The Truth is in the Numbers: 2013 is Undoubtedly the Year of the Three Screens in Hospitality.
By Max Starkov
Tuesday, 7th May 2013
The explosion of the mobile and social media channels and the emergence of the new tablet channel have created not only new user behavior but also new information needs in each device category, requiring hoteliers to create and manage digital content across three distinct distribution and marketing channels (desktop, mobile, tablet).

Last year, HeBS Digital proclaimed that 2013 would be the Year of the Three Screens in Hospitality desktop, mobile and tablet and advised hoteliers to get ready for the 'three screen explosion' and work hard to deliver a customized and user-friendly experience across these three screens.

Internet users exhibit different behavioral patterns when using the desktop, mobile and tablet devices; each device category address different needs at different times of the day and week.

What works for a user researching and booking on a desktop website does not work for a smartphone user who is reading content on-the-go and needs a mobile enabled booking engine. Similarly, a tablet user expects a highly visual experience and a website built to accommodate touchscreen navigation and browsing via swiping.

At the same time, there is a noticeable shift from the "traditional" desktop to the smaller screens. Adoption rate of new and "cool" smartphone and tablet devices is skyrocketing. In Q1 2013 worldwide, there were fewer shipments of desktops compared to either smartphones or tablets. Smartphone penetration in the U.S. already exceeds 44%. Tablet penetration is above 15% (Google Insights).

For 2013 Google has projected that hotel queries from tablets will increase this year by more than 180%, while queries from mobile devices will jump by 68% and desktop searches will decline for the first time on a full-year basis, by 4%.

Additionally, users searching Google utilize:

  • Desktop during the day (office)
  • Mobile during lunch break + happy hour
  • Tablet later in the evening when lounging the tablet is a "lounging" device (Google Data)
Industry experts have projected staggering growth rates in leisure and unmanaged business travel bookings via the mobile channel: from $753 million in 2011 to $2,155 million in 2013 (PhoCusWright), and have advised hoteliers repeatedly to embrace the mobile channel.

And yet, a careful analysis of industry statistics and projections as well as HeBS Digital's concrete booking data, broken down by device category, reveals a very interesting picture that not all hoteliers fully understand: The majority of "mobile" bookings, room nights and revenue are generated by tablet devices such as the iPad, Samsung Galaxy and Google Nexus, not by "pure" mobile devices like the iPhone and Android- and Windows Mobile-based smartphones.

The Three Screens in Hospitality in Q1 2013

The results from Q1 2013 are in, and they show a seismic shift from desktop to mobile and tablet devices. Across HeBS Digital's hotel client portfolio, consisting of thousands of hotel properties, we saw a major shift from desktop to tablet and mobile in every data category.

Sources of Traffic and Revenue by Device Category:

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The most notable developments in Q1 2013:
  • Website traffic by device category: nearly 40% of web visitors and 28% of page views were generated from non-desktop devices (mobile and tablet)
  • Over 10% of bookings, roomnights and revenue came from tablets and mobile devices
  • Tablets generated 281% more roomnights and 505% more revenue than "pure" mobile devices
  • iPad outperformed all other tablet devices and was responsible for more than 88% of traffic and nearly 90% of tablet revenue
Mobile devices represent a very interesting phenomenon: Nearly 24% of website visitors came from mobile devices, but these mobile visitors generated only 3.17% of the bookings. Why?

In my view, there are several reasons:
  • Many mobile users start their research and information gathering via their smartphones, and later continue via their desktops/laptops at the office or at home. Forrester reports that smartphones are the most common starting place for online activities:
  • Search for information: 65% of users start on a smartphone; 65% of them continue the process on a desktop, 4% on a tablet
  • Browse the Internet: 63% of users start on a smartphone; 58% of them continue the process on a desktop, 5% on a tablet
  • Shopping online: 65% of users start on a smartphone; 61% of them continue the process on a desktop, 4% on a tablet
  • Many hoteliers lack a mobile-friendly website presence or have an "impossible to use" booking engine
  • Most hoteliers do not track voice bookings that came from the mobile website: an average of 1 in 7 mobile website bookings comes via the reservation phone listed on the mobile site
A recent survey by ResearchNow found that the most frequent causes of an unsatisfactory travel experience with smartphones were:
  • 44% Slow load times
  • 36% Complicated search and selection
  • 30% Poor navigation
  • 8% - Not designed or optimized for mobile.
How did the "three screens" results from Q1 2013 compare to the results from Q1 2012? We see a significant even dramatic shift from the desktop to the tablet and mobile channels within one short year:

