What Hotels Still Don’t Get About Mobile

June 2007 – eight years ago Apple introduced the iPhone and thus begat a revolution that still is transforming our lives and especially how we travel.

The puzzlement to me is how slow many hotels have been to react.

A new study by Ipsos, via TripAdvisor, throws a klieg light on the mammoth disconnect between what connected travelers want and what hotels are delivering.  For instance: “34% of the smartphone-loving Connected Travelers audience wants a mobile check-in option. Yet only 11% of lodgings offer this option that saves time for both guests and front desk staff,” says the study.

Fact: cellphone usage keeps ticking higher. According to the survey, 4% of us booked accommodations via mobile in 2014. The number now is 8% and for so-called Connected Travelers the number is 11%.

Where the numbers get genuinely interesting is in looking at how we use mobile devices when traveling.  And we use them a lot.

That makes sense.  A cellphone is our ever available answer machine. Where’s the nearest pizza shop? What’s the top rated sushi counter nearby? How do I get to Carnegie Hall?

At home we know the answers to such basic questions. In a strange town, or a foreign land, we don’t. And so we find ourselves reaching for our cellphones a lot – at least I reach for mine.

The survey says many of us do likewise.  Here is how TripAdvisor says we are using our phones:

Getting directions/using maps

  • Connected Travelers: 81%

Looking for restaurants

  • Connected Travelers: 72%

Looking for activities

  • Connected Travelers: 67%

Reading reviews

  • Connected Travelers: 64%

You are at a resort, you are hungry, do you eat there, knowing that most hotel restaurants are blah at best and more often overpriced culinary wastelands?  You pop open TripAdvisor, maybe Yelp, and you read what other diners have had to say about the food and value in the eateries near you.  And probably you do this on your phone, at least I do.

You want to go out on a hike, what trail is best? You look on your phone before you lace up. Naturally.

That is why for me, increasingly, the idea of travel without a working cellphone just is unacceptable.

Final word: know that growing numbers of travelers just won’t stay at hotels without cellular.  Sure, who doesn’t understand that maybe there will be a problem in a remote Alaskan hunting camp or a beach bungalow on a tiny Pacific island. Go to such and, please, don’t kvetch about no cellular.

Where the wounds are real and deep is when there isn’t cellular at hotels within an hour or two of major metros and, bottomline, the operator/owner just is too cheap to invest in technology that would bring cellular in.

Where? Huge swaths of Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas are without reliable cellular — a topic I have written about before.

Of course most phones on T-Mobile and Sprint can be toggled to use WiFi calling, a cool feature that lets the user make and receive calls using the customary cellular phone number.  But the hotel needs robust WiFi to support that and many are lacking.  It also leaves out the 900 pound gorillas – AT&T and Verizon, neither of which has evidenced any interest in WiFi calling. For those subscribers, it’s use Skype or Google Voice or get reacquainted with the in-room hotel phones which most of us have not touched in a decade. (And, yes, many still have usurious rates.)

Look, it is fine by me if ownership is too cheap to put in cellular (tho I wonder if they still have tube TVs and electricity that runs only as the guest feeds the meter with nickels).  But at least tell people – in big fonts – as they book that there is no cellular on the property, that the nearest, reliable cellular connection is X miles away.

Certainly it is also fine by me if the hotel sells itself as an unplugged getaway.  That’s honest marketing. I don’t want to stay there but, for those who do, have at it.
My advice: if there is not full disclosure in the booking process, check out as soon as you realize you cannot make calls and trust your credit card company to guard your back in this tussle for a full refund from a hotel that just is not fulfilling its end of the 21st century digital user contract.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *