OTA and metasearch apps dramatically outpace hotel brand apps in number of downloads, but brand apps hold their own when it comes to customer satisfaction.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Despite common perceptions, hotel brand mobile apps meet traveler expectations just as well as those of the large online travel agents, according to research compiled by Hotel News Now from iTunes and Google Play app stores.
Assuming “star ratings” are accurate measurements of consumer satisfaction with travel-related mobile apps, hotel companies are not far behind their distribution partners in mobile innovation. Franchisor apps—such as those from Marriott International, Hilton Worldwide Holdings and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide—have much lower demand but receive similar user-satisfaction ratings when compared to OTAs and metasearch sites on iTunes and Google Play.
Averaging a handful of top hotel brand apps and comparing those numbers to an average of the top OTA and metasearch apps, research shows the average hotel brand app has been installed on Android devices between 142,000 to 434,000 times, compared to OTAs and metasearch apps averaging 12 million to 25 million installs.
However, star ratings—or consumer review scores—reveal only a half-star difference on iTunes and less than a tenth of a point difference on Google Play between brands and their distribution partners. The top hotel brands averaged a 3.08 star rating on iTunes and a 4.13 rating on Google Play, while the top OTAs and metasearch apps averaged a 3.6 star rating on iTunes and a 4.22 rating on Google Play.
Adam Anderson, a representative of Expedia, Inc., said the slight OTA outperformance can be explained by the fact that OTAs are focused on technology while hotel brands are focused on serving the guest.
“Speaking for Expedia, we are a technology company. Brands are not,” Anderson said via email. “We spent more than $500 million on technology in 2013, and a large portion of that is dedicated to innovating on mobile.”
Clay Cowan, VP of global digital for Starwood Hotels, agreed, said hotel brands spend more of their resources on connecting with a guest throughout the entire trip rather than on the booking transaction alone. For this reason, hotel brand apps are often unclear on whether they’re serving their loyalty customers with easy account access or travelers with easy booking options, or both.
“OTAs, startups and others are focused on parts of the equation, but we’re focused on the entire guest experience,” Cowan said. “Our digital innovation, combined with our brands, loyalty program and the experience we deliver in our hotels, gives our guests a true end-to-end experience before, during and after a stay.
“Essentially, we’re trying to create an experience where the combination of our brands, loyalty program, direct sales and personalized service becomes impossible to replicate,” he said.
Tim Peter, consultant and founder of Tim Peter & Associates, said lower demand numbers for hotel brand apps can be partially attributed to the myriad ways guests can book a branded hotel room.
“One key point worth mentioning is that many brands and hotels are seeing significant upticks in their voice reservations as a result of mobile traffic,” he said. “Guests are, after all, holding a phone in their hands. … The problem arises when guests get more accustomed to booking on mobile and, as OTAs improve the mobile booking experience, hoteliers may once again find themselves trailing OTAs for reservations.”
Maybe so, if the measurement is based solely on number of reservations. But despite fewer resources and more guest touch points to worry about, hotel brand apps appear to be holding their own when it comes to pleasing the traveler with their user experience.
“Currently, our mobile bookings are growing five times faster than Web bookings did 10 years ago, and 40% of our site visits are through mobile devices,” Starwood Hotels’ Cowan said. “With this dramatic growth in mobile traffic, we are focused on how to make these mobile experiences even better—whether improving the booking experience via apps and mobile websites, or improving the stay experience with the mobile phone in our guests’ hands.”
According to the research, Kayak (a metasearch site that curates hotel and airfare availability and was recently purchased by the Priceline Group) and TripAdvisor (a hotel review site that recently began offering price and availability) lead all apps in both “number of downloads” and “star ratings.”
“Number of downloads is a good indicator of popularity of travel-related apps,” said Kevin Carter, a representative for TripAdvisor.
On the hotel side, Starwood Hotels and InterContinental Hotels Group appear to offer the most consistent brand apps, with Starwood’s version of its iTunes app boasting a 5-star rating and its Android app showing a 4.3 rating as of press time.