The question threw Tomas Laboutka of HotelQuickly, a last minute booking app. “It’s a very general question – I don’t know what you mean,” was the gist of his reply. And the query – do you consider it a weakness to be only available as an app?
Ultimately his answer was no.
But I have a nagging feeling that to have a product only available as an app is not sustainable in a world where businesses are continually being told they have to be available to consumers everywhere they turn.
In online travel this means desktop, tablet, phone. Responsive websites meet the brief on every level.
Mobile apps do not.
They must be downloaded and used through tablets and smart phones. No desktop or laptop. Or mobile browsing.
That last point very important because more people are using search engines to find accommodation than any other method.
They can search last minute bookings, scan the results and then browse and book through any of the major OTAs (or they can book through their apps).
Apps on the other hand have no real online presence.
A Google search on ‘last minute hotel bookings’ didn’t throw up a single app result on the first page, not even global sector leader HotelTonight, which recently expanded its booking window to seven days.
They have shallow weak websites (= poor SEO) with the emphasis all on the app, where marketing opportunities, desperately needed to promote scale, are so much less.
So what the marketing opportunities for apps?
They can go with paid search to get people to their website where they can download the app (assuming they’re on a mobile device) or visit one of the app stores on the two major platforms.
And that’s about it.
The OTAs on the other hand have total coverage: highly usable and bookable websites on all devices, and also apps.
In other words, they have all the advantages while the travel apps remain limited in scope, scale and, it has to be said, ambition.
Their whole strategy is based on a single sales channel (and I’m not talking mobile, because that is both web and app).
Right now it doesn’t seem to be cause for concern.
But you’d have to think at some point they will have to get serious about the web otherwise, quite literally, their future is limited.