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Hotels.com UK & Ireland senior marketing manager Oliver Garner talks apps, loyalty schemes and USPs for the year ahead

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By Jennifer Faull, Deputy Editor

January 25, 2013 | 5 min read

Hotels.com plans to continue to build on the success of its mobile offering, having seen a growth of traffic and sales following the released of its mobile app almost two years ago.

The Drum recently caught up with Hotels.com’s UK and Ireland senior marketing manager, Oliver Garner, to find out what he has planned for the year ahead.

The online hotels booking service began to establish a strong mobile presence, most notably mid-2011 through its native mobile app that opened up its service to a whole new range of users. That year, the app reached number one in the travel category of iTunes in 29 countries and was in the top 10 in all 42 countries where it was launched. .

Almost two years later, the continual development of the app is front and centre of Garner’s plans for the next 12 months; an unsurprising move when you look at the figures. “I think we’ve gone past 10 million downloads now since [the app’s] release,” reveals Garner, “so it’s certainly up there in terms of big numbers. But we’re also seeing that it’s delivering a healthy share of our business and continuing to grow as well.”

“So for this year we will be continuing to push that and develop the suite of apps that we have across multiple platforms. So not just on the iPhone, but also working with Android to continue to grow that as well,” says Garner.

He goes on to add: “But, more importantly, making sure that it is being developed with the customer in mind, continuing to evolve based on their needs, and making sure it is localised as much as possible for those international markets as well.”

Garner goes on to say that 2013 will be one for grasping those big opportunities to strengthen the brand, both globally and abroad. One major aspect of this will be the development of Hotels.com’s loyalty programme, Welcome Rewards. The loyalty scheme celebrated its fourth anniversary in October last year, noting a global membership base which hit in excess of five million travellers.

Discussing it, Garner said: “[Welcome Rewards] has been in the UK for some time now, and its growing at pace. That’s probably our single biggest USP.”

The scheme allows travellers to collect ‘nights’ from their stays in affiliate Hotels.com hotels; once 10 nights have been collected travellers are eligible for one free night’s stay at any of the associated hotels on their next journey.

However, the scheme depends heavily on travellers regularly spending money on holidays and mini-breaks, which, given the current economic climate, is a difficult sell. However Garner reveals that “from a wider market perspective, certainly from a travel perspective, the current economic trend doesn’t seem to be impacting us – I’d like to say at all – but at the same time we are definitely bucking that trend and people are still looking for their annual breaks and shorter breaks as well.”

With one eye on the competitors, Garner says this year will also be about building on its USPs to gain a greater market share. “We are wary of our competitor brands, Booking.com obviously being a massive powerhouse across many, many markets,” says Garner. “So certainly for the UK we’re looking to gain greater market share against the competition, but at the same time we are in a very strong position in that we’re continuing to grow and the market is continuing to grow.”

As judge of this year's The Drum Marketing Awards, Garner offered his thoughts on what he expected from entries this year, explaining that he’ll be looking for the “communications people are putting out there.”

He continues: “There is more pressure for brands to develop USPs and communicate those USPs to the marketplace. I think people are obviously still buying based on price, in many circumstance, but at the same time I think it’s how creative and innovative brands can be fusing multiple messages whilst also really creating value for the customer whilst ensuring is can work within the confines of their business goals to make sure there is longevity.”

“So no one off campaigns that are run as tests and then never see the light of day again. It’s that trade off that I’m looking for."

Final entries are being accepted now for The Drum Marketing Awards, with judging set to take place in February.

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