The Benefits and Features of a Branded Hotel Reservation App

Originally published at onix-systems.com.

There are already 5.11 billion mobile users in the world, and the number is growing. Simultaneously, people are becoming more and more comfortable searching for hotels or vacation rentals and flight booking via smartphones. Moreover, they are looking for mobile technologies to enhance their travel experiences. Over 60% of people use their smartphones throughout a journey, leveraging 7–8 different applications. More than half of American leisure travelers would use an app for adding extras to their bookings on the go. 42% would like to pay using Apple/Android Pay within travel apps.

Hotel aggregators, online travel agencies, and hotel websites are great, but hoteliers need to capture omnichannel shoppers that jump between desktop, mobile browsers, and apps. Since over 70% of same-day hotel bookings are made on mobile devices, an optimized mobile experience is key to capturing late bookers. 74% of travelers would use a branded mobile app if their favorite hotel had one.

Major hotel chains have their own products already. Apps like Hilton Honors, Marriott Bonvoy, or World of Hyatt let customers book thousands of hotels and resorts worldwide at the lowest rates, without any booking fees, and save even more on special offers. However, hotel booking is not their sole purpose. The integration of a mobile app makes on-premises hotel services more accessible and personalized and supports the entire seamless guest journey.

This article explains how to create a mobile app for hotels, motels, or other hospitality businesses. If you wonder whether it’s worthwhile, here are some reasons to start with.

Booking technology and hotel apps influence the decisions of 70% of travelers. The results of building a hotel reservation app for a business may include the following:

  • Mobile solutions help engage users and drive two-way communication. A branded mobile app can be a powerful marketing tool which helps you to reach out to your audience and win them over. It will create a close marketing group of highly engaged customers. In-app messages, chatbots, push notifications, and emails will be encouraging room upgrades, restaurant or spa bookings, or other services. The digital extension of your concierge team will conduct conversations with hundreds of in-house and prospective guests.
  • A branded app enables hotel chains to establish a direct connection with customers: they always have the service right in their pockets and the business logo on their home screens.
  • Most millennials want to manage their brand loyalty programs via mobile devices. This opportunity will open up the floor for higher and more positive engagement.
  • Having a mobile app is the best way to capture same-day bookings.
  • Almost one third of hotel inventory is never booked. A last-minute hotel booking feature helps optimize hotel occupancy and grow your customer base and income. Travelers may initially choose a hotel due to discounted prices or special deals, or for a 12, 6 or even one-hour stay, and end up as return guests.
  • Your very own app will be generating revenue directly via your mobile booking platform and in-room ordering system. Direct bookings mean the ability to sell at higher rates, avoid OTA commissions, and increase profit.
  • The hotel app can help you upsell services.
  • Apps with speedy check-in and digital key functions make late registrations more manageable and prevent lengthy queues at reception. This streamlines the guest experience, increases staff efficiency, and accelerates operations.
  • Like every automation solution, a mobile hotel reservation app helps save your staff time and cut costs. Reducing the amount of paper printed, it helps to make your hotel more eco-friendly.
  • The app may facilitate customer feedback, in-app surveys, and reviews on TripAdvisor or other review sites. In the event of a bad review, it alerts the business so as to solve the problem quickly and protect its online reputation.
  • A mobile app provides hotel owners with loads of data. They can source valuable insights into how people come to purchase their services, how often customers visit, how much they spend, how they interact with the hotel services, and so on. These allow hoteliers to enhance guest experiences and adjust their strategy for better performance.
  • Better customer experience and app-facilitated loyalty programs will foster a community of happy regulars and drive repeat business.
  • Loyalty programs, promotions, and review platforms through a mobile app will help the business keep in touch with guests long after check-out. The more customers book, the more points/discounts/benefits they receive. This encourages them to open the app looking for updates and to prefer the brand’s hotels/motels/hostels to others.
  • By developing a mobile app, a business wins over tech-savvy and mobile-only shoppers and gains a competitive edge over rivals who still don’t have one.
  • Innovative and personalized customer experiences powered by mobile technology will raise brand awareness and increase brand loyalty.

65% of hotel guests are reportedly more likely to pay higher rates and return to hotels that offer access to the technology they value. The current technology demands include having a hotel mobile application with a variety of features.