Q1 2013 vs. Q1 2012 Percentage Increase/Decrease by Device Category:

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The most notable year-over-year developments in Q1 2013 were:
  • Website visitors to desktop websites declined by more than a quarter, while more than doubling via mobile and tablet devices.
  • Desktop pageviews declined by nearly 15% while increasing by nearly 74% via tablet and 84% via mobile devices.
  • Bookings and roomnights from tablets exhibited the biggest growth and more than doubled; revenue increased by nearly 95%.
  • Revenue from mobile devices also exhibited steady growth of nearly 58% as travel consumers are becoming more comfortable transacting via their smartphones and as smartphone penetration reaches an all-time high of 44% in the U.S.
  • Revenue from desktop devices is on the decline, year-over-year, by more than 5%.
Tablets were the biggest winner over the past year. Tablet penetration already exceeds 15% in the U.S. In Q1 2013 tablet shipments worldwide soared 142% year-over-year to 49.2 million. The latest data from NPD DisplaySearch calls for the tablet market to surpass PC notebooks in 2013. Tablets are expected to reach shipments of 240 million units this year, while 207 million PC notebooks will be shipped.

SEM (Paid Search)

How do the three screens affect paid search? The lack of understanding among advertisers of the fundamental shift from desktop to tablet and mobile (smartphone) devices is the reason why the allocation of paid search ad spending across devices is not keeping up with which devices actually generate clicks.

Kenshoo found that in Q1 2013, the tablet and smartphone accounted for nearly 20% of paid search clicks, but these devices only garnered about 14% of search spending:

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We believe the trend of shifting SEM clicks from desktop to tablet and mobile devices will only accelerate in the upcoming months as the proliferation of smartphone and tablet devices continues worldwide.

What Should Hoteliers Do About the Three Screens?

Begin by treating the desktop, mobile and tablet as three separate channels. Internet users exhibit different behavioral patterns when browsing the Internet and the desktop website, mobile and tablet devices, as they address different needs at different times of the day and week. It is obvious why specialized content is needed for each device:

Desktop users need as much information as possible, including a minimum of 25-50 content pages per property and another 50-100 specialized marketing and landing pages featuring special packages, promotions, and events. Desktop users also place high value on visual galleries with photos and videos.

Mobile (smartphone) users require a 10-15 page mobile-enabled website with slimmed-down content with an emphasis on maps and directions, an easy-to-use mobile booking engine, and a click-to-call property reservation number.

As mentioned, more than half of the U.S. population is still using feature phones, which are not sophisticated enough to display full desktop websites. The vast majority of people of age 65+ do not use smartphones today, and these are exactly the baby boomers you would want as your property guests.

Tablet users require deep, visually enhanced content about the property and its destination. A well-structured, highly visual hotel tablet-optimized website can generate conversion rates several times higher than those of mobile devices.

Second, all three device web presences could operate within the framework of Responsive Design on Server Side (RESS) and be managed via a single dashboard in the property content management system. For example, HeBS Digital's CMS Premium is a fully RESS enabled content management system.
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Third, all three channels must be integrated within the hotel's multi-channel marketing strategy, including SEM (paid search). Use analytics such as Adobe Omniture SiteCatalyst and Google Analytics to determine contributions from and the dynamics of each of the three channels.

Partner with a digital technology and marketing firm that knows the ins and outs of marketing and distribution via the three screens and responsive design on the server side. A firm that goes above and beyond to deliver incremental revenues from all three screens desktop, tablet and mobile while achieving high ROI in each channel, and helps hoteliers transform their Internet presence in each of the three screens.

About the Author and HeBS Digital

Max Starkov is President & CEO of HeBS Digital, the hospitality industry's leading full-service digital marketing and direct online channel strategy firm based in New York City (www.HeBSdigital.com).

HeBS Digital has pioneered many of the best practices in hotel Internet marketing, social and mobile marketing, and direct online channel distribution. The firm has won over 250 prestigious industry awards for its digital marketing and website design services, including numerous Adrian Awards, Davey Awards, W3 Awards, WebAwards, Magellan Awards, Summit International Awards, Interactive Media Awards, IAC Awards, etc.

A diverse client portfolio of top-tier major hotel brands, luxury and boutique hotel brands, resorts and casinos, hotel management companies, franchisees and independents, and CVBs are benefiting from HeBS Digital's direct online channel strategy and digital marketing expertise. Contact HeBS Digital's consultants at (212) 752-8186 or success@hebsdigital.com
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