Mobile app localization for the hotel industry in Asia

If you are plugged into today’s technology trends for the hotel scene, you probably aren’t surprised to hear that mobile booking is gaining in popularity. No part of the world exemplifies this better than the Asia Pacific region. Asia is bursting with travelers who use mobile devices to research travel options, book rooms and communicate their travel preferences directly to hotels. Asia also boasts the highest number of mobile users in the world, with more than 700 million mobile phone subscribers. Is it any wonder hoteliers in this region are at the forefront of using mobile technology to connect with a global customer base?

Yet all is not roses and sunshine when it comes to hotels’ use of mobile technology today. Recent research by Mobiquity indicates that mobile design and performance difficulties are standing in the way of brands getting a piece of a very lucrative pie: the $25 billion market for mobile travel bookings projected for 2014. Many hotel brands cannot get past obstacles while traveling this path. In the study, 35% of mobile device-carrying travelers would be less likely to complete a mobile booking if they ran into a confusing or difficult-to-use mobile booking app. As for the demerits of the mobile website and app experience — without even factoring in localization-readiness — the study reveals that many mobile users are running into problems aplenty. For example:

60% of smartphone owners reported that mobile travel sites were slow to load.

51% of tablet owners said that search and selection features on travel apps were complicated.

20% of tablet owners were disappointed that the mobile app was not connected with the loyalty program they are enrolled in.

Mobile app development and localization are very important to get right, because doing a less than stellar job could backfire when it comes to customer satisfaction and retention.


The global factor

Of course, the stakes get even higher when you think about broadening the number of people you reach by localizing for additional markets beyond your home borders. Considering the global nature of the hospitality industry, you can’t broach the territory of global users of mobile technology without delving into mobile application localization. For guidance and example-setting in this area, we can look to Asia.

Asia is overflowing with tech-savvy travelers who use mobile devices to research travel options, book rooms and communicate their travel preferences directly to hotels. Asia’s mobile share of web traffic has grown nearly 200% over the past two years, according to Pingdom research. Residents of China, India and Japan also top the leaderboard when it comes to mobile app downloads. ABI Research predicts that application downloads in Asia will hit 2.4 billion by 2013, which is approximately 20% of the world’s total available market.

These staggering numbers alone could point any enterprising hotelier down the path of localization, and we can learn a lot from the ones who are already doing this well. For a better understanding of why the hotel industry in Asia is pursuing mobile app localization, consider the trends. According to the study “ITB World Travel Trends Report 2011/2012,” Asia’s growing middle class will keep boosting travel demand. Russia, surprisingly or not, is a leading target market for travel business leaders in Asia. Outbound travel is popular, and will probably continue to be for the foreseeable future.

Forrester Research notes that mobile channel booking is on an upward swing, having increased four-fold from 2008 to 2010. Guests continue to expect personalized service, which includes having their traveler preference data stored in a digital environment. More and more travelers are tech-savvy individuals with a mobile device in hand, researching hotels, booking rooms and selecting other hotel services using said mobile devices.

Mobile applications are no longer just about online booking or looking for hot deals on room rates. We are steadily seeing more personalized search results, localized websites and mobile applications that cater to an international user base. Also on the rise is multiple language support itself. In ever-increasing numbers, guests expect to see information that aligns with their unique tastes, preferences and travel habits. And it needs to be in their preferred language.

In response, hoteliers are introducing features and services that provide more personalized aspects than ever. One example of a website that stores and tracks travel preferences through a mobile app is How might the storage of travel preferences play out when a user books a room? As an example, a Saudi Arabian male with multiple wives could be assured of always receiving a room suite that features connected rooms, without needing to request this every time. Automatic request fulfillment like this provides tremendous convenience and ease of use, well before a guest arrives at the front desk.

A personalized mobile app is also an ingenious way to upsell to guests. Think how easy it would be for a guest to order an additional service if it is only a single click or finger swipe away. In fact, some hotels already offer a multilingual mobile app that allows guests of various nationalities to order food or beverages from room service using mobile devices. Simply pressing a button to say “I’ll have one more glass” naturally results in a higher number of orders.

