Blog category: technology

iPad - brief review with lots good, some bad

By Des O'Mahony | On Tue, May 11, 2010

Bookassist Hotel Booking Engine on iPadWe’ve been trying out Apple iPads in Bookassist and have a few observations to make.

All is good…
The device mostly lives up to the hype as a great portable communication tool. It is clearly aimed at the “consumer” end of media rather than the creator end, in that it is great at browsing the web, dealing with email, watching videos and films, listening to music, looking at photographs. If your country has the iTunes Movie store, it’s easy to get movies onto the device via iTunes syncing, and the quality of movie-watching experience is really superb.

During a recent 9 hour transatlantic flight between USA and Ireland offices, I watched 2 full movies, the remaining half of a third movie, and for an hour or so did a bit of word processing on the iWork Pages app while listening to music on the iPod app. All told, something in the region of 6 to 6.5 hours of use, with Wifi off. The battery went from 100% to 57% for all of this usage, which is seriously impressive. It definitely gets the thumbs up on battery.

Web experience is great, when connected to Wifi of course. Bookassist booking engine runs really well in standard web mode, as you find it on hotel websites. But we’ve adjusted the mobile booking engine version also (shown here) to run really well on iPad and to give a more naturally “touch” experience on the large screen. This will be released shortly as an update to the mobile webapp. We suspect that hotels will want to make sure that iPad users get this experience also rather than the standard web experience for iPad users, good and all as that is.

You can use a third party app such as Dropbox to keep documents in sync between your desktop/laptop and your iPad if you want to be able to readily access working documents while on the go.

But…
On the downside, Apple’s iWork applications for iPad - Pages for word processing, Keynote for presentations and Numbers for spreadsheets - proved to be a slight disappointment. At Bookassist we use iWork applications on the desktop extensively. The indications were that moving files to iWork on iPad would be relatively seamless. Not so.

Apple really should not have called the iPad iWork apps “Pages, Keynote, Numbers”. A modifier such as “Pages Lite” or “Pages Mobile” would have been far better to indicate their reduced capabilities in some areas.

iPad Pages and Numbers work well. The on-screen keyboard input takes relatively little to get used to and if you are familiar with the desktop apps you are up and running with these without too much difficulty. They are great for taking notes or doing quick work on the go. The use of the touch interface is quite intuitive if you are used to the inspector in the desktop versions.

iPad Pages lacks the “Track Changes while Editing” feature that I would use quite a lot when reading others’ documents. While you can create decent documents on the go, editing other’s documents is not as elegant. Also, opening existing documents from your desktop will likely lead to some formating changes which is annoying. It is a great app, but it is not the same as the desktop version.

iPad Keynote looked like it could really substitute for the laptop when giving presentations. Alas, that was a firm no for me. None of my desktop presentations, transferred to iPad, would import into Keynote. The cause is probably the extensive use of animations and element grouping that I make, or customised templates. Generating a simpler Keynote presentation meant the import worked fine, and generating a presentation directly on the iPad was a breeze. But the cool 3D graphics in charts are reduced down to 2D and some builds are not present. They still look great, but they are not what you might have come to expect of Keynote. Again, considering the device, this is an amazing app, but the expectation based on the desktop experience of the full app was higher.

A real show-stopper is the output to VGA for Keynote on the iPad as currently implemented. While the iPad displays your presentation as expected, there is as yet no remote control option to progress slides, requiring you to physically tap or swipe the iPad for each slide progression. As a speaker, I hate being stuck at the podium and prefer to be out and about on the floor while talking, so this lack of functionality is a real issue. Having to return to the podium for each change makes a real break in delivery momentum that is unacceptable. Sadly, the feature I anticipated most is a non-runner for now. Apple needs to fix this bigtime.

Also, there is no option to add and view notes per slide, no presenter view. This will likely be an issue for some users.

Make no mistake, the software engineering to get iWork running on the iPad is a really fantastic feat that Apple deserves credit for. But for Apple marketing to give the impression that these apps are up to exactly the same desktop standard is a mistake since it will only result in disappointment among users.

In summary, what the iPad does, and what it was designed for, it does exceptionally well. It is fantastic for web, mail and media interaction, just as advertised. Its interface is very intuitive. What it does not do well, and what it was not designed for, is to facilitate content creation at desktop standards. In that regard it is not yet a substitute for a full-fledged laptop while traveling.

Labels: technology, mobile

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How Hotels Can Best Seize The Growing Mobile Opportunity

By Des O'Mahony | On Thu, February 17, 2011

Bookassist’s Des O’Mahony points out some painful truths for the hotel industry online, and recommends learn form their mistakes when looking at mobile



As we study the technology marketplace in early 2011, it is clear that the mobile space is growing at an unprecedented rate. It presents real and immediate opportunities to hotels to reach their customers and generate direct booking revenue for low acquisition cost.



