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Do I need a Mobile App? Appypie, Touchstay or Digital Concierge?

I want all of my guests to have a brilliant time. I want to reach them everywhere. I want to make sure that they are booking my holiday home because its perfect for them and that they are my ideal guests. When they are looking for their ideal holiday home, I want to project to them just how great my holiday homes are, how perfect for them.

What I have found is that communication with guests is paramount for their enjoyment, my convenience and also (I suspect) on what I can charge. Pre-communication beyond the essentials of payment and directions is always appreciated. Communication during a guest’s stay could be enhanced. I know that the best hosts are treated as family friends and generate lots of repeat bookings – my friends, the owners of Ahernes are a case in point. I want to offer advice and help, but I don’t want to be seen to ‘hover’ over guests, or only appear when something gets broken. And I want to increase post stay communication to encourage my guests to actively spread the word with friends, family, connections.

Some of the world’s top hotels now have their own ‘concierge’ Apps designed to do exactly what I have described. Therefore I am looking for a solution, possibly including my own Concierge App.

It’s a fact, I simply don’t know enough about what my guests are looking for. I don’t know the reason they booked with me, and not others, or what they are really looking forward too when the arrive. I want to improve this; by providing more information – which I do on my website but could do more – and most importantly by hearing back from the guests before they arrive. This will allow we me prepare custom information for them, recommend itineraries, places and even source suppliers or equipment. If I am able to do this it’s a real USP and puts our properties ahead of crowd – and will be rewarded with even better reviews.

I have my own website and appear on 4 different booking engine sites. Clearly my words and images on each of these is paramount (and under my review at the moment). But  all of my guests (well almost all) have mobile phones and use Apps. Do I need an Mobile Phone App for 3 and 4 Clifton?

What would I want to achieve by it? My 5 objectives would be…

    1. I want to be able to give guests, and prospective guests, a version of our web content which can be seen and shared on their phones
      This used to be difficult, but I know now that this doesn’t need an App. It just means that my website needs to be mobile ready (or responsive if we’re getting technical) and that I shall need to be cautious to ensure that the web pages and design are created with the different viewer formats in mind.
    2. I also want to be able to give guests a version of our welcome guide, with details of rooms, where to find things and how to work the facilities.
      This information is currently left in a welcome book/instruction manual. But I want to get this into my guests hands before they arrive and also promote the things to do, to see and experience so that they can plan their itinerary. I can build this into the website but some information is not for the public domain
    3. I want my guests to see my web content even when they are not online
      This is a bit harder to do. The usual way of doing this is to create a document and email it or allow it to be downloaded – usually a Word doc or PDF. And these work, but they are pretty ‘dry’ formats, lengthy and tough to read on a phone. And they take time to create and are hard to update.
    4. I want feedback before guests arrive
      I’d like my guests to find out about my homes and the area and tell me what they really want to do whilst here?  This will allow we me prepare custom information for them, recommend itineraries, places and even source suppliers or equipment.
    5. I want guests to shout out load and help us promote ourselves
      I want to do whatever I can to get guests to shout out about properties to family, friends and colleagues. Share pictures and stories that will help to grow our guest list and bookings

So can I do this with an App? Yes I can. But at what cost? Well with an unlimited budget I can create a mobile masterpiece. But I don’t have an unlimited budget or even unlimited time.

So I looked at the self help, point and click, Mobile App creator software from Appmkr, Appypie and others. They all talk about free access but in reality even for the relatively basic levels these will cost around $300 -500 per year when you include the licences from Apple and Google. This might be worth it, but its a gamble. And even so would they solve all of my objectives?

Well they can do No.1. But I’d have to recreate my website inside their system – what a pain! They can read my website without me re-creating it using my website’s RSS feeds. This is great news, but it has a downside. RSS feeds are live feeds of data, so if my guests are offline they will see nothing. And RSS feeds are public feeds of data so everything in them is in public domain – not the place for our security information or wifi code! Actually these easy App Creators can’t do No.2  or No.3 satisfactorily at all.

But both systems would allow me to create submission forms, and so customers could feedback what they are looking for if they are so inclined, or motivated. No.4 is therefore partially solved, but not as elegantly as I might want or guests would actually use. A better solution would be an ‘add to itinerary or wishlist’  button on each of the excursion, dining and holiday option featured my online guide. Ideally this would create a custom itinerary/wish list which could be shared with me automatically, including details of which the guest and which week.

As for No.5. Yes all of the App builders have social sharing built in … but will it be used?

And this is a question I could ask of any App. Will it be used? Will customers actually go the trouble of loading it into their phone? Maybe. But I think the chances that they will load it diminish extraordinarily if you go the cheapest route – which is to try and distribute the App as a file, not via Google Play or iTunes. Not many people will trust such an App, and many won’t have the skills or guts to load an ‘unauthorised’ App. On balance, these don’t seem to answer the need nor fit a reasonable price for the task.

So what are my alternatives?

As I said before I can achieve No.1 with good modern web design. And its not an option, its imperative. Our current website is OK on mobile, but its not great and it will need to be updated sometime soon.

