by Laura Scullin
According to a recent Harris International poll, same-day bookings accounted for 70% of mobile hotel bookings in 2013, a roughly $7.5 billion market. However, this emerging market comes with some growing concerns.
Many hoteliers worry last-minute deal apps are re-training loyal customers to stop booking early in hopes of getting a better deal, both tarnishing their brand and making it nearly impossible for them to forecast resources for the future.
And when it comes to these applications’ power users — the dealhunters — they’re probably right. However, what hoteliers need to keep in mind is that these bargain hunters are a different category of customer altogether, and rarely overlap with their “brand loyal” base.
For nearly a decade, intermediaries like Priceline, Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, and, more recently, Jetsetter and Kayak have made it easier for dealhunters to research, stalk and pounce on last-minute bargains. While the die-hard dealhunters club has steadily increased its membership, they have yet to cannibalize the common customer.
For hoteliers looking to leverage the last-minute market to reach new kinds of customers, as well as capture incremental revenues for rooms that would’ve otherwise gone unused, there’s still hope beyond deep discounts. The key is reaching the flexible traveler with, among other things, a sleek mobile experience.
HotelTonight, for instance, has ushered in the era of hassle-free 11th-hour bookings with a focus on convenience, rather than cost-cutting. HotelTonight, and the similarly-structured JustBook, provide elegant, easy-to-use mobile-booking applications that promote a curated selection of same-night hotel deals per city. The applications, which are light on choice but heavy on usability, are successfully bringing hotels new clientele looking for the best value-for-money, not necessarily the cheapest offering.
HotelTonight’s CEO, Sam Shank, told CNN that in addition to offering better rates, apps like his are also superior in the user experience offered to customers. “It’s only three taps and a swipe to book a room, and it can be done in 10 seconds,” he said.
With large, visual tiles and easy-to-browse categories — like Hip, Basic and Solid — mobile-savvy travelers are rewarded for their spontaneity with a streamlined experience, making them more likely to repeat the behavior.
For those looking replicate HotelTonight’s success, Shank shared his app design secrets to an eager audience at the Mountain Travel Symposium. Shank suggests:
1. KEEP YOUR APP SIMPLE AND FOCUSED
Describe what you do in five words or less.
2. FOCUS ON TIME-TO-TASK COMPLETION
We challenge you to beat three taps and a swipe for something as historically complicated as hotel booking.
3. LIMIT SELECTION
We display three options with links to corner cases. Don’t bury last-minute shoppers in a burden of choice.