The steps for creating a hotel app can be outlined as follows:

  1. Market research, user research, analysis of the best hotel booking apps in your niche, and identification of the future app’s primary concept.
  2. Development of a unique value proposition and choice of the distribution areas and platform(s) for the hotel reservation app (if needed).
  3. Functional specification and prototyping will help you test and approve ideas with stakeholders and end-users and define the scope of work and budget for your minimum viable product (MVP).
  4. User experience (UX) and user interface (UI) design aiming at intuitive and straightforward user flows and appealing look-and-feel.
  5. Mobile application front- and back-end development. This will include integrations with booking engines, payment gateways, hotel property management system, customer relationship management system, and other software to ensure smooth, safe, and error-free sales and operation of your hospitality business.
  6. Testing at all levels to ensure the hotel reservation app is effective, easy to navigate, and fast.
  7. Development of the marketing strategy for your application.
  8. Publication on the Apple App Store, Google Play, or other channels where target audiences can download the app.

The product development is thus pretty similar to any travel booking app development. Сharacteristics arise from each hospitality business’ needs. The features can be divided into two groups:

  1. proper hotel reservation app;
  2. nice-to-have features catering to guests on and off the hotel premises.

Functionalities in the first group, following a typical user journey on most hotel booking sites and mobile apps, should or may include:

Users can register via Facebook account, phone number, or email. To keep the customers’ accounts secure, put appropriate identification, authentication, and authorization measures in place. For example, sign-in with Touch ID and Face ID is also faster and more convenient.

The application should facilitate a quick and easy hotel reservation process anytime and anywhere. The search parameters may include destination (city or address, landmark, airport, or hotel name), check-in and check-out dates, number of people (adults and children), and the number of rooms or hotel room type. The filters may include hotel prices, brand, member-only hotels, pet-friendly hotels, ratings, etc. If applicable, users might also look for banquet and conference halls, spas, golf links, and other facilities.

If your chain includes motels and hostels, or offers last-minute hotel booking and “microstays,” let travelers tap “Find hotel nearby” and use geolocation. Late planners or travelers whose plans were disrupted will like the ability to book a hotel room promptly on the go.

Even faster voice search may be a specialty of your branded app. Busy and tired travelers will appreciate it when, instead of typing, they just say “I want a room at the X hotel tonight,” and the app will instantly show available options.

The app should present a list of available hotels and show them on the map as well. Users may wish to sort them by distance, hotel price, or review scores. Ideally, the app should produce personalized lists based on the user’s location and previous bookings. For example, if they tend to choose pet-friendly hotels, the app can put the matching options and hotels they once stayed at higher in the search results.

The items should have descriptions, photos, amenities details, contact information, reviews, ratings, and available hotel rooms along with prices, offers, deals, and discounts. Excellent pictures of the hotel rooms, halls, restaurants, pools, and wellness and spa facilities will entice the users and speed up the decision-making.

Before making a choice, travelers need a close-up of the hotel room. The app should offer an overview, photo gallery, social media buttons, suggestions, etc. For example, Hilton Honors allows users to pick a room themselves, with street maps helping to find the perfect view. Geolocation should enable directions to the reserved hotel. Immersive videos and virtual tours with 360-degree photos would showcase hotel suites, halls, and other areas dynamically. It’s also smart to present your restaurant menu and offer a table, spa treatments, additional hotel services, and possibly things to do nearby at the time of hotel room booking.

If you offer event venues, try to simplify event planning for your customers. For example, you may help to arrange lodgings for multiple attendees and provide “event rate” agreements. Your own hotel aggregator would gather data from hotels around the event venue and show the available rooms with rates to all attendees. Then, the app would manage the reservation process so that all can take advantage of the event rate.

Ideally, the booking process should take a few swipes and clicks. Users should be able to pay safely using a preferred method: debit or credit cards, PayPal, Braintree, Stripe, Apple Pay, Apple Wallet, or another payment option. With the payment data entered once and stored in the app, Touch ID would make future bookings quick and secure. Customers should also be able to easily apply their points, discounts, bonuses, and promo codes. Once they have paid for the accommodation, they should receive an online receipt which can be shown at the hotel reception. Don’t forget about an opt-out allowing customers to pay at check-in.

Empower users to modify reservations. Travelers will also appreciate free cancellation until the last 24 hours.

Travelers, especially when using last-minute booking services, expect an immediate response from the booking app. It should provide a real-time notification system for hotels and travelers. Besides booking confirmations, the app may send alerts informing/reminding users about check-in and check-out times, changes in rates, disruptions, etc. During the stay, it may remind about scheduled activities and upcoming events and promote special offers, packages, and deals at the hotel’s restaurant or spa.

