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Starwood Hotels sees mobile bookings grow at unprecedented rate

Starwood Hotels & Resorts has seen a surge in mobile this past quarter with mobile bookings growing five times faster than Web bookings did ten years ago.

In addition to bookings shifting to mobile, general site traffic has also been taking place on mobile devices. Mobile accounts for 42 percent of Starwood’s site visits, up from 16 percent just two years ago.

“As Tom Friedman recently pointed out in an op-ed piece, we’re living in a world of exponential change, where consumers have unprecedented access to information and the ability to use that information in new ways,” said Frits D. van Paasschen, chief executive officer, president and director of Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Stamford, CT, during the fourth-quarter earnings call.

“This is changing the way consumers interact with brands and what they expect from the companies behind those brands,” he said. “The challenge is to keep pace with these changes, as today’s novelties become tomorrow’s table stakes.

“Put simply, we see connectivity, especially through mobile, as the great opportunity for dialogue with travels. And this dialogue opens new avenues for innovation. Our efforts to become more agile have changed how we work and where we direct our energy.”

Mobile commitment
Starwood Hotels & Resorts has been investing big in mobile the past few years. About two to three years ago, the company saw transactions shifting to mobile and has since made mobile a priority.

In May, the company partnered with Keynote to insure that the content and functionality of its mobile apps and Web sites met corporate brand standards (see story).

In June, Starwood launched a South American iPad app that provides consumers with a description of the hotel and the location to get a sense of the area before booking a trip (see story).

Then in August, Starwood released an Android app for Chinese consumers. The app allows guests to better organize and coordinate their travel experience and is modified to reflect Chinese sensibilities (see story).

That commitment to mobile has made Starwood one of the leaders in the hotel vertical.

Looking forward
According to Mr. van Paasschen, Starwood Hotels is the first in the industry to leverage state-aware technology that can connect with guests in real-time with relevant offers. The company also communicates with customers via SMS.

Additionally, Starwood’s customer contact centers stay on top of social media to see what guests are saying about its hotels in real-time. Last year, the company engaged in almost three million social media interactions with its guests, per, Mr. van Paasschen.

This helps Starwood achieve its goal of communicating with its guests 24/7 and delivering more personalized service.

Currently, the company’s apps are available in eight languages.

Additionally, Starwood is experimenting with smart check-in to enable keyless check-in via smartphones. The technology is currently being piloted at two hotels, the Aloft Harlem and Aloft Cupertino.

The company plans to roll out keyless check-in to every Aloft, W and Element around the world later this year.

“We see Smart check-in as just a natural progression,” Mr. van Paasschen said. “Because when you think about it, people use their mobile devices to buy a cup of coffee, order a car or shop for just about anything. Why wouldn’t our guests want the same kind of mobile experience when they arrive at a hotel?

“Looking ahead, Smart check-in is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “We’re taking digital and mobile innovation and combining it with revenue management systems, big data offer — engines and an integrated set of reservations and loyalty systems.

“These efforts will strengthen our nine distinct brands and provide a platform for SPG. As we like to say at Starwood, it’s all part of building loyalty beyond reason.”

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