Getting Ready for the 3-Screen Battle in 2013


Over the past few years hoteliers have been advised repeatedly to embrace the mobile channel. Industry experts have projected staggering growth rates in leisure and unmanaged business travel bookings via the mobile channel: from $753 million in 2011 to $1,368 million in 2012 (PhoCusWright). And yet, a careful analysis of all the industry stats and projections reveals a very interesting picture that not all hoteliers fully understand: The majority of the "mobile" bookings, room nights and revenue are generated by tablet devices such as the iPad, Samsung Galaxy and Google Nexus, not by "pure" mobile devices like the iPhone and Android- and Windows Mobile-based smartphones.

In our view, mobile and tablet devices and their respective marketing and distribution channels should be treated as separate device categories. Three distinct device categories constitute the "Three Screens" to which hoteliers should pay special attention in 2013: desktop, mobile and tablet.

Search engines and many major media sites already consider tablets as a distinct device category, characterized by its own unique user behavior and best practices for user experience and content delivery. Here is why:

Internet User Behavior:
Internet users exhibit different behavioral patterns when browsing the Internet. For all practical purposes, the desktop, mobile device and tablet address different needs at different times of the day and week. According to Google, users searching Google utilize:

  • Desktop during the day (office)
  • Mobile during lunch break + happy hour
  • Tablet later in the evening when lounging, i.e., the tablet is a "lounging" device

According to Google’s data, 7% of all searches already come from tablets vs. 14% from mobile devices and 79% via desktops (2012). Google also reports different search dynamics across the three device/channel categories and a dramatic increase in hotel queries in the mobile and tablet channels on Google in 2012:

  • Overall (desktop + mobile + tablet): +34%
  • Mobile devices: +120%
  • Tablet devices: +306%

Different Content Needed for Mobile vs. Tablet:
The always-on-the-go mobile user requires short, slimmed-down and straight- to- the- point content: hotel location, maps and directions, summary of the hotel product, easy to use mobile booking engine, and a click-to-talk property reservation number. Hence the need for a mobile website with specialized content.

Tablet users require deep, visually enhanced content about the property, its product and destination, etc. This is why all hoteliers serve their desktop website content on tablet devices today. Unfortunately, the desktop website cannot accommodate the touch-screen navigation required by tablet devices along with the high-res photography and highly visual presentation necessary to display the hotel product.

Different User Intent:
As mentioned, travel consumers on the go use their mobile devices to get concrete information such as hotel location, driving directions and pricing information. Due to usability and security issues, six of every seven mobile bookings actually happen via the voice channel. Very few people are comfortable entering their credit card information into their iPhone in a public place. Very few hotel mobile websites provide an alternative to guaranteeing your booking without entering your credit card.

In contrast, tablet users have no issues booking a hotel via their device. A well-structured, highly visual hotel tablet-optimized website can generate conversion rates several times higher than those of mobile devices. Across HeBS Digital’s hotel client portfolio, tablets generate 200% more room nights and 430% more revenue than the "pure" mobile devices:

Sources of Traffic and Bookings by Device Category January-November 2012:
SourcePage ViewsVisitsBookingsNightsRevenueMobile10,46%13.98%2.64%1.79%1.11%Tablet8.75%8.52%5.52%5.24%5.84%Desktop80.79%77.50%91.84%92.97%93.06%Total100%100%100%100%100%

Apple’s iPad rules the tablet world: Over 91% of tablet visitors, 96% of tablet bookings and 98% of tablet revenue come from iPad devices.

Mobile vs. Tablet Connectivity to the Web:
Tablets are portable yet stationary devices: They are predominantly used indoors with a high-speed Internet connection: at home or work, at a coffee shop or in-flight. Web analytics from major hotel brands, OTAs and HeBS Digital’s portfolio show that 85%-90% of tablet browsing happens via a Wi-Fi connection, while mobile devices use telecommunication carriers such as AT&T or Verizon to access the web.

It’s Official: 2013 will be the Year of the Three Screens in Hospitality: Desktop, Tablet, Mobile
Google projects an overall increase in number of search queries by 24% in 2013, but search data differs dramatically across the three device categories. Searches from mobile devices will experience an increase of 68%, while searches from tablets will increase by more than 180%. Desktop searches will experience a decline of 4%.

So what should hoteliers do get ready for the 3-screen battle in 2013?

Begin by treating the desktop, mobile and tablet as three separate channels:

Desktop Website:
Make sure your desktop website is "in good health," in order to comply with best practices in hotel distribution and to adhere to the industry’s best practices for design, site architecture and SEO. Most importantly, make sure it is compatible with the recent Google Panda and Freshness algorithm updates.

Mobile Website:
A hotel mobile website generates incremental revenue through mobile and voice reservations which, without a well-optimized, content-rich, property-specific mobile site, would go to the competition or the OTAs.

Tablet Website:
According to eMarketer, global tablet sales are projected to exceed 232 million in 2016, growing from 64 million in 2011. In 2013, there will be 75.6 million U.S. tablet users, up from 13 million in 2010.

Hotel marketers should consider either enhancing their desktop website for the touch-screen tablet environment or building a tablet-only version of their website in addition to their desktop and mobile sites, which should all be managed via a single digital content depository-enabled CMS.

Second, upgrade your website technology to the next generation of Content Management Systems (CMS) to enable:

  • Management of desktop, mobile and tablet website content (copy, photos, special offers, events and happenings) via a centralized dashboard.
  • Responsive Design on the Server Side (RESS) which employs device-specific modifications to CSS and Java Script to present customized desktop, mobile and tablet "front end" of the website, while utilizing the content from the central CMS on the back end.

Third, all three channels must be integrated in the hotel’s multi-channel marketing strategy. Use analytics such as Adobe Omniture SiteCatalyst to determine contributions from and the dynamics of each of the three channels.

2013 will be the year of the three screens in hospitality: desktop, mobile and tablet. This requires investments in digital content, design and technology. Some hoteliers are mistakenly led to believe that not investing in the property’s website and the three screens will save money. Wrong! Not investing in your presence across the three screens will severely damage the hotel’s bottom line.

About the Author
Max Starkov is President & CEO of HeBS Digital, the hospitality industry’s leading full-service digital marketing and direct online channel strategy firm, based in New York City (

HeBS Digital has pioneered many of the best practices in hotel Internet marketing, social and mobile marketing, and direct online channel distribution. The firm has won over 200 prestigious industry awards for its digital marketing and website design services, including numerous Adrian Awards, Davey Awards, W3 Awards, WebAwards, Magellan Awards, Summit International Awards, Interactive Media Awards, IAC Awards, etc.

Max has spent 30 years – his entire professional career – in hospitality and travel. He has an extensive Internet marketing and online distribution experience. He co-founded and served as CEO of three E-Commerce travel companies: 1995-2000 (direct supplier-to-consumer online travel marketplace), 2000-2001 (Winner of Microsoft’s RAD Award for hotel online booking systems), and HeBS Digital (since 2001).

Max received the most prestigious industry award, the HSMAI "Top 25 Most Extraordinary Minds in Sales and Marketing" in 2008. Since 2010 Max, has served on the HSMAI Digital Marketing Council, the highest hotel internet marketing authority in the country, commissioned to monitor and educate HSMAI members about the emerging trends and innovations happening in hotel digital marketing universe.

Max has an MS in Economics of International Tourism & Hospitality and an MBA degree, Beta Gamma Sigma Honors, from Fordham University in New York.