Today’s hotel apps fall short, but their time will come

Simply put, the convergence of mobile apps and tourism just makes sense on so many levels, and the statistics continue to back this up.

NB: This is a viewpoint by Nikhil Nath, CEO and Founder of Knowcross

In a 2015 report, KPCB noted that on average, adults in the US spend 2.8 hours each day on a smartphone browsing the web or using apps.

Furthermore, going into 2016, eMarketer stated that 51.8% of travelers who book trips via digital means will be doing so using a mobile device.

When people are on the go, they turn to the convenience of their cell phone rather than using a desktop or laptop – with comScore reporting mobile overtook desktop in 2015.

Therefore, it’s little to no surprise that over the past five years a growing number of hotel chains and independent hotels have jumped onto the mobile app bandwagon. Perhaps most significantly, there has been a major spike in the implementation of hotel brand and loyalty apps.

However, the emergence of these apps has proved to be shortsighted – hotel brand and loyalty apps currently only serve a limited market.

Drawn to scale

Essentially, apps that are tied to the brand make sense for the top ten chain hotel names – they have a large number of properties spanning various locations and guests will be able to use this app at various locations. However, for the vast majority of hotels, even loyal guests typically only stay once or twice a year. Why would a guest download an app for a hotel they only stay at on a limited basis?

Additionally, many of these apps offer a mix of hotel information, room service ordering capabilities and information on local attractions, but these features rarely prove compelling enough to warrant a download.

In fact, data from a 2016 comScore study showed that 49% US smartphone users download zero apps in a typical month. Apps must offer a great user-benefit to convert downloads.

Having said that, a recent study by GBTA claimed that 61% of business travelers downloaded a hotel app. But we should remember that the retention rates of apps, which on average (for Android and iOS users) is only 25%, suggesting three-quarters  of all app users uninstall the app after the first use.

Room dis-service

Similarly, hotel managers around the world claim their experiences with guest-facing apps are dismal (see chart below). Dozens of general managers at upscale and luxury hotels repeatedly say that they only receive one or two room service orders a week. The reality is, most guest-facing technology is either trying to fix something that isn’t broken or it is adding products and services that don’t match consumer’s desires.

SOURCE: Knowcross research on Google Playstore

SOURCE: Knowcross research on Google Playstore

A word of warning

For perspective, during the dot-com era, new businesses that had a ‘www’ attached to their name raised millions of dollars. When the markets crashed a few years later, everyone wondered what investors and entrepreneurs were thinking when they started some of these dot-com businesses.

History has repeatedly proven that technology created simply for the sake of technology always fails.

While it’s likely still a few years away, one day the hospitality industry will be disrupted by a new era of guest-facing apps that will prove to be compelling enough to warrant a download. These apps will be fully encompassing: they will bring the guest from check-in to check-out, stay relevant between trips, and capitalize on the always important convenience factor.

Until then, hoteliers can assume their apps will serve as a “one-night stand” for the occasional curious tourist.

NB: This is a viewpoint by Nikhil Nath, CEO and Founder of Knowcross

NB2: Image by djvstock/

Related reading from Tnooz:
Data suggests airports are wasting their time with mobile apps (April 2016)

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