When the slogan, "There's an app for that" debuted in 2008, its intent was to suggest mobile devices were capable of catering to our every need. Apps, short for applications, are various software programs that users can download to their smart phone or tablets and appear on their device's home page (very similarly to that of a desktop computer). In recent years, the slogan has become far more literal. With apps that simulate bubble wrap, ensure weight loss by vibrating the pounds away, and more, the slogan has transformed to "There's an app for THAT?!"

The influx of apps lead many, including those in the hospitality industry, to contemplate the need for a personalized app for their individual properties. At this point, I'd like to enlist the phrase my mother and many others have used throughout the centuries to discourage hopeful, yet misguided souls: "If so-and-so jumped off a bridge, would you do it?" The same applies to apps - not all industries should take the leap. In most instances, individual hotels simply do not and should not need to create a mobile app.

Strength of Mobile Users

Basic Breakdown: Hotel Seekers are Searching, Not Downloading

According to Business Insider, mobile usage is expected to surpass desktops by 2014. Capturing those mobile users that are looking for a, "hotel in your City, State" doesn't necessarily translate into a need for your own app. It is more accurate to say that it is an indication as to how best to tailor your overall mobile strategy. 

Oftentimes, the desire for mobile apps stems from a misunderstanding of the difference between the apps and a mobile-friendly site. A mobile-friendly site is an extension of your current webpage that is not only accessible via a mobile phone's browser, but it is easy to navigate and a good experience for the end user. A mobile app, on the other hand, stands alone and must be downloaded and accessed as its own entity. Once downloaded, it will appear as an icon on a mobile phone desktop. Let's take a look at some helpful statistics that give us insight on how the general public uses their smart phones and how that applies to you as a hotel marketer:

73% of Smartphone users said they used the mobile web to shop rather than an app (Source: Yahoo)

The term a traveler would use in a search engine is far different than what one would use in the app store. Apps are tools used to find information, much like a search engine - finding an app is a different conquest in itself. For example, a traveler wouldn't go to the app store and search for "Hotel near Wrigley Field". Instead, they would search for general hotel finders like Expedia or TripAdvisor, or brand specific hotel finders like Hilton or Marriott apps. In the process, they will likely bypass your hotel's individual app. Optimizing a website that all mobile users, Android, iPhone or otherwise can find, rather than an app they may or may not find, let alone invest the data to download, is a better investment of time and resources.

68% of users only use five or fewer apps at least once a week (Source: USA Today | Money)

Just because there is an app for that doesn't mean we need it. The novelty of a new app wears off quickly when its daily value dissipates. There is a small niche of professions that require regular hotel usage, so when the time comes for the leisure traveler to book again, they may forget they even have the app or deleted it from lack of use or memory space.

The Truth: You Already HAVE an App

Many major hotel brands, like Hilton or Marriott, have their own mobile app for guests. Your investment is better spent capturing the business that you normally wouldn't get rather than people who are loyal to your brand. The brand app provides an enhanced user-experience to easily select dates and book guest rooms, and therefore already has your brand loyal guests hooked. It's the users that are searching for more general key phrases, such as "Hotels in your City, State" that you want to target.

Oftentimes, if someone is running this search on their mobile rather than their desktop, they are a business traveler or someone on the go looking to book that night. If the person isn’t a loyal brand follower (or said brand isn’t in that particular market) and they run that search on mobile phone, it’s incredibly important that the hotel has a website visible and easy for a shopper to connect with, book immediately, and locate the hotel to physically check-in. Individual apps do not have the reach needed for these sorts of last-minute bookers, but a mobile-friendly website will provide more opportunities.

Brand apps aside, hotels also have one other travel titan in their corner: TripAdvisor. Second in "travel apps" only to Google Maps, TripAdvisor reigns in all the rogue searchers and allows them to find hotels and reviews. So, even if a potential guest is not a brand loyalist but prefers apps over a browser search, they are still more likely to use the TripAdvisor app than commit to a mobile app assigned solely to one hotel.

APPly Your Marketing Strategy into Mobile-Friendly: Your Next Steps

While apps can be helpful tools in the booking process, they don't translate into getting heads in beds the way that a mobile-friendly hotel website will. There are many aspects to making your site as mobile-friendly as you can. Here is a list of things you can do to make sure your page is optimized for mobile users and gives your potential guests the best experience on your page.

  • Is your site compatible with mobile devices right now?

Responsive sites and mobile friendly sites benefit travelers, and as a result, benefit your hotel. Responsive sites, or sites that recognize tablets and mobiles and reconfigure to those screen layouts, give you the flexibility to update your site as frequently as you'd like. Hotels can include upcoming specials, renovation updates, and any other relevant information at the drop of a hat on their individual mobile site.

  • Can your potential guest find your information seamlessly?

Make sure that the ability to book from your mobile site is as simple as possible. The first thing listed on your page should be all of your contact info and/or the ability to check availability right away. The potential guest may have been researching with other apps like TripAdvisor and may be ready to book by the time they arrive at your site. Remeber: most people looking to book with their mobile phones are most likely already in our city and are looking for a quick solution. Give them that solution with your mobile-friendly, easy to use website.

  • Are your other listings optimized?

When potential guests use search engines to find your hotel, you want to ensure that the correct information is displayed for your local listing. Make sure that the address and phone number are correct so that there are no errors in navigation or in an attempt to call the hotel to book. Make sure that the lisitng points back to your mobile-friendly page as well.

The influence of mobile phones is growing and shows no signs of slowing down. Make sure you can capture those potential guests by creating a great mobile experience on your website, rather than spending considerably more on a standalone mobile app.

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