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Marriott’s #AppYourService and the Guest Demand for On-Demand Hotel Apps

The buzz surrounding Marriott’s newly released “Mobile Request” app update and #AppYourService campaign reveals the insatiable appetite consumers have for instant gratification while offering a preview of the potential demand for a digital concierge. The user-friendly app underscores the necessity for every hotel to have a mobile request feature and the importance of meeting customer’s growing expectations on mobile.

Last week, Marriott rolled out its latest app upgrade, “Mobile Request,” to members of its Marriott Rewards loyalty program. The new feature lets guests get in touch with their property through the Marriott mobile app up to 72 hours before they check in. Users can either access a drop-down menu of common requests like extra pillows and a late checkout or they can use the “Anything Else?” feature, which allows guests to have a real-time, two-way conversation with hotel staff. This option lets users arrange an airport pickup in advance of their arrival or schedule restaurant reservations while offsite. Mobile Request is currently at 46 locations and will expand to the company’s 500 properties around the world by the end of the summer.

The hotel chain’s splashy #AppYourService social media campaign expertly demonstrated the tremendous benefit of giving guests access to digital requests and real-world fulfillment. Marriott’s team set up a social media command center in Times Square last week and invited New Yorkers to tweet their requests for services, amenities, and gifts to @Marriott with the hashtag #AppYourService. By mid-afternoon Marriott’s twitter account had received over 1,000 requests. Over the course of the day, Marriott’s red-suited bellhops raced across Midtown, delivering flowers, gift cards, yoga mats, sneakers, headphones, an Apple Watch, all manner of food (lobster rolls, macrobiotic snacks, vegan burritos, and pizza, lots of pizza), and helped at least one couple get married.

Although the novelty, scale, and generosity of the #AppYourService campaign all contributed to its social media success (the hashtag was trending by midmorning), its popularity can also be attributed to the exalted place mobile request and immediate fulfillment hold in our instant gratification economy. While the stunt was over in less than 12 hours, preparations for the new app features were a year in the making. Marriott’s marketing team partnered with social media analytics company, Sysmos last August for an in-depth, global social listening campaign. Not surprisingly, the investigation revealed people “want to get what they want, when they want it and they want to be able to order it via their smartphones.”

Indeed, Mobile Request proved its worth during the months of testing prior to release. More importantly, it proved that there exists a growing need that heretofore had not been addressed by the hospitality industry. Clearly, guests are seeking services and amenities both before and during their stays that can be attended to more conveniently and efficiently than having to find and call the hotel’s phone number. During testing, 80 percent of the more than 10,000 mobile requests made by guests chose the “Anything Else?” real-time, two-way chat option. This statistic emphasizes guests’ desire to communicate with their hotel, but as quickly, personally, and efficiently as possible.

Given the degree of mobile penetration among travelers and the rapidly shifting consumer expectations around mobile, customer-centric design for hotels is looking more and more like smartphone-centric design. In announcing Mobile Request, Marriott’s VP Matthew Carroll cited the increasingly connected traveler and the corresponding shift in guest expectations. “Some 75 percent of people travel with one or more mobile devices and the percentage is higher for younger travelers,” he said via press release. “We know today’s travelers want a mobile experience built around their changing needs and desire to communicate on their terms.”

Marriott is one example of a hotel paving the way with mobile. Virgin Hotels is another chain pioneering mobile-first design. In addition to ordering room service from the Virgin Hotel app, guests can also control their in-room thermostat, music, and television, all from their smartphone. According to Skift Business Editor Grant Martin, “Applications like those from Virgin and Marriott will only grow as the traveling public demands better and faster connectivity as part of the unified hotel experience…. Soon smartphones will play an enormous role in any hotel stay starting from check-in and pervading through the entire stay.” He concludes, “Now it’s just a race to see who can roll out the best functionality the fastest.”

On-demand technology is great news for the industry. It opens up a whole new realm of customization, convenience, and competition that will yield more fulfilling guest experiences. While eventually this mobile technology will be mandatory for any hotel’s service, an investment in it now demonstrates the lengths a hotel is willing to go in order to deliver on guest expectations. The challenge for those hotels without the massive Marriott-sized budgets and technology teams is how they can possibly compete without the resources to design, develop, and produce their own on-demand offering.

This growing need validates our own mission to give hotels the tools necessary to compete in on-demand. At ALICE, we often talk about the gap between customers’ expectations around mobile and the anachronistic state of hotel technology. While several big-name hotel chains are trying to bridge that divide, the new breed of on-demand consumers who turn to mobile whenever they need something, is left with few options.

Hotels that want this same app functionality no longer have to have a Marriott-sized budget. Six or seven years ago, when hotel apps first emerged with the arrival of the app store, app production was prohibitively expensive for all but the largest chains. Even in 2012, when apps were declared the “must-have hotel amenity,” a single app for a single property could take up to six months to develop and cost anywhere from $50,000 to $150,000. Fortunately in 2012, hotel apps like hotel WiFi, weren’t seen as an inevitability. But fast-forward to 2015, WiFi is an absolute necessity for hotels, and full-featured apps—as Marriott’s move underscores—are quickly becoming table stakes. Thanks to technological advances and a few smart mobile hotel tech startups, apps as powerful as Marriott’s—or even more so—are available to both large hotel chains and the boutique brands alike. In fact, just about any hotel can be up and running with on-demand hotel apps almost instantaneously, for just a fraction of the price. Says Skift’s Martin: “Soon the question won’t be whether your hotel has a connected app, it’ll be how good your hotel’s app is.”

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