I recently completed a quick analysis of the Google analytics data for a few medium-sized properties and came across a bit of a surprise. I had been reading for a while the importance of a mobile-friendly website for hotels, but assumed that it was important only for large hotels in major resort areas (Vancouver, Toronto, Las Vegas, etc.). What I discovered was the opposite (click-thru for larger view):
Mobile visits to the hotel website accounted for 7.5% of the total views, and the viewing habits were roughly the same as a regular desktop viewer. The main page was the first destination, but roughly 25% of the visitors clicked through to the gallery and other information about the hotel. 15% clicked through to the Contact Us page, as well.
Another interesting insight was which devices people were using to browse these pages:
Clearly, Apple devices are the clear winner here with over 70% of the total visits coming from one of their devices. This is extremely important to note for one thing: Flash support.
Flash is not supported on these devices, so a fancy splash page will end up with a large error message. Here is the Sundial Boutique Hotel website (in Safari on a Mac, which does not support Flash natively):
Not very attractive or useful for a guest user wanting to get more information about the hotel quickly and easily.
Displaying a mobile-friendly website is thankfully not very difficult to do if your website is built on top of Wordpress. There are several free plugins available which will switch a user automatically to the correct theme. Device Theme Switcher is the one I prefer using. You will need to have a mobile-friendly theme installed, however. There are plenty of free and paid options out there. Here is a helpful web page to get you started: 10 Free Wordpress Mobile Themes.
If you have a more traditional site, the task is slightly more difficult, and I would highly suggest finding a web designer to help you out. If you wish to see what it is involved, here is a helpful article: How to Build a Mobile Website.
There are a few things to consider when you start developing a mobile site:
Simplicity and Clarity
Make the most important information visible and upfront for the user. Odds are a mobile user is not looking for information about who the Employee of the Month is or how successful the hotel was in the previous quarter. They will want to see your phone number, email address, contact address, a link to a booking engine, link to a gallery, and perhaps a link to a hotel review site. Keep in mind that clicking is more difficult on a small screen, so keep the number of clicks needed to navigate around to a minimum to avoid frustration.
As I displayed in the graphic above, iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) are the dominant devices being used for mobile browsing. The worst thing for a mobile user to see is that error message stating that Flash is needed to view the site. It will be the quickest way for people to bounce off of your site and choose a different hotel or motel.
Images display relatively quickly when surfing the internet on a computer, but can be tedious on a mobile device. I would limit the number of images on the main mobile site to one or even zero, and keep the size of the image to a minimum. If people wish to view images of the hotel, have a Gallery link available to click on which will prepare them for a longer page loading time.
Mobile Booking Engine
I have been finding that around 15% of website visitors have been booking a hotel online, which would mean a few hundred of the mobile visitors would like the opportunity to book online right away. For motels or hotels with a Central Reservation System, this can be easy to implement. The major CRS solutions all have booking engines available, for a nominal fee on top of the normal commissions. It may be more cost effective to implement their solution rather than directing traffic to Expedia or Booking.com.
Is a mobile site worth it for you?
The answer to this question is going to be discovered through your Google Analytics or other website analytics installed on your site (which, hopefully, you do - if not, get in touch or ask in the comments). Monitor your analytics for at least a month to get a sizeable pool of information to analyze. If you discover, like I did, that mobile visitors account for 5%+ of your total visitors, it may very well be worthwhile to investigate the costs of implementing a mobile site.
Here is a sample breakdown of what your mobile users could account for (in a year), using the average data from the analytics of my portfolio:
25,000 Total Visits
1,875 Mobile Visits (7.5% of total visitors are mobile)
188 Mobile Bookings (10% of visitors book)
$25,380.00 in potential Room Revenue (based on a $135.00 ADR over the year)
Is that worth it to you?