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Tue 9 Dec 2008 04:00 AM

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Ringing in the profit for hotels

Across Europe, mobile marketing is now being embraced by major brands as a core part of their marketing activity.

Across Europe, after numerous trials and false starts, mobile marketing is now being embraced by major brands as a core part of their marketing activity. In 2009, it's predicted that 89% of brands will be using mobile marketing as part of their marketing mix.

So how is it being used by hotels and what are the opportunities and limitations for hotels in the Middle East? Apart from a few visionary and pioneering hotels, the use of mobiles in a marketing capacity is still pretty limited to say the least, even though the penetration rates of mobile phone users in this region are between 120-150% - the second highest in the world.

Most phones are now capable of doing a lot more than sending text messages and making phone calls. Think about it, individuals today use their mobile for all their communication needs, whether it be sending pictures to family, confirming meetings, planning a journey and even checking facebook, all from the palm of their hand. You can connect directly to your consumer at any time of day or night no matter where they are.

With figures suggesting up to 50% of consumers in the Middle East use their mobile phones to browse the internet on a regular basis, do you even know what your website looks like when viewed on a Blackberry?

How can hotels bring mobiles into their marketing mix? A simple way of making your advertising interactive and building your own database of consumers is to add an SMS ‘Shortcode number' to any advertisement whether it be print, outdoor billboard or online.

This call to action allows a hotel to track the effectiveness of campaigns and capture information on potential customers who have at the very least shown an interest in staying at your hotel. Not only are you interacting and engaging with your audience, but you are also able to gauge the level of return on investment from your marketing spend, which is becoming more and more of a requirement.

Some hotels are going even further. In the United States, Best Western International recently launched ‘Best Western Mobile'. This is a mobile internet site that enables consumers to access all of the features available on its website, through any web enabled mobile phone.

Customers are able to book rooms, check locations, get directions and check on the status of their reservations using the mobile web. This has been designed to reach core audiences of business travellers and a younger generation of tech-savvy consumers.

Best Western joins a number of other international hotel brands enabling their customers to plan and make their trip as convenient as possible, using the mobile phone. Again in the US, Starwood Hotels and Resorts provides a mobile service to business travellers who are preferred Starwood guests.

The opportunity for hotels in the Middle East to ‘catch up' with the West is growing as more mobile solutions companies come to the area, coupled with the growing awareness among marketing managers and GMs of the value mobile marketing can add. An existing number of major hotel chains provide SMS confirmation of customers' booking details that are sent to the customer's phone.

This is a great example of mobiles providing a useful, value added service, but what can you do over and above this? Mobile operators and publications such as Time Out have built mobile city guides, providing their customers a value added service that allows them the ability to check on tips such as great places to visit, what's an average price for a meal, or how much should taxi ride cost? The same can be applied to hotels.

SMS booking confirmations can contain a link to a branded city guide site as an added service for your customer that enables your hotel brand to be front of mind whenever a customer is thinking about what to do in the city that they are visiting. Hotel details can be displayed, including a map showing your location and information on your F&B locations.

If you really want to push the boat out, you can provide mobile vouchers and coupons that customers can show to your staff to get a discount off their meal to encourage them to come in and visit.

So what are the limitations in this region? Firstly, there are issues around pricing, which is set by the phone operators, so consumers are charged for browsing the mobile internet and for sending in an SMS message. Whereas these costs are relatively small, it's important to be as transparent as possible and include these costs on your advertising.

Additionally, even though consumers from Europe and the US are used to being asked to send an SMS to request information from a company, this is something that local consumers won't be used too, so educating a local audience will only occur over a period of time.

Mobile marketing and operations within hotels is still relatively virgin territory with scope for great things to happen. As the cost of a hotel stay becomes more of an issue, it'll be the hotels who pioneer and provide the highest levels of value added service that will reap the rewards in the long run.

Matt Jones is managing director of PureMobile. Contact: www.puremobileonline.com

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