Mobile Internet may not be the hotel sector's Holy Grail
Published: 31 Jul 2008:Internet access on mobile phones is the latest buzz in the hotel industry as operators search for the next way to attract and retain customers.
Clearly, mobile phone usage and Internet commerce have been the defining behavioural trends for consumers over the last 10 years. So, it´s naturally tempting to bring them together as a single proposition. But instead of combining the best of both technologies, it can often show the drawbacks of each in sharper focus.
For example, the clumsy and intermittent nature of accessing the web from a phone may prove to be a false dawn for the sector.
And the size and layout of a mobile phone, being optimised for core functions including speech calls, texts and photos, is naturally very different from even a laptop computer, which although mobile, in the sense that it is moveable, is optimised for things like documents and spreadsheets, web browsing, video and games.
The idea of being able to log onto the net through a phone is very attractive and the development of handsets such as the iPhone is making it a technical possibility.
But, when it comes to booking a hotel room, is it really the answer? For example, the practicalities of consistent mobile phone signal strength, networks offering limited web access and handset limitations mean that this currently may not be the mass-market solution the sector is looking for.
The web has been a revolution for hotels in terms of electronic customer self-service. The opportunity to use the Internet to give the customer a quicker and more accessible ´self-help´ route to booking or paying for a service has proven to be revolutionary.
However, there are drawbacks to combining the Internet with a phone. Obviously, the screen is a lot smaller than a PC´s, which makes it difficult to see an entire web page and, more significantly, the pages can take a long time to load. And of course, the keyboard is compromised in terms of size and character-sharing.
As a result, some sites are re-rendered for phone use, but even then communications protocols are still demanding and user interfaces are still less than ideal. Users need a strong signal, which is not reliable everywhere, especially in rural areas or travelling on a train or in a car.
At the heart of these developments the goal should be to should be to make the transaction quicker, easier and cheaper for the customer. Quite simply, mobile web access does not offer this.
In fact, there is no need to ´force´ a web screen onto a mobile phone if the customer does not need to browse massive amounts of content to place their order.
The development of Light Traffic Transactions (LTT) applications, which utilise the reliable SMS network, which is of course more usually used to send and receive text messages, can replace the need for mobile phone internet access.
LTT applications sit in a phone´s menu like Bluetooth or mobile phone games and access to the web from a handset is only required once - to download the software.
The application contains all the relevant information required to make a booking or purchase request instantly, without the need to wait for an image-laden web page to load.
In the context of the hotel sector, the application can contain the necessary requirements of hotel location, standard of accommodation and booking dates that can be navigated by one finger on the move – even in a ´one signal bar´ area – in fact even in the temporary absence of a signal!
This option means the mobile phone should not be ruled out as a relevant selling tool for the hotel sector.
What hotel operators have to consider is that Internet on mobile phones may not yet be the Holy Grail they have been searching for. Making things easy for the customer doesn´t always mean using the latest and flashiest technology. Sometimes the simplest option can be the most effective.