How Hotels Missed The Internet Boat

Unfortunately for hotels, the guest has usually been well ahead of them in terms of their service requirements online and their knowledge of online technology. In the late nineties, as the web began to explode, the guest was already online and increasingly looking to book online. But hotels were far from ready to serve the online guest directly. The result was that third party channels stepped in as middlemen to fulfill the need and facilitate the online guest, taking control of that middle ground between hotel and guest.



Hotels spent much of the following decade paying high commission fees to third party channels that were servicing the hotels’ own guests online. Meanwhile the hotels’ own direct web presence was woefully inadequate and underpromoted, with little chance of converting lookers into bookers. The third party channels succeeded in taking strong control of the online space, and while they have certainly served the guest well, the hotels have been suffering the financial consequences ever since, with third party channels in control of many hotels’ inventories.



Gradually, hotels are realizing that they can sell quite successfully directly, that they can reach their guests directly online, and that they can do so with lower acquisition costs than the third party booking channels would have them believe. The savvy (but still too rare) hotel is embracing online marketing and social media and is no longer at the mercy of what the third party channel dictates in terms of rate.



But just as hotels have realized this past mistake, a new battle looms where the stakes are even higher. That battle is for the mobile space, and it is growing far more explosively than the rapid growth witnessed in web adoption. Hotels need to seriously invest in keeping up with guest requirements on mobile and ensure they don’t make the same mistakes in the mobile arena that they paid the price for in “traditional” web. It may seem a trivial market now, but it is set to change rapidly.



The Growth In Smart Devices

Let’s look at the potential that the hotel market faces. As former Google CEO Eric Schmidt remarked in early 2010 “I am struck by the explosion of mobile computing. Mobile is clearly going to win the battle with traditional computers”. These are ominous words that hotels would well profit from noting.



On the upside for travel, many reports have shown that the majority of customers are completely comfortable with booking travel online. A recent Google IAB/TNS Consumer Confidence Barometer survey of ecommerce purchasing behavior in Q3 of 2010 showed that an impressive 68% of customers both research and purchase travel online, significantly higher than any other category of goods or services such as technology, retail, media etc. The same survey shows there is ample evidence to suggest that this extends into the mobile area: 42% of people say they use their mobile because it is the easiest way to research or buy, while 49% of non-mobile users say they will use mobile in future to buy. Only 9% mention some reticence regarding security issues in buying on mobile. So hotels already have a captive and lucrative audience if they choose to reach them directly on mobile.



Now look at the rate of adoption of mobile technology. An October 2010 CNBC report on smart device acquisition stated that “Growth in Smart Device sales is unprecedented even in technology sales history” and figures from Apple, just one manufacturer, bear this out. It took Apple 680 days to sell the first one million iPods, a figure reached in 2003. In 2007, it took the company 74 days to clock up the one millionth iPhone sale. Last year, Apple shipped one million iPads in just 28 days. This is staggering growth in mobile internet-capable devices, and this is the space where the hotel customer is increasingly comfortable.



The result of this explosive growth in mobile internet access is that, according to Gartner research, and Morgan-Stanley, mobile internet access is expected to surpass desktop web access sometime in 2013 or so, with more mobile internet access devices (1.82B) in use than desktop or traditional computing devices (1.78B).



So we have the devices, and we have the willingness to purchase. Hotels need to act now to ensure they are maximizing their mobile presence and their mobile marketing and advertising strategies in order to capitalize on this fast-approaching perfect storm.



To App or not to App

In January 2011, Apple trumpeted its ten billionth app store download. Many hotels have asked if they should be on this app bandwagon. The answer is, “it depends”.



For the hotel that is looking to capture the casual rather than regular customer, an app is not an ideal solution. The casual customer finds hotels on mobile primarily via search, using Google or other engines on their mobile browser. When a hotel is listed on search results, the user taps to continue through to the hotel and does not want to encounter a barrier in the form of a request to go to the app store, find the hotel, download an app etc. The nature of the searching guest is to want information quickly, so they’ll just move on to the next search result if they encounter barriers. Understanding how your potential guests are finding you on mobile is critical to developing your solution.



What the hotel needs is a mobile website or webapp that instantly serves the mobile guest transparently and without barriers. A single tap from search results on mobile should deliver the hotel’s information and booking capability in a form suitable for the device in question, whether that be iPhone, Android-based phones, BlackBerry or whatever. No downloads or complications should be put in the users’ way.



Luckily, iPhone, Android and the newer BlackBerry devices (Torch) all share common web browser architecture, called WebKit, so minimal changes are required to get a webapp functioning well on all three. And since webapps can be built in HTML and CSS, just like regular websites, hotels need only invest in better web technology to serve the mobile customers’ needs. Webapps in HTML and CSS are easily adapted to new devices and platforms as they arise, so investment in a proper webapp architecture means you are building in future flexibility for new devices and standards. A Taptu Mobile Touch Web Report from 2010 showed that webapps grew at three times the rate of regular app development, with ecommerce being the fastest growth area in webapps.



