What makes a mobile-device hotel website successful?

A study involving an IFTM scholar says that the availability of information on promotions is crucial for the mobile-device versions of hotel websites. 

Research Corner | A partnership between Macau Business and the Macao Institute for Tourism Studies (IFTM) 

As the access to smartphones increases around the world, more people are using them to go online. This trend in consumer behaviour has brought with it a wealth of business opportunities for many industries, including tourism, among which the opening of new channels for hotels to connect with their clients. A study made by a scholar of the Macao Institute for Tourism Studies (IFTM) says that hotels can use their official websites as “a powerful and effective marketing tool for fruitful and long-lasting customer relationship management”. 

The study involved IFTM assistant professor Dr Simon Lei, who worked in partnership with Dr Rob Law from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. They conducted an evaluation of the mobile version of the official websites of a total of 121 hotels in Hong Kong. 

The researchers used a number of criteria to test the websites’ functionality based on the outcome of three rounds of focus-group discussions. The set of criteria they developed covered a total of 37 attributes, each with an assigned weighting. 

With this tool, the researchers investigated the existence on the mobile version samples of details on available hotel facilities, reservations, promotions, and contacts. The study also looked into matters such as the availability of useful information for travellers – including weather conditions, public transportation, and the existence of hotel shuttle services – and the number of language options offered by the websites. 

The research, titled “Functionality evaluation of mobile hotel websites in the m-commerce era”, was published last year in the Journal of Travel and Tourism Marketing. 

Info on promotions were found to be ‘crucial’ for users 

The study showed that participants in the focus-group discussion highlighted as ‘crucial’ the availability of information on promotions on the mobile-device version of a hotel’s official website. “They were particularly interested in seeing seasonal discounts, long-stay packages and [loyalty programmes] membership rewards”, the researchers wrote. 

At the time of their study, Drs Lei and Law noted that official hotel websites faced a “strong competition” from hotel price aggregator websites. The latter allow users to quickly find the lowest price for the same type of hotel room across various accommodation choices in a particular location. 

In the absence of information on promotions, “hotels’ official mobile websites may lose much value”, the researchers stated, citing the results of the focus-group discussion. Under such circumstances, “third-party booking sites (e.g. agoda.com) will be sufficient for the travel needs of the participants”, they added. 

The focus group also pointed to the importance given by consumers to certain particular functions of hotel mobile websites. For instance, the availability of a ‘live-chat’ option that allows website users to interact with hotel staff. “Live-chat capabilities… can help boost customers’ confidence”, stated the researchers. “This way, travellers are assured that they will receive responses on time”. 

The researchers said that hotel-managed websites acted as an official channel between the consumer and the hotel firm. The degree of “preparedness” of the hotel in terms of such web contents – and “completeness”, in terms of the information – can “help improve customer satisfaction and mitigate purchase risk”, Drs Lei and Law added. 

Their evaluation of the mobile-device versions of hotel websites showed that the functionality performance of such websites was positively correlated with hotel star ratings: hotels with a higher rating – for instance, five stars – were more likely to have a high score regarding the functionality performance of the mobile-device version of their  website. “Luxury hotels arguably have more financial and human resources for the continuous development and maintenance of company-owned websites than other hotels”, suggested the researchers. 

The mobile website evaluation findings however also showed that hotels under the same brand did not necessarily obtain similar functionality scores. Drs Lei and Law stated this seemed to be linked to the degree of corporate-level standardisation. Some brands within a hotel group used similar website templates and booking engines across their properties; other brands had a slightly different approach, allowing more flexibility in presenting and highlighting some of the uniqueness and character of each member hotel via their mobile-friendly websites. 

The researchers: 

Dr Simon Lei is an assistant professor at the Macao Institute for Tourism Studies (IFTM). He holds a doctoral degree in Hotel and Tourism Management from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. His research interests include information systems management, hospitality management and technology-enabled business firms. Prior to joining IFTM, he held posts in several multinational organisations related respectively to information technology, public utility services, hospitality and tertiary education. 

Dr Rob Law has worked in Canada and Hong Kong in the industrial and academic sectors. He joined the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in 1995: he is currently a Professor at the School of Hotel and Tourism Management at that university. He holds a PhD in Computer Science from the University of Regina, in Saskatchewan, Canada. Dr Law has received many research-related awards and honours, as well as several external and internal research grants. 

The paper 

Simon Lei and Rob Law: “Functionality evaluation of mobile hotel websites in the m-commerce era”, Journal of Travel & Tourism Marketing, Volume 36, Issue 6, pages 665-678, 2019.