11 Oct 2018

Mobile and messaging for hotels – APAC leads the way

 Sponsored by Sabre

Asia-Pacific is widely seen as the most important region when it comes to the correlation between innovations in mobile technology and new consumer trends.

The region’s hotel industry is having to define its digital transformation roadmap according to mobile’s dominance, while tech suppliers need to ensure that their products and services align with a mobile-first market.

Tnooz talked to two Sabre Hospitality Solutions execs to get a regional and global perspective on this dynamic – Frank Trampert, managing director and chief commercial officer, APAC and Mark McSpadden, vice president, direct distribution and digital experience.

The trends

Frank Trampert has worked in the APAC region for more than 15 years and identified three trends having the greatest impact on hotels – the accessibility of travel, the continuing evolution of mobile and personalization.

The dominance of the low-cost carriers in the region is making travel more affordable and provides many more people with greater access to more countries across APAC. With an influx of regional and overseas visitors, hotel rooms are in high demand. The rise of the middle class and increase in disposable income is another boost for APAC hoteliers.

Trampert said:

“Air Asia’s motto ‘Now Everyone Can Fly’ says it all, and the low-cost carrier model has transformed how travel around APACis conducted. It is super affordable to go places and people are enjoying the new-found attraction of exploring the region.”

The stats around mobile use in APAC  vary according to the different definitions and methodologies, but the GSMA’s Mobile Economy 2018 report found that mobile internet penetration across APAC will reach 63 percent by 2025 compared with 41% in 2017.

“The consumer desires information on the go, the ability to transact swiftly and at any time – either while planning for a trip or to make swift changes while on the road,” he explained.

A familiar refrain when looking at ecommerce best practice is that travel companies need to be like Amazon, eBay, or Netflix. In APAC, a similar sentiment exists but Trampert used Alibaba and Lazada as his reference point.

He said:

“These regional ecommerce retailers are doing an exceptional job of understanding their customers, while applying data driven insights to present tailored, highly relevant offers. The UI is simple. Things are easily searched and found and it is a breeze to check out in a 1-2-3 step format. With that, they put customer service first by utilizing cleverly designed technology as an enabler for their business.”

This plays out today through many channels, but especially through the email and mobile channels as part of the on-premise experience. For example, using a guest experience platform, a general manager can proactively push dynamic offers to guests based on his or her preferences and past purchase history.

To learn more about how to use personalization to increase direct bookings and loyalty, register for Sabre’s upcoming webinar. Click here to register if you are based in the Americas; if you are in EMEA or APAC, click here.

Meanwhile, Mark McSpadden takes a long-term global perspective on what’s happening in APAC and the implications for hotels in the region and beyond. The most interesting and relevant consumer trend in APAC is how shoppers are using messaging platforms as transactional ecommerce engines.

As more APAC users buy goods and services through these platform, hotels will need a presence here, although McSpadden noted that messaging platforms are currently most effective for short-window, instant purchases.

Hotels, even in APAC, “still have a fairly long sales cycle” he said and rooms are bigger ticket items than what usually sells on messaging platforms.

But as McSpadden pointed out, consumers were initially reticent about spending big on their desktops, then got used to it; similarly, consumers were reluctant about mobile transactions. He is confident that the same will happen with messaging platforms, at which point hotels will need to be where their guests are.

He said:

“Hotels in APAC need to be on messaging platforms more than what you would see in North America or Europe, where hotels have a customer support-FAQ first approach…They need a shopping-booking-transaction-first approach across all the messaging platforms.

“There has been an uptick in small-scale, last-minute retail purchases on messaging platforms, but this trend hasn’t yet translated to a large-scale purchase like a hotel booking.”

The response

In light of this disconnect, Trampert is on a mission to build awareness through workshops where hoteliers hear from subject matter experts as to why their digital transformation plans need to be aligned with the wider consumer trends and how a technology platform can tie everything together, improve efficiencies and ultimately drive more direct business.

He said:

“We spend a lot of time with our clients and prospects and we love the interactions– we ran nearly 30 workshops in Asia last year. Our mission is to help the audience to understand the shift from using a myriad of applications to using a holistically integrated hospitality platform. We talk a lot about how the platform technology solves many of a hoteliers most pressing problems especially around simplifying the integration of systems. It’s great fun and our customers and prospects appreciate the proactive, informative engagement.”

He continued:

“Hotels have traditionally taken pride in having their own IT setup, but digitization and fast changing consumer trends have made it costly and ineffective in maintaining and improving proprietary systems. The future is all about cost effective integration and the ability to respond fast to customer’s expectation. With our long-standing industry presence and continuous investment into our ever-evolving platform we are well positioned in aiding our clients to be well prepared for the future.”

Looking ahead

Mobile and messaging platforms are currently used by some hoteliers in the region. McSpadden believes that personalization on-premise as well as post-booking and pre-stay communications are currently the “sweet spot,” but the industry needs to move towards transactions on these platforms – having a front-end which can convert guests to bookers at the shopping and search phase.

Enhanced on-premise personalization should be a priority for APAC hotels. Some properties are already using geo-location via messaging platforms to engage the traveler during their stay. McSpadden noted that “this is where we encourage hoteliers to start and there is some traction.”

The potential for mobile to enhance the experience for guests and the revenue stream for hotels goes beyond the entry-level functionality described above.

He explained:

“The promise of mobile is that integration with messaging or other platforms means hotels can know more about a guest because of their social footprint on that platform, providing the data for hotels to create tailored service.”

While mobile and messaging dominate, there remains a role for desktop as part of a multi-channel, multi-device world.

“We are getting close to mobile being the center of the hoteliers’ universe. Desktop use patterns will change, but it will not go away.”

Sabre’s approach

Sabre has been vocal in the market about its own digital transformation, shifting to a single platform across all its business units, built using microservices, based in the cloud. The emergence of mobile preceded Sabre’s shift by a few years, but McSpadden noted that the timeline actually worked in Sabre’s favor.

He explained:

 “Mobile provided live-use cases that helped drive our internal architecture, which is better than building an ‘ivory tower’ platform and then looking for the real-world ways to use it. We were able to start with questions such as ‘what can guests actually do on a small mobile screen?’ and develop from there, knowing that we have the services behind the scenes that are flexible enough to be used in different contexts.”

Specifically, he said the ability to develop mobile-first booking engines allowed Sabre to optimize the customer experience, particularly around “checkout flows” in ways that would not have been possible previously.

Another specific benefit to hoteliers from Sabre’s approach is that its applications run in the cloud, which means that products and services can be brought to market more quickly. A cloud-based approach also means that – for users – sites are quicker, which cuts down on latency, improves the user experience and enhances their perception of the hotel.

The move to the cloud is one of the talking points on Trampert’s education agenda. “Many hotels in the region struggle with the concept of ‘the cloud,’ but we find that testimonials from current customers who have seen the benefits help to address these concerns.”

One advantage of cloud hosting is that it gives hotels easier access to historical and forward-looking data. However, Trampert summed up Sabre’s new approach in terms that hoteliers in APAC and beyond would appreciate:

“Even though we are a B2B company, we focus a lot on the traveler and the hotel employees’ user experience. We spend a lot of time thinking about how we can further simplify our user interfaces, reduce training needs and handle instead the complexities at the backend. Hotels are reaping the benefits as usability has become much more intuitive, accelerating speed to market and enabling employees to ramp up faster.”

 Sponsored by Sabre

To learn more about how to use personalization to increase direct bookings and loyalty, register for Sabre’s upcoming webinar. Click here to register if you are based in the Americas; if you are in EMEA or APAC, click here.

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