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Hotel Chain Sees Mobile App Turning 'Lookers Into Bookers'

InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) will, of course, take a room reservation no matter how a customer makes it. But it sees enticing sales potential in moving hotel guests to mobile applications.

The $1.6 billion company, which owns the InterContinental Hotels and Resorts, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn and four other hotel chains, has rolled out mobile applications for BlackBerry, Android, iPhone and Windows Phone. The strategy: IHG will build native mobile applications offering unique capabilities that aren't suitable for its website, says Bill Keen, director of mobile solutions, Web and interactive marketing.

Native applications are faster, he says, and can take advantage of special features in each operating system, such as location-aware capabilities. Plus, IHG's internal data shows that customers who use mobile apps are more loyal than those who don't. "We want to turn lookers into bookers and turn bookers into loyalists," Keen says.

Members of IHG's Priority Club Rewards program can download an application for their smartphones to find hotels, check rates and book and cancel reservations. Of the 58 million people in the club, 300,000 have downloaded at least one of IHG's mobile apps.

Like other companies, IHG is figuring out how to modernize its business model with new technology, says Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner. Companies in retail and other industries have been doing mobile commerce for a while, he says.

Retailer QVC, for example, got into mobile shopping in 2008. It sent text messages to customers with existing accounts, who could reply to buy beauty products, home electronics and other items.

By analyzing how customers book rooms-such as through a mobile device, on the Web, or using a call center or travel agent-IHG has identified patterns that now inform its strategy for mobile technology. For example, IHG found that although some customers may book through the website or call center, many others use a mobile device to navigate to the hotel once in the vicinity. Perhaps more startling, IHG noticed that its mobile customers are big on last-minute booking, with 65 percent of them reserving a room within one day of arriving. Figuring its mobile users often operate in real-time, IHG plans to build location-aware features into its mobile apps to generate maps, directions and real-time coupons for customers approaching a hotel property.

The app might communicate a message tailored to the guest's circumstances, Keen says. "You just landed, it's late, you can check in from here. The restaurant stays open until midnight. Would you like a discount?" Another new feature is a button that allows users to place a one-click call to the hotel's front desk.

Such mobile amenities, he says, will yield repeat customers. "If we can get the app on the deck of their phone, we can deepen the relationship."

Follow Senior Editor Kim S. Nash on Twitter: @knash99.

Read more about customer relationship management (crm) in CIO's Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Drilldown.


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