Customers may need to contact the hotel directly and send files, e.g., in case of any query or exclusive hotel deals, or if they want food, drinks, or anything else in their room before arrival, or before checking out. Human-to-human messaging will enable users to request items and services, ask questions, and solve any problems quickly. Artificial Intelligence-powered hotel concierge within the app may provide 24/7 customer service and offer valuable suggestions, personalized tips, and instructions.

The app should store various customer information, like personal info, credit cards, preferred language and currency, and more. For example, hotel chains and other hospitality companies can partner with international corporations, employee benefits companies that provide travel discounts as part of employment benefits packages, or professional associations that offer benefits in exchange for membership dues. This information should be in the system.

Customers can see how many points and benefits they earned, figure out how to redeem them, and track their progress towards tiers and rewards. They can view their booking history, favorite hotels saved for future quick booking, and wishlist, view and download hotel folios, and receive bonuses, discounts, and personalized offers based on this data.

Big hotel chains’ apps support at least seven languages: English, Spanish, French, German, Simplified Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.

It makes sense to emulate the leaders, but it’s always wise to consider the unique needs and preferences of your target audience. Only in-depth user research will help you figure out the necessary app features and how they should work.

Specialty features of a branded hotel app can give guests at their fingertips anything they need before, during, and possibly after their stay.

Consider the following opportunities:

  • 70% of hotel guests want to use their phones to speed up check-in. Mobile apps like World of Hyatt allow customers to check in and out ahead of time from anywhere literally on the go and notify the hotel of their arrival time. After a long flight or car ride, travelers don’t have to wait in a long line at a kiosk to pick up the hotel room key and remember it afterward.
  • With a hotel app, a guest’s mobile device can be their room key. Not only can they get to their room faster and never have to worry about forgetting a key card, but also open the hotel’s parking garage, fitness center, lounge, pool, or other facilities.
  • 88% of guests want an app that makes their stay more personal; 77% would access hotel services and comforts through their mobile. Thus, features for easy orders for in-room dining, minibar refills, cleaning, laundry, extra pillows and towels, and other items from anywhere will be useful. You may give users a list of amenities to choose from or enable chat with the room service with the touch of a button.
  • Enable your guests to browse the menu of the hotel’s restaurant, to place an order to be delivered to the room when they return, or to dine at a specific table at a specific time.
  • Your hotel app may also offer a curated list of local tourist attractions, shopping malls, and things to do, meeting the guests’ needs as a local guide. The app may even enable them to book a restaurant table, tour, or museum/theatre/concert ticket.
  • Some guests will appreciate real-time tracking of room charges during their stay.
  • In-app currency converter may be valuable as well.
  • Some may want to make voice calls to the front desk within the app before, during, and even after the stay.
  • An Augmented Reality feature may assist in the on-premises navigation, support marketing materials, facilitate sales, entertain the kids, or otherwise engage your customers by novelty.
  • Express check-out via the app will enable guests to bypass the front desk when they depart, probably in a hurry.
  • In-app taxi booking service can help them schedule a pickup time and be notified once the car arrives.
  • The app may request guest reviews/ratings and enable experience sharing through travel vlogs, pictures, insider tips, etc.

Nice-to-have features increase pre- and post-stay customer satisfaction. Not all of them should be implemented in the MVP. If you offer too many capabilities simultaneously, you may jeopardize the simplicity and precision which users value most about mobile applications.

The proliferation of mobile devices offers hospitality businesses unique opportunities to reach out to and serve customers throughout their journey. By adopting a multi-channel approach, they can engage travelers easier with enhanced features on mobile apps and provide a convenient guest experience before and after the stay.

A seamless mobile booking experience can help to influence purchase decisions and drive more conversions. During the stay, the mobile app will help to personalize the guest experience by taking in special requests and connecting with restaurants and local activities and services. A useful and effective hotel reservation app can help to boost your business, foster customer loyalty, and help you stay competitive locally and globally.

The cost of a hotel mobile app development depends on the scope and complexity and whether you’re building it from scratch or on top of an existing back-end. In the latter case, the budget will be 15–30% lower. The development team’s location matters as well. If you outsource the project to South Asia, South America, or Eastern Europe, the cost will likely be $50K-$100K for a single platform.

Travel suppliers are losing the battle for mobile users against online travel agencies partly because historically they have been less focused on technology. With the right technological approach and app features in place, hoteliers can hope for a bigger slice of the mobile booking pie. Onix-Systems has extensive experience building web and mobile applications, including travel and hotel booking solutions. Let’s build the best hotel booking app for your company together!

Onix-Systems provides IT services in website, mobile app and emerging technologies software development. Check our blog -> https://onix-systems.com/blog

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