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.