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Q&A: How Marriott checks in mobile, from bookings to travel assistance

A Marriott International executive revealed that the hospitality brand saw more than $1 billion in revenue booked via its mobile application last year, a feat accomplished partly due to a strong social media strategy and dedication to testing new digital initiatives.

Marriott had one of the most mobile-heavy years of any company in its sector, thanks to introductions of services such as the mobile request platform, which enables guests to communicate with on-site employees digitally, and keyless room entry, which eliminates the need for customers to carry a physical room key card. The brand also relied heavily on social media to connect with millennial travelers, a demographic that requires its favorite marketers to have a strong presence on their most-frequented networks, including Twitter and Instagram.

Additionally, the rise of online travel agent companies, such as Expedia or Orbitz, prompted standalone hotel chains to bolster their efforts to garner significant numbers of mobile bookings. Marriott excelled in this strategy by offering in-app perks, including mobile check-in options, and exploring various payment methods ? which spurred a partnership with Alibaba Group as the company sought to boost digital bookings around the globe.

In an interview with Mobile Marketer, Marriott?s senior vice president of digital, George Corbin, discusses how Marriott transformed mobile into a revenue-making, consumer-pleasing travel companion.

Following a very fruitful year in mobile strategy, what have some of Marriott?s biggest mobile or social media successes been?
We?re focused on making the Marriott mobile app an indispensable travel companion ? and we?re doing this in several ways. While Marriott?s mantra has long been ?success is never final,? we are nonetheless proud that we tripled adoption of our mobile guest services last year ? services like mobile check-in, check-out, etc. ? which customers have used over seven and a half million times. 

After a very successful pilot, we rolled out mobile service requests to 700 hotels ? allowing a guest to make any kind of request to the hotel from within the app. Marriott mobile app users report much higher intent to recommend Marriott ? a leading indicator of brand preference ? and a materially higher satisfaction with their ?arrival experience.?

And 2015 saw over $1 billion in revenue booked through our app for the first time ? a growth of 66 percent year-over-year. Social media played a crucial role in this success, with buzz-worthy campaigns like #AppYourService earning an audience reach of 22 million on Twitter alone.

We continue to test new mobile services ? mobile key being one of the latest. We will be making an announcement in the weeks ahead.

Why was it important for Marriott to introduce a mobile request platform?
Mobile increasingly touches every aspect of our guests? lives. Nearly a quarter of our guests have a question or an issue for our hotel staff during their stay. Through mobile requests, guests can now communicate with on-property associates from wherever they are, before, during and even after their stay.

Mobile Requests allows us to engage with our guests in the way that is easy and convenient ? through their own mobile device ? and delivers a more personalized yet still quite human experience. It has the added benefit of making it easier for our hotel associates to make that personal connection, and serve the guest in real-time from wherever they are.

What role will mobile play in the future of the hotel front desk? Does Marriott have any plans to revamp the guest check-in experience?
Some guests will always want the human touch at the front desk, others won?t. With the mobile app, it?s your choice. Historically, people went to the front desk when they needed to check-in, check-out, or make a special request; now, the app is one more way to get this done. 

Marriott was an early leader in introducing mobile check-in on the Marriott mobile app two years ago. We will be adding the option in some hotels to skip the front desk completely by using your smartphone as your room key. Regardless of the mobile feature, our focus is to empower our loyal Marriott Rewards members to get the self-service they need, on demand, and based on their personal preferences?before, during, and after their stay.

Does Marriott have any upcoming brand partnerships that you are able to discuss?
One of our most exciting partnerships is with Facebook. We put the consumer at the center of everything we do, and Facebook?s dynamic product ad fits perfectly with this approach by enabling us to deliver highly targeted destination and hotel content based on the shopping behavior of individual consumers on

This partnership allows us to pair cross-device tracking with highly personalized content to serve the right message to the right consumer at the right time in the right context. This helps us stay more connected to our guests as we engage them before, during, and after their stays with us.

Did you experience any challenges in mobile in the past year?
The biggest challenges for anyone in the mobile space are pretty similar: Rapid mobile technological change or obsolescence; rapidly changing customer expectations, and speed to market.

To mitigate these, we migrated from a proprietary platform to native, to decouple release dependencies on the different OSs. We increased our release iterations seven times.

We tested and learned: proofs of concept are an excellent way to validate the viability of new services at lower cost and risk than big-bang releases. Do consumers actually use the new feature? Is it technologically scalable? Can we operationalize it on property with minimal disruption to the hotel? 

We?re continuously testing, evaluating, adjusting ? and moving on if something we try doesn?t provide value or substantially boost the guest experience. We did more POCs in 2015 than any prior year, we learned a lot, and we ramped up development once proven in more limited tests.

Ultimately, we are accelerating the pace at which we can test and innovate to put a superior mobile experience into our guests? hands. 

Can you share a proud mobile or social media milestone from 2015?
We tripled adoption of our mobile guest services last year (e.g., mobile check-in, check-out, etc.). We also booked over $1 billion through our app for the first time.

What?s next for Marriott in the mobile space?
Mobile is the ?killer tool? for travel ? it?s ubiquitously connected, it?s personal, it?s location-aware, and it?s in your hand. That?s a huge opportunity for us ? to make travel easier for you while you?re on-the-go. Consumer research and live testing determine our mobile roadmap ? that is, what travel problems can mobile solve for our guests?

We will keep testing and launching features that solve customer pains at those ?halo moments? in their journey. This means new services, higher degrees of personalization, and a strategy that will deepen your loyalty ? if you used the Marriott mobile app, you will have a superior stay experience compared to others.

That?s what wins hearts and minds. That?s how we?re using mobile to fulfill our vision of becoming ?The World?s Favorite Travel Company.?