party provider, although not Usablenet, but a provider called iogw.com.

Why the conformity?

The eagerness of large brands to go for the same product from the same company (Usablenet.com) puzzles me slightly. Why is this happening? Well, Usablenet has spotted a niche, providing mobile versions of websites to a variety of industries apart from hospitality: indeed their client list is extremely impressive. To be clear, i’m not criticising Uablenet here, they are clearly providing a needed service. Really, my criticism is aimed at the lack of imagination on the part of the major brands. This could be due to a lack of expertise — although given the low barriers to entry for building mobile sites, that’s unlikely —  i rather think it is a classic case of the inertia of IT departments in large corporations.

What seems to be popular? And how much of that is down to the Usablenet platform? Bookings are a central part, with offers, loyalty programs, maps, basic hotel information and destination guides.

What’s missing? Unique content, that will make a difference to users — the insider’s view of where to eat, how to transit, and other nuggets.

Takeaways

So clearly, there are few points of inspiration to be gained here. What can we learn? If you’re a small or medium sized chain with your own booking engine, then there are clearly benefits to having a mobile site with some form of booking.

If you’re an independent, or a chain that still relies on a 3rd party booking engine, all is not lost. Focus your mobile site on making life easier for your guests — local information, favourite restaurants, directions to and from the airport, etc — so that your guest feels comforted and cared for. Remember that there is a window of opportunity to impress guests, and create a lasting positive impression when so few hotels have mobile sites. This could be as simple as making your blog available, or displaying your Twitter feed, as long as posts or tweets are providing original, useful, interesting content.

While i haven’t looked exhaustively through the premium and smaller chains, for now my favourite mobile site has to be Mandarin Oriental.

I’m sure i’ll be returning to this topic again. Large or small, chain or independent, who do you think is doing it well?

Anthony Green – October 2010

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