A study found that Americans check their phone on average once every 12 minutes. That number may not be accurate for everyone, but you have to admit that the separation anxiety is real — and people have grown dependent on their mobile phones. The hospitality industry, though not always at the forefront of technological innovation, has also recognized the potential of mobile technology.
When more than 2,500 hospitality and travel industry professionals from all over the world were asked which emerging trend they thought was the “biggest area of opportunity” for the hospitality industry, 30 percent of deemed professionals and 40 percent of industry leaders chose “mobile engagements,” making it the top trend. Mobile engagements also won the “which trend would be implemented first” game with an overwhelming advantage (35 percent of professionals and 65 percent of leaders).
When thinking about mobile engagement, the mobile app is probably the first thing to pop into your mind. Indeed, apps are essential tools that we use on our smart phones, and all of the big names in the hospitality world — Marriott/Starwood, Hilton, Wyndham, IHG, etc. — have them. The reality is, though, developing and maintaining an app that works and that people will actually use can be quite costly. So, it does not always make sense for small and independent businesses. Plus, people simply do not download many new apps anymore. That brings me to the question: Are there any options that can enhance mobile engagements?
Progressive web apps (PWAs) are web pages or websites that use modern web capabilities to deliver an app-like experience to users. They cost less, reach wider devices and platforms, update faster, require minimal storage space, allow work on low quality networks, and engage users well. They are also searchable on search engines since they are essentially websites. However, so far they still have poor support on IOS, limited capabilities when it comes to integrating with a device’s hardware features, and slower performance compared to the native apps that we are used to. Nevertheless, we should keep an eye on where PWA is going, considering its attractive advantages.
Another option: built-in functions of existing apps. Allow me to use WeChat as an example. Starting as a messaging app, WeChat is now probably THE most important app to many Chinese people because of its wide range of functions and platforms. As of November 2017, WeChat had more than 980 million monthly active users. People communicate with their families, friends, and even business partners via WeChat on a daily basis. The huge amount of users and their connections with each other provide fertile soils to grow other offerings.
One of these offerings is the WeChat Official Account, a free-to-register service for governments, media, enterprises, organizations and individuals to communicate and interact with their subscribers. There are two types of official accounts: subscription accounts and service accounts. A subscription account pushes content feeds to its subscribers and can communicate with them via messaging. A service account can provide more powerful business services and user management capabilities. For example, I can use Didi’s service account to hail a ride, contact customer service, sign up to become a driver, or even shop online — all without having to download a Didi app.
Another major tool in mobile engagement is mobile payments. I traveled home to China during the winter holiday, and I was surprised at how mobile payment has infiltrated every aspect of people’s lives. Shopping, dining, traveling, paying bills… I never had to carry cash or even credit cards around. I could simply scan the business’ QR code, or they can scan a barcode generated on my WeChat, and it was done. Splitting a dinner bill with friends can often be a hassle, especially if the restaurant will not split the bill for you. Now, you can have one person pay first, and everyone else can send their share to that person instantly. Sounds like Apple Pay or Paypal, right? Well, the difference is that no one had to download a special app; everyone was already using WeChat.
Now, more than 120 million outbound trips are made by Chinese travelers per year. Would it not be great if they could pay in a way that is most convenient and familiar for them? Luxe Hotels’ properties in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills recently started accepting WeChat Pay and Alipay (WeChat Pay’s biggest competitor), among other mobile payment apps including Apple Pay. They believe that the mobile payment trend is picking up, and that embracing it can largely enhance the guest’s experience.
I will stop right here before it sounds too much like a commercial — and I am certainly not suggesting that everyone around the world should use WeChat or Alipay, or whatever is going on now in China. I am merely showing you a model that has worked, and hopefully get you thinking: What can we do to ride, or — even better — to create the wave?
Sunny Wang is a graduate assistant at the HFTP Americas Research Center and is currently pursuing her master’s degree in hospitality management at the University of Houston, graduating in May 2018. Wang was the vice president of the HFTP Polytechnic University student chapter. She is also the first recipient of the John Cahill Hospitality Technology Research Assistantship established by HFTP at the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management, University of Houston.