The mobile-loving tendencies of today’s consumers—particularly those in their twenties and early thirties known as the Millennial demographic—are dramatically transforming how they go about researching and booking their lodging and travel plans. Whereas travelers historically booked their vacations three to five months in advance, the accessibility of on-demand information through smartphones today has enabled much greater flexibility. Orbitz and Expedia have both reported that approximately 70 percent of hotel reservations coming through smartphones are booked just 24 hours before check-in. Millennials are largely driving this shift and it’s not just leisure travelers making last minute plans. United Airlines reports that Millennial business travelers (who comprise the majority of today’s business travelers) are the most likely to make travel arrangements through a smartphone and the most prone to book or change travel plans at the last minute.
Generating more than $180 billion in annual tourism revenue, Millennials are a valuable target demographic for the lodging industry. But if they aren’t researching or booking their hotels until day-of, how can a hotel chain engage them before they arrive or deliver perks that can turn these guests into returning customers? The answer is to meet them in the mobile channel and enroll them as loyalty program members.
By integrating innovative, new mobile technologies into their smartphone applications and mobile websites, hotels can better reach these would-be guests through their preferred channel and turn them into loyalty program members, even before they set foot on the property. For example, new mobile capture technologies leverage the camera on a persons’ smartphone, allowing them to verify their identity and enroll in loyalty programs by taking a picture of their ID. Last minute travelers who are short on time can easily auto-populate an application form in the back seat of their ride from the airport while at the same time completing their mobile check-in process and uploading a credit card for incidentals. With just the snap of their mobile camera, all the required information to sign up is securely scanned and uploaded from their driver’s license, allowing them to start enjoying membership perks before they have even arrived.
The benefits of enabling mobile capture technology don’t end there. Knowing that many types of guests–especially frequent business travelers or guests arriving late at night—want to skip the front desk and go straight to their room, some hotels are offering keyless room access. Hilton, Marriott, and Starwood have all rolled out smartphone room key options, but the technology has been slow to catch on. Since launch, only 15 percent of Hilton Honors members have taken advantage of the digital key option.
One reason for the slow adoption is that hotel chains only offer smartphone room keys to loyalty program members who have applied in advance, so they can be verified and screened before they arrive. Even then, guests often have to report to the front desk to enable the capability. This process of verifying guests’ identities in-person is preventing hotels from offering Millennials a loyalty program perk that fits perfectly with the demographics’ last-minute, mobile booking, and self-service approach—potentially turning away likely guests.
By leveraging the mobile camera, hotels can securely enable an entirely digital identity verification process, which is critical for signing up guests for loyalty program benefits such as digital room keys. Using their smartphone’s camera, guests can scan their driver’s license (or other ID) and snap a selfie. Digital identity verification technology verifies the authenticity of the ID while advanced facial comparison capabilities compare the selfie with the photo on the ID to confirm that the person obtaining the digital room key is in fact the individual pictured on the ID. This seamless and entirely mobile process appeals to many travelers’ existing mobile behaviors. At the same time, the hotelier has the extra assurance of a proven, secure method for verifying guests’ identities without making them leave their preferred channel.
In short, to remain relevant to today’s travelers, hotels must provide more advanced mobile capabilities and a better user experience throughout every step of the process. By leveraging travelers’ smartphones for mobile capture and digital identity verification, hotels can ease and speed the enrollment process for loyalty programs, streamline the check-in, and encourage adoption of perks that will keep them coming back—all of which improve the overall guest experience and help turn those last-minute travelers into loyal, returning guests.
About the Author
Kalle Marsal is the chief marketing officer at Mitek.