Guide to online marketing: iPhone applications

More than 16 million people in the UK own a smartphone

Technology moves faster than Alastair Darling at a pub convention, but one rising trend that looks likely to stick around is the iPhone application, which if implemented properly, can help increase restaurant or hotel bookings

Up to 27 per cent of the 65 million mobile phone users in the UK have a smartphone, with the bulk of the market dominated by Blackberry, Nokia and Apple with its popular iPhone.

Apple’s App Store makes it easy for iPhone users to download a number of applications, from games and Jamie Oliver recipe guides, to restaurant and hotel locating and booking apps. They are so popular that since the iPhone launched 18 months ago, Apple now offers more than 150,000 apps and has seen more than three billion downloaded worldwide.

“Online ordering is a well-known technique and it works well for a lot of restaurants but you’re still somewhat chained to requiring access via a laptop or desktop computer,” says Warren Tobin, chief executive of mobile application developers Altaine. “A phone unthethers you from that so whenever you want something to eat its available. And with technology changing so rapidly and becoming so affordable, consumers are more likely to have a smartphone in the next 3-4 years than a regular handset. What’s exciting about that for the hospitality industry is it means more consumers will be able to use these systems for convenience booking and ordering.”

App Store presence

OpenTable and Toptable both have a presence in the App Store, offering booking services for a number of restaurants nationwide, while Travelodge also allows consumers to book a hotel room at any one of its UK properties.

In February pan-Asian restaurant chain Wagamama broke new ground by releasing the first food ordering application for a restaurant in the UK as an extension to its online ordering facility. Consumers that download the app can order a takeaway from Wagamama’s full menu to pick up at any one of the chain’s 66 restaurants nationwide.

Since its launch, Wagamama has seen an increase in takeaway orders, both via the application and the wagamamatakeout.com website.

Ingrid Williamson, marketing manager for Wagamama, said one of the aims the group had for the application during its development process was to raise awareness of its existing online ordering facility.

“We’re really proud of the success the app has had in increasing our takeout sales from both mediums,” she said. “We know consumers are spending more time online and we believe it’s important for restaurants to respond to customer trends. This development in technology is really exciting because it keeps operators on their toes and makes a more interesting area for our customers.”

How competitive will hospitality applications be?

Tobin says that although Wagamama is currently the only UK restaurant chain to have an app, he expected a number of other operators to develop and launch their own in the near future.

“We have recently done a big iPhone roll-out for Pizza Hut Australia so their customers can order pizza wherever they want. There’s about to be a raft of other apps in the UK and Europe that are in the process of being configured – I expect it to become a very busy marketplace.”

How can I make my app stand out?

In order to stand out from the crowd, Tobin suggests operators develop an app that offers more than just a room or table booking facility, i.e. the ability to order room service from within a hotel.

K West Hotel & Spa in London is looking into developing a smartphone app in the near future, and Anna Adamovics, online marketing executive, has some rather creative ideas.

“I want to do something really fun,” she says. “Lots of companies develop apps but they are really static and don't do much, so it's hard to get guests to download them, especially if they have to pay. I'd like to do something around the spa like tailor-make your own treatment or an app that helps you plan your day at the spa.”

The creative design is the easiest part of application development; the trickier process is integrating your entire operation so an app will work seamlessly with your existing EpoS system, kitchen and staff. Wagamama spent time planning, researching and testing their app before launching it, to maximise its ease of use for both customers and restaurants.

Top tips for developing a smartphone application:

Prepare: Get your operational (EpoS) systems working seamlessly before even thinking about developing something like a mobile application, or you’ll trip yourself up at every step.

Research: Listen to your target market and respond to their needs. Developing a spa treatment app for your hotel may appeal to your leisure guests but will distance your corporate customers.

Be creative: Think above and beyond the simplest booking function and offer users another, perhaps fun, reason to download your app.

You can find all our articles on online marketing here

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