Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Thinking beyond reservations: Mobile, Social, and Hospitality (Part 1)

When talking about mobile within the hospitality industry, most of the focus to date has been on booking reservations. Reservations are worth much attention but are certainly only the start of what mobile can do in hospitality -- especially at resorts, where up to 30% of per-stay revenue might come from anything other than the price of the room. My motivation for today’s post is to take the hospitality+mobile conversation beyond reservations; I’d like to begin to explore the deep value that both guest and resort could gain by combining the full potential of mobile applications and best practices of social networking.

The opportunity here is so big because guests are committed (more or less) to staying on a private campus for several days. A good mobile app should be designed to anticipate the many (but predictable) needs guests will have and to help them navigate through that very specific environment. As a guest, here’s a starting list of what I would like to do with my mobile phone when on vacation at a resort:
  • Learn about the resort’s services, features, areas, special events
  • Book services like restaurants, golf, or spa
  • Use concierge services for recommendations and booking with off-resort vendors
  • Read other guests’ comments and ratings re: all of the above – but for specific areas in the resort
  • Keep tabs on friends and family who are with me on vacation
  • Order poolside/beachside food and beverages, but mostly beverages ;)
I could conduct most of the above activities using my phone’s web browser and current Google services (think Latitude for keeping track of my family), but it would be clumsy: Google maps probably wouldn’t have specific names for the different buildings, pools, and beach areas. I would have a hard time narrowing down reviews on TripAdvisor or CitySearch to just the golf courses or a specific restaurant. The resort’s traditional website might have what I need, but it probably won't render well on my phone and won’t have any outside content (ie: reviews) that might help me to choose an activity for the day.

Imagine, however, if I could download to my Droid phone a resort-specific application at check-in. I’m thinking along the lines of IBM’s Seer Augmented Reality app, which is akin to Layar, but for specific commercial purposes. I would be able to see that my wife is at the “Towers Pool” and could navigate quickly to recent ratings and reviews of that specific pool or perhaps one of the four restaurants at the resort. I might learn through an internal micro-blog function that one of the bars is where the action is. Navigation would be simple, designed for a mobile device, and always completely focused on my experience at the resort.

In a nutshell, this application would work to “curate” information that is specific to my experience. “Social,” “Mobile,” and even “Local” will remain heavyweight buzzwords for 2010, but I think that “curate” is a dark horse in the competition. We’re all familiar with that queasy feeling one gets after typing a straightforward query into Google and receiving 100,000+ results. The beauty of a well-designed mobile app is that it spares me from the Google Geyser of information. This is a serious problem with potential solutions cropping all over the place, including My6Sense for RSS and social,  Vizibility for preconfigured Google searches, and Wolfram Alpha for, well, anything you can measure.

Authors of curated content must understand their responsibilities in a socially-enabled world, however. Example: Users are more likely to trust raw user-generated content, even if it is less easy to manage. A best practice, therefore, is to design with links back out to Yelp and TripAdvisor, for example. Even if users decline to review this outside content, the fact that the resort is enabling access to it will greatly engender trust in the branded application and the content it hosts.

For the sake of brevity, I’ll wrap up today’s post here. I’ll continue thinking out loud on this topic, most notably with a followup on how mobile applications can jump-start a resort’s emerging social networking efforts. It’s on this front that the resort will see significant long-term value, I believe.

I’m interested in your feedback. What functions would you most like to see in a resort-specific mobile app? What functions would best serve the needs of the hotel?

Update: Part 2 of this post continues here.