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InterContinental Hotels Group eyes mobile to combat hotel aggregators

NEW YORK – An InterContinental Hotel Group executive at the Mobile Marketing Summit: Holiday Focus 2013 said that the company is focusing mobile efforts on the hotel experience over search and booking to counter challenges from sites such as Expedia and

In the session “Connecting the guest journey through mobile,” the executive discussed the various ways that mobile can enhance a customer’s hotel stay all the way from the point of search and browsing to checkout. IHG believes that mobile can be used for much more than just a medium for transaction.

“The Expedias have taken over the first two steps [of search and booking],” said Bill Keen, director of mobile solutions and emerging products for Web and interactive marketing at InterContinental Hotels Group, Atlanta. “We try to get people to book direct but they typically book on an aggregator.”

“All they want to do is show price and location,” he said. “If I booked the Crown Plaza Times Square on Priceline let’s say for $100, but then I really like it, and the next time I want to come its really a $120 retail value, people go, ‘I don’t want to pay that.’ It’s because a lot of these aggregators drive down the price. We understand it’s an important channel for us, but it drives down brand.

“[The aggregators] don’t do any service. Once you’re there, the hotel takes care of it. If I give [good in-hotel] experiences, they’ll see the value in the entire end-to-end experience and not just the transaction. Mobile is right in the square of service for us.”

The Mobile Marketing Summit: Holiday Focus 2013 conference was a Mobile Marketer event.

Mobile hotels
According to Mr. Keen, mobile is more than just a new medium, it is a way to interact with guests at every stage of their purchasing cycle and hotel experience. IHG looks at the entire mobile guest journey, including search, shop and compare, booking and confirmation, pre-stay planning, market and property arrival and stay and departure.

The company has seen a lot of success with click-to-book and click-to-call within search, but at the end of the day it acknowledges that a lot of the earlier steps in the process are taken care of by aggregators such as Expedia.

IHG therefore directs its mobile efforts towards loyalty and hotel experience.

Mr. Keen pointed to three key factors in customer loyalty. The first is orientation, which includes guiding the consumer to the hotel and providing clear directions and time of arrival updates.

The second is celebration, meaning that consumers want to know the best way to enjoy their vacation and find the best entertainment and dining around. The third is acclimation, which includes in-hotel issues such as getting a key, scheduling services and controlling room experiences such as TV and lighting.

One specific feature that IHG already offers is Passbook integration, and the company plans to integrate with Google Pass as well.

Another feature that IHG introduced was videos of concierges giving walking tours of the city and giving recommendations on where to dine and shop. This helps provide the branding that aggregators are challenging.

InterContinental also uses geo-fencing to send guests relevant deals. For example, they have a partnership with Hertz and will send a guest a deal to rent a car that will also earn loyalty points at IHG.

Catered services
Mr. Keen also discussed the importance of catering different channels for different purposes.

He explained that Web sites tend to be for harvesting new customers while apps are for loyalists. IHG has also noticed that loyal business travelers book more early in the week and impulsive Web bookers tend to book on weekends.

The company also noticed that 62 percent of mobile bookers reserved a stay within a 48 hour booking window, 33 percent of tablet bookers did the same and 28 percent of desktop bookers did so.

Additionally, five times as many users access mobile apps to view a current reservation as opposed to making a new booking.

With all of this information in hand, InterContinental strives to create the best experience from start to finish for its customers regardless of the channel used.

“The question is how do I keep them loyal to us and our brand,” Mr. Keen said. “We firmly believe that loyalty will be based on experiences not just ecommerce.”

Final Take
Rebecca Borison is editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York