Luxury travel is a competitive business, with each prestige hotel brand seeking the loyalty of a very savvy clientele. Mobile has become a new battleground for the attention of the prestige traveler. Let’s take a look at ways luxury hotels are creating unique mobile experiences that put the “custom” in customer.
THE IDEAL PAIRING
Mobile and travel go hand-in-hand, but mobile and luxury travel go together even more so. Luxury hotels don’t simply provide a room and basic amenities to the traveler. The luxury traveler expects a little—okay, a lot—more. For this traveler, the hotel isn’t a destination. Rather, the hotel is the extension of a lifestyle. When a guest arrives at one of these hotels, he or she expects amenities and recommendations suited to that lifestyle. A prestige traveler trusts the hotel brand’s service and advice. And, this relationship is no less important in mobile experiences. Just as these customers expect more from their hotel stay, they expect more from mobile touchpoints. Because of this expectation, luxury hotel chains are seeing “the emergence of a new breed of hyper-interactive travel consumers” who demand useful local content—whenever and wherever they want. Ritz-Carlton recently responded to this demand.
RITZ-CARLTON + THE NICHE MOBILE APP
Ritz-Carlton introduced its first mobile application (app) last month. A few screenshots:
Slow to embrace mobile, Ritz-Carlton has made up for its hesitation with a robust app that might set a new standard for luxury hotel brands. With this app, Ritz-Carlton has created a custom experience for each location and for each phase of the trip—from planning and booking through checkout and beyond. As Ritz-Carlton CMO Chris Gabaldon notes, “The booking functionality on our app is exceptional, but that is not where the real genius lies. It is the delivery of tips, tours and hotel specific information through the GPS identification of which hotel a guest is in, or the scanning of QR codes to obtain interesting facts that would not otherwise be available.”
Of course, the app books reservations, but it goes much further to serve a niche that is different from the Ritz-Carlton website and other digital touchpoints. The app includes
- Personal tips from the President & COO that identify “hidden gems”
- Scanning + response to QR codes for facts, insights and to-dos, such as wine pairings or access to a resort’s activity calendar
- GPS recognition with destination and landmark tips and push notifications sent directly to the App’s message mailbox
- Social media integration with foursquare for global recommendations populated by Ritz-Carlton Concierge experts every week
- Feature to share a favorite Ritz-Carlton memory or experience
- Ritz-Carlton Rewards account management
Also, the social integration builds on the hotels’ previous success with foursquare, where more than 1,000 people followed the Ritz-Carlton foursquare account in its first week. While it’s too early to tell whether this app boosts Ritz-Carlton’s bottom line, I think the app is quite promising.
Ritz-Carlton is not the only luxury brand to embrace mobile. Let’s turn to a few more intriguing examples.
MOBILE + THE NEW LUXURY STAY
You know those paper guides or spiral bound notebooks describing a hotel’s services and amenities? They’re being replaced with mobile touchpoints. Late last year, for example, the LA Four Seasons introduced in-room iPad tablets (screenshot below) to make being pampered even easier.
“Guests of the hotel can use the mobile devices for a number of different convenient services, such as making dinner reservations, ordering room service, or scheduling spa appointments within the hotel. Moreover, they can be used to make requests from housekeeping,” noted General Manager Mehdi Eftekari. The in-room iPad service took off in its first week at the LA location, used by 1,200 guests in a matter of days.
Of course, the key is making tasks like scheduling a dinner reservation as easy as picking up the phone. Eftekari notes, “Guests are very impressed with the new technology. The interface is so intuitive and easy to use, they feel ‘right at home’ even if it is their very first iPad experience.”
Let’s turn to another way luxury hotel brands experiment with mobile.
PRESTIGE HOTEL BRANDS + THE NEW MOBILE MAGAZINE
Luxury hotel brands have become arbiters of taste. In that sense, they are content providers, sharing lifestyle information beyond the hotel stay. These brands understand “the brand-building value of heightened digital interaction,” notes Taylor Rains, of Rawle Murdy Associates Inc. An example is Be Inspired, a digital magazine app from Small Luxury Hotels (SLH) of the World featuring articles, videos, and more. Each section of the magazine also shares an SLH-brand hotel destination with online booking and lifestyle tips for shopping and dining.
“With luxury hotel brands, magazines serve to tell a property’s story and paint a picture for the consumer,” Rains said. “Digital magazines allow for a similar benefit while also increasing the reach of each publication.” While I haven’t seen published statistics demonstrating a measurable direct benefit of SLH’s digital magazine, SLH’s business is up more than 20% in the first quarter of 2012. So, SLH is doing something right.
This tablet magazine approach also makes sense for niche content. Take the Four SeasonsWeddings tablet magazine (screenshots below).
The app increases positions Four Seasons as a trusted advisor in luxury lifestyle, specifically weddings. The app inspires with stories, photos and trends from various Four Seasons locations and tastefully curates wedding gowns, accessories, flowers, and cakes. Do tablet magazines like this work? The results look promising. The 2012 Luxury Trend Report: The Luxury Traveler in the New Digital World reports that Four Seasons’ bookings through tablets skyrocketed by 200% in 2011. They predict tablet bookings to be even higher in 2012.
We’ve walked through three ways luxury hotel brands battle for the loyalty of their demanding, connected customers with mobile. With these promising mobile experiences now available, clearly the winners of this battle are the customers.