Almost everyone in the UK now has a mobile phone, and for the smart hospitality business that represents a great marketing opportunity. Daniel Thomas reports.
It is a scene any user of public transport will be familiar with. The person opposite spends the whole journey fiddling about with their flashy mobile - invariably an Apple iPhone - oblivious to the outside world.
Recent developments mean that there is every chance that he or she will be looking at an application - or "app" - related to the hospitality sector, whether a Jamie Oliver recipe, booking a room at Travelodge or Hilton, or finding the nearest restaurant.
It is no surprise that the hospitality industry has cottoned on to the benefits of mobile marketing. There are more mobile phone subscriptions in the UK than there are people, with 91% of the adult population using one, according to the Mobile Operators Association. Of these, at least a quarter use their mobile for more than calls and messaging - cameras, music, games and, most significantly of all, the internet.
Within three years, more than half of internet users will be accessing the web via mobiles and other handhelds, IT analyst firm Gartner has predicted.
According to the Internet Advertising Bureau, mobile advertising in the UK has continued to grow quarter on quarter throughout the recession and was worth £28.6m last year, a 99.2% year-on-year increase.
The potential of mobile devices for food and hospitality operators was highlighted by Jamie Oliver's recent launch of "Jamie's 20-minute meals", released in conjunction with software firm Zolmo.
The product, priced at £4.99, allows consumers to "shake" their phone to receive a quick, simple recipe. The idea is that they can pop into the shops to buy the ingredients needed to make it on their journey home.
Promoting the new app, Oliver told journalists that the iPhone was "simply another brilliant tool for inspiring and helping people to cook fresh food, which is what I've been trying to do ever since I started 10 years ago".
Budget hotel group Travelodge has also been keen to tap in to the marketing potential of the iPhone and launched a new service for the users of the device in March.
Travelodge iBooker, which can be downloaded for free, allows users to locate the nearest five Travelodge hotels with images and list availability, distance and price on their iPhone. The iBooker service, which accesses a mobile version of Travelodge's website, also enables iPhone users to book rooms directly without the need to perform a GPS location search.
The company says more than 2,000 iBooker apps are downloaded every day, and the number is still growing.
Other large hotels chains have also been jumping on the bandwagon. Hilton Worldwide has just announced that it is rolling out seven new applications for the iPhone and iPod Touch, covering a number of its different brands.
The apps will let users find hotels in cities where they've just landed using GPS technology; book, cancel or change their reservations, check Hilton "HHonors" loyalty points and even order a late-night snack. The apps will also contain a special "Request upon Arrival" function that lets users order from room service before they arrive at their hotel.
Hilton joins large rivals Choice, Four Seasons and Starwood in launching iPhone apps, while InterContinental Hotels Group plans to offer its own app early next year.
But while these services will no doubt be attractive to business travellers and hotel enthusiasts, the majority of mobile web traffic is currently generated by users communicating with friends on blogs, forums and social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter.
Peter McCormack, partner at digital consultancy McCormack & Morrison, advises operators to make sure their mobile websites support these social media channels to increase occupancy during quiet times.
"Twitter recently signed new agreements with Google and Microsoft, meaning that ‘Tweets' will now be fed directly into search engine results, giving companies the opportunity to push real-time offers in response to searches," he says.
For McCormack, the key to successful use of mobile within the hospitality sector is simplicity. "While mobile web access is growing, user patterns are very different from PC access," he says. "For example, people do not generally surf the web on their phone but search for specific information."
McCormack says hospitality brands should therefore be making sure that they are developing simple mobile sites providing users with fast access to core information such as their location, booking phone numbers and menus. "Where possible these sites should be supported with clear offers to entice a booking," he adds.
Of course, mobile marketing isn't just about sophisticated devices such as the iPhone and social media websites.
While that guy opposite you on the train might be playing with his iPhone, a lot more of the commuters will be engaging in the most popular functionality on a mobile phone - texting.
A total of 78.9 billion texts were sent in the UK last year (compared with 56.9 billion in 2007), an average of 1,213 per mobile phone owner, highlighting the business potential of SMS.
One company that has seen success with SMS marketing is live music restaurant group, Bistro Live. The group, which has sites in Leicester, Nottingham and Milton Keynes, turned to SMS to communicate offers to existing customers.
When people make a booking with the company it always collects their mobile phone number, meaning it has a list of 10,000 customers it can connect, explains Theresa Abbott, business development manager at Bistro Live.
"SMS seemed like an obvious route for us as we can set up bulk SMS campaigns quickly and easily and the response is almost instant," she says. "We recently booked Michael Jackson tribute act Navi. We sent out 10,500 text messages to our customers, which resulted in 280 bookings at two of our venues. Their total spend was more than £8,000. The SMS campaign cost us £472 (at 4.5p per message), a quite remarkable return."
Text Marketer, which handled the campaign for Bistro Live and also counts Renaissance Hotels, Wickwar Brewery and Pizza Hut as clients, says there has been a big increase in the use of text messaging as a communication tool in the hospitality sector.
HOW TO USE SMS MARKETING EFFECTIVELY
Don't use "text speak"
Some of your target audience won't mind text speak at all but many of them will be infuriated by it. Text speak can be confusing and can project an unprofessional image.
Don't cram in too many points
A standard text is only 160 characters so don't be tempted to crowbar in loads of offers. Keep it simple, concise and clear.
Tell your audience who you are
This may seem an obvious point but don't assume your audience will immediately know who the text is from. Within your account, you can change the sender name so that the customer knows who it's from before the text is opened.
Include a strong "call to action"
Make sure that you make it clear what you want the customer to do. Don't just quote your phone number - ask the customer to dial it.
Source: Text Marketer