In a post-COVID reality, contactless technology is set to become increasingly important to not only provide relevant information to tourists from pre-arrival to post-departure but to gain insights from guest experiences.
OnlineHub saw the gap in the mobile app sector and has developed products specifically tailored to the tourism and hospitality sector.
Co-Director of OnlineHub, Clinton Lerm, provides some insight into how mobile technology can help tourism suppliers gain a competitive edge.
Q1: Tell us a little about Online Hub. When was it created and why?
A: We (directors of OnlineHub, myself and Mary-Anne) have been in the tourism industry for many years, owning accommodation establishments, restaurants, conference venues, concierge desks and adventure products.
Mobile apps are now where websites were 15 years ago. No business can now function without a website, and the same principle will apply for mobile apps in the near future. There are currently more mobile users in the world than desktop and laptop users.
We identified the need for a completely diverse tourism app company that fully understands how a consumer, marketing team, sales team, onsite hotel management, and operational requirements are all communicated across the supply chain and so OnlineHub was established.
Q2: In this new COVID reality, how important is technology in helping tourism business survive?
A: The new buzzword is contactless. Technology will only become more and more relevant. With our mobile apps, our customers can achieve this from before arrival until long after departure at their establishment. Their guests could receive all the information on the dedicated tourism app, which allows customers to directly message the guest using push notifications to his/her mobile phone regarding changes, specials, menus, activities on offer, weather, and so much more.
After departure, customers can also send a guest questionnaire and stay in contact with their guests regarding future promotions, or introduce them to a loyalty programme that OnlineHub can set up. The applications we can provide are endless.
Q3: You highlight on your website how technology can give tourism businesses a competitive edge. Can you elaborate on how this can be achieved?
A: Most hotels, restaurants, conference venues etc have had to relook their business models during COVID-19 and have downscaled on several company divisions. In some instances, this creates a communication- or service-related problem to the detriment of the establishment. Our mobile apps breach this gap and assist with functions such as conference registration, menu selection, and ordering for all outlets where they might now have staff issues such as pool and room service.
With an OnlineHub-designed tailored mobile app, guests can use an establishment’s personalised and branded mobile app to browse in-room guides with clickable contact numbers, dining booking widgets, or view instruction videos on safes and air-conditioning units – the possibilities are endless.
Hotels also used to have the traditional concierge desk, whether it could have been outsourced or done internally. Our mobile apps allow guests to book activities, transport etc. while the property still receives a commission on the sale without needing a staff member.
The concierge option is also an additional revenue stream for the property. Our mobile apps can be customisable to your brand, therefore boosting the fact that your establishment has its own branded mobile app.
We can also add a maintenance section in a mobile app where a guest can take a picture of a maintenance problem with a description and send this from their mobile phone directly to the maintenance manager.
If it’s a group of establishments, the user might be familiar with the one property, but on the mobile app, it will display all the properties with all of the same in-depth info and functionality, thus assisting greatly in marketing all your properties and the unique characteristic of each.
Our messaging centre allows our customers to directly message all app users using push notifications, and guests can also communicate directly with the property. Making use of our push notification messaging centre can be a benefit to any marketing strategy, with options of tagging your visitors, such as VIPs, spa, golf, restaurant, and travel agents. Customers can message promotion relevant to a specific guest, or message everyone and let the push notification do the work.
Conference venues and museums can also seamlessly add all the guest's registration details into the marketing data base if, on registration, the guest opts in for marketing material. Can you imagine how large your marketing database will be in a few months without you needing to capture a single email address on a piece of registration paper?
Q4: I see you have developed close to 250 apps. Can you tell us about one or two and give examples of how they have helped your clients gain a competitive edge?
A: One of the latest apps we completed was for The Liz McGrath Collection – a luxury collection that needs no introduction, with its properties receiving multiple international awards. We have also completed an app for the Indaba Hotel group with multiple accommodations and conference venues with large food and beverage outlets – the mobile app was designed to showcase the venues and cross-pollinate within the group. The Apartheid Museum also recently received its mobile app, with visitor registration options, a media release section, a full description of the experience and a messaging system to guests. Our apps are customised to a specific brand, so the industry may have used a tourism app in the past, not even knowing that we were the app developers. We are also set to soon to release a mobile app for a world-renowned game reserve close to the Kruger National Park.
Q5: Do you tailor your apps to suit your clients’ needs?
A: Yes, no two apps are identical – our team works closely with the client's marketing and media teams and the full process is as unique as the venue or property. Ultimately the app must reflect the look and feel of the client’s brand.
Q6: Do you offer any other services besides app creation? And if so, can you elaborate?
A: We have also recently started with building town guide apps – where the local tourism authority can have an app at minimal cost, and within the app they can also generate much-needed funds with advertising space or simply having bookable activities, accommodation or more.
As part of our portfolio, we can assist with website development, optimise websites, and assist with social media campaigns. We have come to the understanding that technology changes daily, and what worked last year might not be effective this year; thus, we try to stay ahead of the curve with our dedicated team.