Hotels meeting the App programming challenge

Singapore – One of the biggest pain points for hoteliers, particular independent properties, is how to deal with the mobile challenge. Mobile optimized website or native app? And if native app, you’d have to develop for both Android and iOS and then how do you cope with the constant updates to operating systems?

For independents, this is a hefty investment to make.

One start-up, Acromobile, is trying to solve that pain – it has created a cloud-based mobile SaaS platform which will allow hotels to get customer-facing apps out quickly and cost-effectively.

“Call us the WordPress for mobile apps, we are a tech eco-system based in the cloud that allows hotels to scale,” said Rohit Ambekar, co-founder of the Singapore-based start-up that spent 18 months on research and development to create the software distribution platform which is built on the infrastructure of

Hospitality is one of the verticals it serves along with media, telecommunications, banking, membership clubs, print and publishing and event management.

It sees hospitality as a promising market because anything that is marketing-intensive needs a solution to deal with customers who are rapidly going mobile.

Its first hotel client using its customer-facing solution is Nikoi, the private island resort in Bintan, Indonesia. Said Andrew Dixon, owner of the resort (below), “We had been looking for a POS system that was cloud based and were surprised at the lack of alternatives.

“We didn’t want to install a server as our environment is pretty harsh on any electrical equipment and whilst we are close to Singapore, getting hardware serviced or even replaced is complicated. There are quite a few cloud based iPad offerings for cafés and we looked at adopting these but they all had a big limitation in that you could not keep a guest folio.

“Another plus was that in addition to the POS system, Acromobile also offered to build a guest App that interfaces with the POS to allow guests to order drinks etc.

“At present as there are no telephones in our rooms, guests have to walk to the bar to order a drink to be delivered to their room – which is a bit of a bore. We had looked at guest Apps before but could not see a huge advantage over a mobile website. With this feature it was easier to understand why a guest would install the App.

“Implementation took longer than expected but we got a customized solution with fantastic CRM features and data reporting – it all runs on the Salesforce platform.”

Dixon said he expected that it would be simpler for the next buyer “as a lot of the hard work in building the system has been done and it will be just a matter of fine tuning it for the next customer”.

With the system having been in operation for only four months, Dixon said they are still finding their way a little with regard to its full capabilities. “Suffice to say it has had a very positive benefit. We have already seen less errors and a big improvement in efficiency and vastly improved reporting capabilities.

“At the moment we are still running a paper chit system in parallel but eventually we will phase that out. The ability to customize and mine our data is very impressive and it has allowed us to better understand what products are selling and what we need to do to improve others of other products. There is also a basic inventory system which has also helped.”

Ambekar said the power of the solution lies in the customer engagement which is captured in datalogs. “You can see what are the most popular promotions being viewed and what has been ‘favourited’ by which device. As you build up loyalty programmes, you can start rewarding behaviour versus transactions.”

He admits though it’s been challenging to sell the idea to hotels. “The biggest pain point is POS integration. With Nikoi, we redesigned their POS totally – we could do that because we had commitment from owners who stuck their necks out for transformation.

“But generally there is resistance to innovation – there are legacy systems in place and a few operators have a stranglehold.”

Two other hotel clients use Acromobile for different reasons – Silver Needle Hospitality uses iPad apps to help its sales team manage sales opportunities and Marina Bay Sands uses a tool that allows generation of QR codes and shortened URLs to measure ROI on print and digital advertising.

Their first customer, since they started actively selling in 2011, was media giant Singapore Press Holdings. Acromobile powers the SPH Rewards programme.

Its business model is built on annual subscriptions based on user licences, and Monthly Active Users. Ambekar estimated it would cost a small café about 2,500 a year.

At Nikoi, the company is now working to enable customers to see invoices on their smartphones and pay with credit cards stored on file.

Ambekar said mobile was one of the most democratic platforms for business. “Everything has to be condensed to a small size and it brings your business down to the granular and you have to ask, how do I differentiate yourself. Mobile forces you to do that.”

Initial funding in the company is from Singapore-based VC fund, Horizen Ventures. Ambekar said they may seek Series A funding in 2015. “Until then, we will continue to bootstrap, we want to get to 50 customers and we will break even by this year.” Source: webintravel