Why Mobile Apps Aren’t the Answer to Guest Engagement

In the digital age, the hospitality industry is intent on finding new ways to appeal to a broader range of guests, especially now that there is so much competition from Airbnb and other home-sharing platforms. Some accomplish this through loyalty programs; others do it by offering signature products and amenities; and then there are those who build a mobile app.

There is nothing inherently wrong with using mobile apps for this purpose. They can be effective tools for pushing notifications at guests, making housekeeping requests and room service available at the touch of a button, and enabling self-service actions such as mobile check-in.

The problem actually lies in getting guests to download the app to begin with.

People only use a handful of apps

Forrester research found that while most people use an average of 24 apps, they spend 80 percent of their time on just five apps — and the five most popular apps are Facebook, YouTube, Maps, Pandora, and Gmail. The competition in the app industry is fierce. Just because a guest downloads a mobile app doesn’t mean they’ll use it, keep it, or continue to frequent a hotel because of it. Those who travel for business may have more opportunities to use one, but for leisure travelers, who are on the road only a few times a year, a hotel app won’t win out against the likes of Facebook and Gmail.

The percentage of people who download apps is small

According to QZ, more than 65 percent of U.S. smartphone owners download, on average, zero apps per month. Roughly eight percent of users download one app per month, while approximately nine percent download two. Smartphones and apps have been around for awhile now. People know what apps they like and use, and they are less likely than they’ve ever been to download new ones.

The top hotel apps just aren’t that popular

According to SurveyMonkey research, Airbnb’s app sees more usage than Marriott’s, Hilton’s, InterContinental Hotel Group’s, and Starwood’s combined. Among all travel apps, Airbnb is third only to TripAdvisor and Priceline. Hoteliers wishing to introduce a mobile app to encourage repeat visits have an uphill battle ahead of them. Apps are unlikely to win hoteliers repeat visits from new guests; they are more likely to be of use to guests who are already loyal.

Mobile browsing is gaining popularity

According to comScore research, mobile browser audiences among U.S. smartphone users are two times larger than mobile app audiences. Additionally, as Morgan Stanley points out in a Marketing Land article, “only 12 of the top 50 mobile properties have more traffic coming from apps than the browser.” For many purposes, a mobile web search is less hassle than downloading and learning how to navigate an app, especially if the user knows he or she won’t be using the app often.

The costs may not be worth the ROI

Building an app is costly — and risky — business. Hotels may spend tens of thousands of dollars to develop and maintain a platform that clients by and large simply don’t use. Before making the leap, hoteliers should evaluate how other brands are performing with their mobile apps and determine if it is indeed the next logical step to take. For smaller brands and properties, it may not make sense at all.

It’s difficult for hotels to compete in a sphere that is already inundated with apps people aren’t using. Based on the above statistics, it would seem that apps are more likely to shut travelers out of engaging with the brand, whereas with web apps, the guest doesn’t have to download anything. It’s almost impossible to win loyal guests if you can’t get their attention in the first place.

There are, however, good alternatives to building an app: Mobile responsive web design, web apps, and mobile messaging. None of these solutions require extra effort from the guest. They don’t need to download an app; they need only open their browser to get the information they need.

If you already have a mobile app, here’s how you can improve it

Hoteliers that have already taken the leap and introduced a mobile app to the property may be wondering what to do next. As outlined above, messaging is a logical choice. To capture repeat visits — and new guests — the hotel-guest relationship must be a two-way street. It can’t just be about pushing offers to them; it also has to be about giving them the ability to come to you when they want to make a request or need resolution to a problem. Messaging opens that door for them.

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