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Budget hotel brand Premier Inn launched a mobile booking app last week, which is available on iPhone, Android, Nokia and BlackBerry devices.

I interviewed Steve Conway, Head of Marketing at Premier Inn, about the company's new mobile apps and its approach to online marketing. 

How important is digital to Premier Inn?

Digital is extremely important to Premier Inn. Our website is one of the first ports of call for many guests who want find out more information about Premier Inn or who want to book a room with us, therefore our digital vision is to make our website accessible and as user friendly as possible.

We have invested significantly in our website premierinn.com over that last couple of years. This investment has seen online visits grow; in 2010 online visits grew by more than 30% and bookings by over 20%.

We pride ourselves on the fact that our website is easy to navigate, informative and comprehensive.

Our new app offers the growing number of travellers who want to interact with us on the move the ability to do so. We have captured the most popular functions: making a booking and reviewing existing bookings as step one on our mobile journey.  

What percentage of bookings are made online?

70% of our bookings are made online.

Why did you decide to launch an app rather than a mobile website?

It's more a question of timing than anything else. We are keen to offer a mobile browsing experience as well as an effective application.

We chose to focus on the mobile application first because it represents a big change for Premier Inn and it felt like the right time for our internal teams to really explore how we can engage our guests through this channel.

The mobile website will follow and developing the application has given us some great experience which will help us to deliver a really great mobile website experience as well.

Was the app developed in house?

The app was developed by Fujitsu UK & Ireland in partnership with Grapple Mobile. We recognise that there are a variety of platforms in the market, with Android growing fast and Blackberry's strong business audience, so it was key that we worked with a partner who enabled us to support all leading smartphone types.

What were the key challenges of making the booking process usable on mobile, and across a number a different devices?

There were probably two key challenges; firstly, ensuring that we keep the application really simple and tailored to our most common booking process to keep the booking process as quick as possible for the users; and secondly keeping that user experience consistent across the platforms in both design and functionality.

We were really keen to achieve a single booking process, consistent in look, feel and functionality across all the major smartphone platforms.

Premier Inn recently used a promotion around Facebook Places - has this been a success? Will it lead to similar initiatives?

Premier Inn looks to innovate as much as possible and developing exclusive offers for our online followers is part of that strategy. The Facebook Places promotion was an insightful first step in this area and we're currently working on developing these plans so watch this space.

We recently launched a guest offer via Facebook using a turnkey application and have many more plans in the pipeline.

What has Premier Inn been doing to promote the brand via social media?

We are focusing initially on our large number of loyal guests via email, our website, blogger outreach, our social media fans and followers, as well as promotion in-hotel.

What has worked for you so far?

We've had a lot of success through our social media engagement. A couple of examples include targeting influential bloggers to visit our hotels and launching a twitter concierge service.

Have you used an external agency for social media marketing or carried this out in house?

A combination of in-house expertise and agency support, Frank 33 have provided strong strategic counsel.

Do you actively monitor and respond to what is being said about Premier Inn online?

Yes, we view social media as an important customer engagement channel and have a social media team in place who monitor and respond to comments, queries and questions.

It's of paramount importance for a company as customer focused as Premier Inn to respond quickly and effectively.

Graham Charlton

Published 19 January, 2011 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

Comments (4)

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Christian Louca

Grapple offer a reduced rate template based cross-platform app development service. This means it comes full of limitations and this impacts on quality. This sounds like a Grapple-Nokia coalition deal. Grapple offer free promotion in the Ovi-store to promote the app. This is the hook for Grapple to get the business whilst Nokia improve their content within Ovi. If I wrong..well I am wrong..but I doubt it. The better approach would have been to go with a mobile site in combination with any app development.

over 5 years ago

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Alistair Crane

To provide total clarity on the comment from Christian Louca of YOC - Grapple offer brands and businesses the opportunity to create completely bespoke cross platform mobile applications in a faster, more cost effective manner than an individual platform developer (i.e. iPhone).

As the article mentions, this project was a collaboration between Fujitsu & Grapple - There is an Ovi version being launched momentarily but Nokia play no further role other than providing one of the worlds fastest growing app stores.

The hook is that brands and business can create a far more compelling user experience, reach just as many people as with a mobile website and do all this on reduced timelines and budgets.

No templates, no limitations and no quality issues - Just more apps for more people.

With this in mind, Christian is wrong but I can't blame him for trying to promote mobile websites given that YOC have a platform for these and not apps.

over 5 years ago

Christian Louca

Christian Louca, Founder - New Mobile Start-Up at Stealth Mode

Alistair - No need to take it personally!  Also I think we both know that I am far too passionate about mobile to push Web over Apps just for our corporate gain.

We develop for all mobile platforms both for apps, hybrid apps & internet, (you know that despite your comment).  I am not criticising the Grapple solution just for the sake of it, as I think there is a good need for it in the mobile market and will prove very valuable to a certain type of long tail client.  To me the premier inn is not one of them.  However, template based solutions come with limitations, hence being template based.  Why offer a service like this just so you can be cross-platform on apps?  And please do not tell me it is for reach.  The main point is too many brands are rushing into app development without considering the wider strategy.  App discovery, operating costs, limitations of reach (even across all app platforms), not being able to reach passing traffic through search, are all factors that need to be considered. Moving forward, as the app hysteria dies down (which it is) the mobile browser will become the norm as it is online.  I have said this from the beginning and with nearly 10 years of experience in mobile I still stand by this today. Most people who use their computer at home when wanting content, search for it, this is fact.  They do not open up an app to get the content.  It is much easier to search for it.  It will be the same on mobile. However, as the mobile is not a fixed computer at home and is accessed on the go that can be location specific, utility based apps will always have a place in mobile but this will be a small amount relevant to the individuals needs, like the email app, the browser app, maps, or health related apps and general travel apps etc etc.   

I do not believe Nokia is the worlds fastest growing app store and even if it were, lets face it, it is mainly made up of content companies with not so appealing content and comes with a bad user experience, a painstaking payment process and general poor usability.  It also does not come with iTunes which is a major contributor for apple becoming the benchmark.  Also please bear in mind 80% of app downloads with apple are game based!  

over 5 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Alistair Crane

Appreciate the follow up Christian - My response was certainly not personal, we clearly share that same passion.

In the interest of total clarity, all Grapple applications are created bespoke for all platforms, no templates are used and I utterly agree that anyone offering a templated approach will suffer from distinct limitations.

It's great that hype is giving way to logic - The market has already moved from waterslide rides and pint pouring to taking advantage of real business opportunities like finding and booking a hotel room.

Onwards and upwards.

over 5 years ago

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