Contrast this with the popular but fragmented app space. To build a great app for iPhone takes programming expertise that is not as readily available as web expertise. To additionally do so for Android-based devices means largely redeveloping your app solution, since iPhone and Android are on a completely different code base, speaking a different technical language if you will. Add BlackBerry to the mix and you are again developing in a different programming environment from scratch. Likewise Nokia/Windows Mobile. You are now faced with multiple development processes to give the same general experience to your customers, and multiple upgrade processes when you change information or when the platforms develop. Not to mention the fact that you would be relying on customers to go to the app store for their platform and search there for your particular hotel in order to find you, which is not the way that people traditionally find accommodation online and, by extension, on mobile.



For hotels with considerable repeat business and regular corporate guests, an actual downloadable app does make some sense - but as a complement to a proper mobile webapp solution, not as an alternative.



Good Old Fashioned Customer Service

It is easy to get bogged down in the technical details of what should be delivered, which platforms to target and what strategy to best adopt. But it is well worth noting that delivering solutions now on mobile to satisfy your customers’ needs is nothing more than a manifestation of good old fashioned customer service. If your customer is online on mobile, and you are not there to serve, then you have lost the opportunity to impress. To fail to embrace mobile now, or to cede your mobile presence to some third party, is to implicitly tell your potential mobile guest that you are not really interested in serving their needs and are content to let someone else do so.



As always, the key to success on mobile, as anywhere, is to understand what best suits the guests’ need, not what best suits the hotel’s, and to deliver on it.





Dr Des O’Mahony is the co-founder and chief executive officer of Bookassist (bookassist.org). Bookassist’s mobile webapp solution for hotels and hotel groups is a quickly-deployed and increasingly popular solution.

Labels: technology, mobile, marketing

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Referral Links - Tripadvisor Business Listing

By Des O'Mahony | On Fri, November 04, 2011

Bookassist’s Martin Murray discusses the use of the Tripadvisor business listing as a referral link.

When it comes to marketing your hotel online your main goal should be to drive as much qualified traffic and revenue through your own website as possible. One way to help with this goal is through the use of referral links.

There are many sources of referral links available and in this article we will be discussing the use of the Tripadvisor business listing as a referral link.

What is all it about?

With over 50 million reviews and an estimated one in every four travelers visiting the site before travelling, Tripadvisor has become the largest and most popular hotel review website. Tripadvisor launched the business listing back in January 2010 as a way for hotels to promote their listing and to encourage direct contact between the customer and the hotel. For many people checking hotel reviews is the final stage of their purchasing decision so having your hotel’s contact details present will help increase your chances of a direct booking which could otherwise be gained by a third party website.

Tripadvisor business listing features

There are several features to a Tripadvisor business listing. The main three are listed below.

Contact details displayed

Your hotel’s phone number, website link and email details are displayed under your hotel’s name on your Tripadvisor listing.
Create special offers
With the business listing you can create special offers for your hotel which are then displayed throughout the Tripadvisor website.
Mobile listing is enhanced
When you upgrade to a business listing, visitors viewing your listing on a mobile device will be able to call your hotel and visit your hotel’s website directly.

Cost

Tripadvisor charge a yearly fee to upgrade to the business listing and the cost varies depending on the number of rooms your property has. The average cost for a hotel in Ireland is €1550 pa. It is worth noting that you can you can cancel your subscription at any time and get your money back for the remainder of your subscription.

So is it worth it?

We have measured two hotels in the study below. Hotel A is ranked in the top 10% for their area while Hotel B is ranked in the top 30%.

Visits – Hotel A received 6345 visits while Hotel B received 674. (ROI) Return on investment – Hotel A had a return on investment of 44 (for every one euro spent on the business listing 44 was made back) while Hotel B had a ROI of 2. There are several factors which could explain the large difference in results between both hotels but the main reason is because Hotel A has a much higher Tripadvisor ranking than Hotel B and therefore gets a lot more exposure on the Tripadvisor website. If you are considering upgrading to the Tripadvisor business listing then we recommend that your hotel should be in the top 15% for your area for the business listing to be beneficial.

Conversion Conversion rate from the Tripadvisor business listing was quite high for both hotels. The table below compares the conversion rate from the business listing compared to the average conversion rate for referral links for each hotel’s website.

Is it worth it?

The simple answer is yes, if you have a high Tripadvisor ranking. The success of the business listing will mainly depend on two factors.

Tripadvisor Ranking – This is by far the biggest factor. The higher your Tripadvisor ranking the more times your hotel will be displayed to visitors. Also, hotels with a high ranking are trusted more as they are seen be of a high quality and therefore visitors are more inclined to learn more about them. If you are interested in upgrading you’re listing to a business listing but have a low Tripadvisor ranking we would recommend improving your ranking first.

Rate Parity / Availability – The business listing may generate traffic but that does not mean that this traffic will automatically convert into bookings, which is why having a least rate parity and good availability on your own website will help ensure that any traffic generated by the business listing will convert at as high a rate as possible.

If you are interested in upgrading to the Tripadvisor business listing then please contact us at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) Bookassist – Technology & online strategy for hotels

Labels: tripadvisor, technology, strategy, mobile

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