Hospitality Mobile Apps: Creating A Better User Experience

By Sven Lenaerts | Jun 08, 2015

There’s no doubt, mobile can improve how companies offer their services to customers. This is especially true for hospitality. The ease of a mobile device has great potential to improve the user experience around how your customer interacts with your services.

In this blog post, I’ve taken a look at current hospitality mobile apps, identifying successes and room for improvement. But, there’s one thing I know for sure, mobile apps have created a true revolution within the industry and it’s not slowing down anytime soon.

Beyond UI/UX: Service Design

Mobile is a great engaging platform for users. For hospitality providers, it allows you to provide easily accessible solutions that deliver insights about your users so you can create services that go above and beyond.

With the incredible success of companies like Uber and Netflix, the on-demand business is on the rise. Hospitality is seeing those market opportunities as well and I believe that this is the biggest opportunity for hospitality: Providing on-demand services.

Applying Clever Design In Hospitality

The challenge of building great mobile products is that they should make your user a better user. Simply providing features is effortless and doesn’t provide a better user experience unless it’s relevant for the user.

To apply clever design in hospitality, you provide users with the information they need at the right moment. Think about Uber’s flow: you request a ride when you need it and you rate the driver at the end. You don’t have all that functionality upfront.

Let’s take a feature where a user is able to check in. This feature would only make sense to users in relevant context:

  • The user isn’t checked in yet
  • It’s the right time to check in
  • The user is at the right location

If the above are our set of requirements, in that context, we would probably want to put that feature front and center. What’s great about this is that you’re trying to think from the perspective of a user (“what feature would be helpful right now”), and then would define the technical requirements (“what are the circumstances for the user”).

With this in mind, what else could you do with a mobile app in the hospitality industry? The product should be as easy and as relevant as possible in the scenario of ‘being on the go’.

Our features might look something like the following:

  • Mobile check-in
  • Quick access to booking locations around you
  • Navigation to your booking
  • Viewing your booking
  • Extending your stay
  • Location discovery

In a mobile context, the user tries to accomplish a particular goal as quickly as possible. A user wants a solution right now. The most successful mobile products are successful because they provide speed, and not necessarily a wide range of interesting features. This is an important design lesson.

Reviewing Hospitality Apps

Let’s take a look at some existing hospitality apps and some design choices they made.

Airbnb

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Airbnb does a great job at utilizing mobile to its advantage. First and foremost, they successfully applied their branding and visual language across the board. The design language used on their website is also applied in the app which is great for returning users to create a sense of familiarity.

The focus of the product is clever as well. Traveling always begins with the same set of questions:

  • Where should I go? (With whom should I go?)
  • Where should I stay?
  • What should I do?

The app is built around these questions: It focuses on discovery first and foremost, then booking. From a product perspective, this is great as Airbnb tries to manage the full experience of finding a place to stay. This app wants to offer the full solution.

Of course, their product also goes beyond discovery. You can keep track of your trips and view your itinerary in the app, as well as communicate with your host. From a UI perspective, it’s smart that they’ve added this functionality in a separate navigational item. This keeps the user focused in a particular mindset as they navigate through the product.

Another excellent design choice is that the hosting element of the app opens a new product in the app. I think it’s clever that they try and break the flow, but I wonder if it wouldn’t make more sense to have a dedicated product and offer more power features for that specific audience. Their argument might be that the consumer product is in essence a touch point for a conversion to turn a user into a host.

Overall, the Airbnb app is a good mobile product all around. It’s a clever decision to focus on discovery first, as the other features are not as useful if you’re new to Airbnb.

LoungeBuddy

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My biggest problem with the LoungeBuddy app is the lack of clarity. The home screen is a feed of airport locations, with the closest location first.

At first glance, it’s fine. After all, the typical use case of this product would be buying lounge access to the airport you’re at. However, it’s the other area of the screen (labeled as ‘Purchase Access Area’) where things start to become unclear.

Think about the typical user journey when you travel. Generally, there are two ways a user typically ends up being at an airport lounge. It’s often planned or it’s a spontaneous decision made last-minute at the airport.

The product does a great job for the second use case. If I’m at a specific location, the app helps me find relevant lounges.

However, the support for the first use case is lacking. LoungeBuddy should provide the starting point for a service journey and let the product guide you on the way.

The app does support the ability to create a trip, but the user experience to do so has certain flaws. For example, once you’ve entered the airport for departure, you need to tap a plus before you’re able to enter the airport of arrival. This is an unnecessary step, as for the majority of the use cases you’ll go to an airport knowing your destination upfront.

You also view the lounges of the departure airport before you’ve entered the airport of arrival – a flow which doesn’t really make sense. It would be more beneficial to first plan your trip and then see the lounges of the departing airport and then be able to quickly navigate to see the lounges of your arriving or connecting airport.

The amenities filter is also pretty intense. My biggest annoyance? It doesn’t save my filters. Considering you’re making a selection from over 20 amenities, doing this for every trip you create would be a giant waste of time.

Here’s how LoungeBuddy can improve:

  • DRY (“Don’t Repeat Yourself”) – The app should support more clever mechanisms in which a user doesn’t need to repeat himself. For example, the default departure airport should be already filled in when you create a trip or the filter for amenities should save its state.
  • More clarity – The UI in general is confusing. There’s a lot of elements going on at the same time. By cleaning up the visual design and structuring the interface and flow better, the product will be more usable. A lot of this can easily be achieved by adding more whitespace.
  • Better information architecture – Currently when you tap on the profile section, there’s another settings icon you need to tap before accessing your settings, even though there’s plenty of unoccupied space in the profile section. These are mistakes associated with a poor information architecture. By revisiting the way the app is structured, it can become more usable and efficient.

Hotel Tonight

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Hotel Tonight is a great example of solving a user problem in an efficient manner.

You can summarize the successful user experience by the following:

  • It solves one problem
  • It choses the right medium (mobile first)
  • It has an effective interface to solve the problem
  • It creates an effective brand around the problem they’re trying to solve
  • Why is mobile the right choice? Finding a hotel (tonight) is often a ‘right now’ problem. As we have access to our smartphones at pretty much any given moment, this is a great business opportunity. It provides the speed a user is looking for.

This is reflected in the user interface, as it supports multiple use cases. The product defaults to finding a hotel for tonight, but still makes it very easy to find a hotel tomorrow, or later. It even supports different locations (this wasn’t part of the initial feature offering, but was added later).

A major contribution to the great user experience is curation. By providing only a limited amount of hotel options, you decrease the decision fatigue for users.

All their hotels have a relevant detail screen. It lists information very effectively. With a glance, you are aware of amenities, location, how your room looks and why the crew at Hotel Tonight is a fan of this place.

The secret to their success? The product focuses in on a couple of things and does them well.

The app has a similar setup to Airbnb – A focus on discovery first, but also providing the right tools to continue the user journey once you’ve booked a hotel.

One of my favorite features in regards to the user experience is providing a map view. This is very helpful as the location of a hotel is often a key decision factor when selecting your hotel. Being able to see all possible hotels, in one concise map view, is a thoughtful design choice. Putting this feature front and center helps users along in their decision-making process.

Conclusion

The best hospitality apps are products that carefully think about how to make the life of the user easier by giving them the tools they need at just the right time. By thinking about service design and how the product relates to the context of the user, you can provide better solutions to your users.
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