No. 4 looks problematic. It looks like the most complex part of what I’d like to achieve, but its at the core of what I’d like to do. Getting feedback from guests before they arrive, getting them to create their wishlists. However, I have been building great websites for years for my consulting clients and I think I can see how I can create this feature on the website. If I can find (mobile/email) ways to motivate and drive guests here then I have a solution – of course the website functions will have to work whether my guests are on a PC or phone.

No. 5. Facebook and other Social applications have the technology covered for sharing and shouting out, I need to create the motivation, and ease the path to get my Guests to use them.

So that that leaves No.2 and No.3. unsolved. That’s the Welcome Guide, including private information, and making it available off-line and on a Phone. I looked for suppliers of this kind of information. I know I can achieve a similar result by creating and distributing PDF’d but I want to see if there is another route.

After clicking through dozens of links for ‘concierge’ Apps (most of which were for hotels and pitched at several thousand dollars per year) I found two more likely contenders Digital Concierge and Touchstay. They both cost about $100 per annum, so they are in the right ballpark for this experiment. They both set out to provide handy information for guests, before they arrive and whilst they are here.

Having tested them both I prefer the interface of Touchstay, its more modern looking whilst more complex. They both create a version of the guest book and local guide, which you create online. If this is a repeat of what you already have on you website (like mine) then tough. There is no option to import text and images you’ve already created – its start again time 🙁  Touchstay does have a useful option to import data from Google places, which will be good for building a restaurant list etc. And there are no limits on how many pages or sections you can build, in Touchstay, but its very clear you are building a ‘book’. Touchstay will allow you to create as many custom pages as you wish, these pages cannot contain any code, but can have hyperlinks to external websites, including to a part of my website with the’wishlist’ feature I spoke of earlier, or to our Facebook page. By contrast, Digital Concierge is very restricted on how much info you can load – there are quite low preset limited on how many restaurants, or sights. And no ability to create custom pages. Of these two, Touchstay’s editor wins hands down.

In terms of the output they are very different too.

Digital Concierge is an actual App – its available in the Google and Apple Appstores. But it doesn’t load your data until you enter a 4 digit number on the entry screen. So you guest will need to load the App and then enter ‘your’ number which you would need to be sent to them. The App is easy to find and load, but these two separate stages will test the limits and abilities of some users. When my code is entered and my data is loaded its not really styled or branded to suit me – but to suit the App, and its a bit old looking. This set up explains why there are restrictions on how much content, of what type, you can have.  Essentially there is a fixed App format of data for all their users, with differing data. This limitation and the design turns me off.

Touchstay is not an App. Despite what it looks like, it isn’t an App at all and I was surprised. The output is a webpage, the link to which you can email out to your guests. This means its really easy to use, nothing to download. When your guest views the linked page Touchstay invokes their browser to store a copy in ‘cache’ memory. The email that a guest receives says they should save the page to their desktop, and if they do it works like an app might…. sometimes.

I have two problems with this. First of all the ‘save to home page’ step is not familiar or intuitive for many users, and they might not do it. Even if they do, the icon that shows says Touch Stay. It isn’t associated with my property or boosting my presentation at all. However my second problem is much more fundamental. I found that its just too easy to lose the ‘cache’ memory when you are off-line. In my tests if I clicked on a hyperlink to another website while offline I could not get back to the cached version of my guestbook, not until I was online again. As an offline guestbook it just didn’t work reliably. I was left thinking ‘whats wrong with just sending out a PDF’?

Of course PDF’s can be a pain to create and manage, but is it really that much harder than Touchstay? And PDF’s they work on all devices, online or offline. And I would have much greater freedom of design and branding with a PDF than with either Digital Concierge or Touchstay. And I could still build in the hyperlinking and I want. What would I be missing? Well, Touchstay does have one other trick up its sleeve.

Each of your customer emails creates its own web-address, for the same guest book. This means that Touchstay can deliver a slightly different version of the Guest Book  for each customer. This does not mean personalisation (now that would have been interesting!), what it does mean is that you can specify when certain pages can be seen by the guest – reserving the key location or WIFI code until they day they arrive for example. I can see how this could be useful, but only if the offline viewing problems are fixed.

So… after all that I am back to building a great website which is mobile friendly, and still looking for a Guest Book solution beyond PDF’s.

 

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Published inOnline MarketingOther Online stuff

2 Comments

  1. Martin,

    Thank you for a great summary of the problems associated with “digital”.

    We have created myStayGuide from our experience of running holiday cottages and believe this will address some of your difficulties. The web app allows guests to build their wish list, or places they have visited and then share them with you or their friends.
    Guests can also provide feedback, suggestions and maintenance issues directly with you.
    If, at the end of the day, you still need a physical welcome book, myStayGuide will create that from your content. This means that you only maintain the information in one place. You can also embed that content in your web site.

    I hope this helps fill in some of the missing “needs” you have identified.

    • Martin Martin

      Thanks Chris for a new contender. On the face of it your solution looks like it might be just like the Touchstay app I mentioned in the blog. This was OK but really couldn’t be relied upon to work offline, as it used page caching. I will give your solution a try …

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