The World in Your Palm

A lot of people—and certainly nearly every frequent traveler—carry full-featured computers in their hands. And like the desktops and laptops before them, consumers use their wireless handhelds—iPhones, BlackBerrys, Palms and more—as a so-called third screen to conduct business, purchase goods and services and make all sorts of reservations, including hotel rooms.

Now, hotel companies and destinations are using mobile technology to enable their customers to reach them wherever they are, whenever they need to do so. For the busy road warrior, this may be the ultimate guest service. And leading the way in the hotel industry is Choice Hotels, which last month became the first lodging company to offer a mobile reservations application for the popular iPhone. The free application allows iPhone’s more than 11 million users to book Choice rooms through a wireless version of ChoiceHotels.com.

While it may seem like a trendy initiative that won’t yield much business, Choice views it as another step in the maturation of its online reservations capabilities.

“Mobile technology was always part of our reservations strategies,” says Mary Beth Knight, Choice’s senior vice president of e-commerce and worldwide distribution, “and the iPhone application is a natural extension of that strategy.”

The application, which Choice developed in-house, gives guests an easy-to-navigate mobile method of searching for and making reservations at nearly 5,800 hotels around the world. In addition, its GPS capabilities allow iPhone users to find hotels based on location, get door-to-door directions and look at street-view images of the properties. They can also make changes to or cancel existing reservations, and Choice Privileges members can access their accounts.

According to Knight, the application, one of 10,000 offered for the iPhone, has very “quietly gained acceptance from iPhone users.” She says so far about 5,000 people per day have downloaded the Choice application. While most of the downloads have come from U.S. consumers, more than 60 countries, including 20 in Europe, are represented.

“We plan to enrich the application based on feedback we get from users,” she says. Among other techniques, Choice is using a survey available through the iTunes App store to collect consumer reactions and suggestions. “We’ll use this information to launch the application for other devices, and someday we expect to be able to integrate our entire marketing story into this mobile strategy.”

Other companies and organizations have jumped on the mobile technology bandwagon pioneered by Choice. KeyToss, a mobile technology start-up firm, recently introduced a service that gives handheld computer users access to the 85,000 worldwide hotels in the Hotels.com database. In addition to being able to locate and reserve hotel rooms, users can get local maps, calculate currency exchanges and view flight status.

The Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions recently launched a mobile site to give visitors information about the city of Amsterdam. The Amsterdam Mobile Guide, which is a free iPhone app and a mobile website, has images of the city and updated information on many of its attractions, including hotels, museums, restaurants, bars and shopping. A “Near Me’ function uses Google Maps and GPS technology to help visitors navigate the city.

The mobile guide is part of the board’s broader social media strategy that includes presence on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr and more.

According to a recent report by PhoCusWright, by next year the value of mobile travel bookings will reach $160 million. While that figured is dwarfed by all online travel sales ($90 billion annually) and all U.S. travel industry bookings ($291 billion in 2010), the growth potential is significant.

“Mobile travel is about more than providing a miniature-sized version of a website on a smaller screen,” says Cathy Schetzina, author of the report and a PhoCusWright technology analyst. “It opens up opportunities for a range of context-aware applications that will transform the way travelers and travel companies interact.”

The survey further found that 67 percent of travelers and 77 percent of frequent business travelers with web-enabled mobile devices use them to find local services and attractions. While the most preferred application is real-time flight information, Schetzina believes in the future, consumers will be able to use their handhelds as bar-coded airline boarding passes and to make mobile payments for on-site charges in hotels.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.


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