How smartphones are reshaping the hotel experience

By Simon Francis, Technology Writer

The smartphone is now positioned at the center of the guest experience - Brandstand.

In little over a decade, smartphones have gone from an expensive toy to an everyday gadget. There are now more than 3.5 billion smartphone owners worldwide [1], nearly three quarters (72.2%) of the US population owns a smartphone [2], and penetration is even greater in some other territories. In the UK, research suggests they’re used by more than 95% of people aged 16-55 [3].

With widespread uptake comes widespread use, and the smartphone is changing the way people interact with the world. Now users can freely search, compare and book hotels while standing outside them, and use their cells to explore and get the best from cities and the experiences they offer. For hotel customers, the smartphone can be the hub of their stay. Hotels can benefit too, by embracing new mobile-optimized technologies and supporting smartphone usage.

How guests use their phones 

Guests’ smartphones are relevant from the first step of their hotel experience - research. With this in mind, hotels need a responsive website, tested to look great on desktop, tablet and smartphone screens. Direct booking facilities need to work smoothly on compact and touch screens, too. Guests arriving on foot or by hired car may use their phone to help find their destination, so hotels must ensure they’re marked on major online maps, and consider embedding a map on their contact page.

Once inside a hotel, guests’ smartphones become even more important - and not just to the guest experience. The rise of mobile check-ins, payments and keyless entry systems can help hotels streamline their welcome processes, and can reduce the cost of providing and supporting magnetic key cards. For customers that’s one less thing to carry about, while contactless cellphone transactions - reliable even through the Plexiglass shields installed during the pandemic - help boost security and safety. It’s perhaps no surprise that payment app use worldwide was up 49% during the first half of 2020 [4].

The appeal of hotel mobile apps

The World of Hyatt mobile app, for example, lets guests book into hundreds of Hyatt Hotels and easily access the World of Hyatt loyalty program. It also offers mobile check in/check out, access to room charges, plus integrated concierge services and taxi ordering via Lyft.

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Elsewhere, the Starwood Preferred Guest app can turn a guest's smartphone into a digital room key, while the Hilton Honors app adds the ability for guests to select their preferred room, view and floor when they book.

The smartphone’s importance doesn’t end at the door to the room either. Guests have long preferred their own cell to costly hotel telephones, and with smartphones the same is proving true for entertainment. Guests would rather use their own apps and services like Netflix than pay for hotel TV [5]. At home, smartphone users are increasingly used to shopping and ordering takeout by app. In hotels, they’re happy to do the same for room service [6], and even to control the air conditioning or lights [7].

Optimizing for mobile usage

Guests who booked through a smartphone are equally likely to use one to research and plan days or evenings out during their stay. Local knowledge still has its place, however. Hotels can help - and potentially earn referral commissions - by providing links to partner destinations on their website, or via QR codes printed in a visitor pack. While many guests will be comfortable with Uber, an affiliate link to the local taxi company could be another way to generate extra revenue.

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Receipts and invoices should remind people to leave reviews, and they could contain QR codes linking to review websites. However, while guests might once have waited until they got home before leaving a review, now the smartphone allows them to do it during their stay. With this in mind, it’s even more important to try to keep everyone happy, all of the time!

Finally, smartphones also connect guests socially, enabling them to share experiences through networks and review sites. Hotels can facilitate this, for example by suggesting hashtags for guests to use, or by placing calls-to-action for Instagram or Twitter sharing near the hotel’s best spots for photos. 

Supporting guest devices

With the smartphone now positioned at the center of the guest experience, it’s important for hotels to support them wherever possible. The vast majority of guests now see Wi-Fi as an essential and free part of the hotel experience [8]. Therefore, it’s important that hotels ensure good coverage throughout guest rooms as well as public spaces. This is particularly important if the hotel is using data-driven apps to provide keyless entry, or revenue generators such as bar ordering or room service.

All this potential smartphone and mobile device usage can put a strain on battery life, so hotels are realizing that guests want ample charging options throughout the hotel. In rooms, this means having easily accessible power outlets or, where this isn’t possible or convenient, provision for extra outlets and USB connections for guests traveling without their own chargers. 

Upgrade to wireless charging

The addition of wireless chargers let guests travel even lighter - they’re ideal for cutting down the clutter on bedside tables, or for opportunistic charging on hotel bars and countertops. Hospitality-focused products such as Brandstand’s Cubie product line provide both wireless and wired charging options for guest rooms and public spaces.

From research and booking trips to checking in and ordering room service, mobile devices are increasingly reshaping and augmenting the hotel experience. Helping to keep these devices connected via good Wi-Fi coverage and accessible charging options are a necessary step in the digital transformation of hotels, not just recognizing how guests want to interact with hospitality, but actively embracing it.  

Founded on the principles of innovation and safety, Brandstand makes power and charging products for the hospitality industry.

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