Mobile app development and the localization that goes hand in hand with it represent a specialized area that not every hotel manager or owner feels at ease with. Few businesses have the in-house staff or resources to tackle this, which has been leading to more business for language service providers (LSPs) with experience in this industry.

We are only at the start of personalized mobile applications and their inevitable evolution. As the weeks and months roll on, we will no doubt see more hotels launching mobile apps to anticipate and fulfill guests’ needs in several different languages. The question is, are they taking steps to do it the right way?


Deploying a global mobile app

Deploying a global mobile app requires some planning. As with any business venture, it is critical that you lay the groundwork first. You should conduct a thorough analysis of your current business model, while remembering to identify any constraints that you may be subject to. Hearing from all stakeholders at the outset and creating a roadmap to achieve your goals are also important. Making sure you are grounded in reality rather than beginning an unrealistic venture can save you considerable time and expense.

You will also need to identify the specific purpose of your mobile app, the user profiles of your target audience members and the most-used platforms in those target markets. Which visual aesthetic do users respond best to? What do they typically look for and expect from a mobile app experience? Are there specific demands in the local market that will modify or guide the specific requirements of your app? Which mobile networks are used most in a given region? As you might expect, factors like these will differ dramatically from country to country. Start off slowly by localizing your mobile app for one target country. Piloting the mobile app launch in this strategic way allows you to see how well it works before you expand it for additional target countries.

Your second step will be to double-check that you are global-ready. If you already know that at some point you will be trying to reach customers in countries beyond your home borders, it’s wise to design your mobile apps to be global right from the start. Taking this step at the beginning of mobile app development makes localization for additional countries much easier and more budget-friendly.

A good piece of general advice is to ensure that the mobile application conforms to globalization frameworks to properly display elements such as number formats, symbols, icons, graphics, currency formats and the text itself. You must also consider multiple language support. A few companies are leading the way here. TripAdvisor, and Kayak have support for 20, 18 and 11 languages respectively. It is safe to say that this multilanguage trend will keep growing.

If you wish to integrate a pop-up touchscreen keyboard into your mobile app, you should once again consider your target users to inform your decision-making. Will users be able to enter text in their native script? While mobile devices and smartphones are being shipped with increasingly higher screen resolutions, usability is still an important consideration. Text that has been translated can expand by as much as 25% or 30%, which then affects the layout and visual appeal of your mobile app. Also, the readability of some scripts could be severely hampered if the displayed font size is not large enough.

The third step is to mesh with your full software distribution platform. Mobile might be just one of your hotel’s targeted release components. If that is the case, your global mobile app should maintain a consistent look and feel in accordance with your other targeted platforms, such as the hotel website itself, to ensure consistent branding and product usability. You don’t want to force prospects and guests to learn a new mechanism or adapt to a completely unfamiliar visual appearance and layout to interact with you.

The global mobile app should truly feel like it is an extension of your brand. This may be challenging, especially if you are targeting multiple mobile platforms. It should also be weighed against the need to get the most out of the platform’s feature set and ensure a consistent platform interface. But keep in mind that your efforts here can bring great returns.

You should also ensure that you perform in-country testing. Well before you release a localized mobile app, you should run through your standard testing suite to ensure that functionality and usability levels are where they should be. Be sure you focus on the user interface design, performance levels and whether your mobile app meets your target audience’s cultural preferences and expectations.

Once you address any issues you may have found, consider testing your mobile application on the specific devices and networks that it’s intended for. Performing user acceptance testing in the target market could highlight any market-specific concerns and return some very useful market-specific feedback. Consider a beta or test stage program or a customer early-adopter program; alternatively, you could consider working with an experienced LSP that provides the necessary in-country qualified reviewers.

Travelers are already one step ahead of you, expecting as much personalization as possible in mobile apps, which includes catering to the users’ language and home culture. Similarly, a strong marketing strategy hinges on your target region’s particular cultural expectations, travel habits and, of course, language preferences. By catering your mobile strategy to each market, and possibly working with an LSP that is experienced with the hospitality industry, you can not only open the door to greater numbers of international guests — but usher them in and make them lifelong, brand-loyal customers as well.