La Quinta Bets Big on Mobile Distribution

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Everyone knows business travelers are tethered to their smartphones. They use them to make calls, send texts and e-mail messages and access news and information. And while part of their search activity includes a lot of travel info, they don't generally use their iPhones, BlackBerrys or Androids to actually book travel—until now, at least that's what La Quinta believes. At its annual conference this week in New Orleans, the fast-growing and innovative chain of 828 hotels introduced LQ Instant Hold, an enhancement to its mobile website that should enable travelers to quickly and easily book rooms at La Quinta properties.

IIt may be a significant game changer in the world of hotel distribution. As La Quinta's Chief Marketing Officer Julie Cary pointed out in a presentation yesterday, while more than half of business travelers use smartphones to access travel information, very few use them to actually book hotel rooms, mostly because it's so cumbersome (and potentially risky) to enter a 16-digit credit card number on a smartphone screen. The brand's proprietary LQ Instant Hold enables smartphone-equipped travelers to find a La Quinta property and hold a reservation for up to four hours simply by entering their phone number into the system.

The feature will be available on the mobile version of LQ.com by the end of the week, and apps for the iPhone and Android will launch at the end of March. The brand is also upgrading its website with the addition of Trip Advisor reviews for hotels in the system. Cary says La Quinta is the first chain in the mid-scale hotel space to take this confident (some would say courageous) step.

But La Quinta has been on a roll, adding more than 500 hotels to its system in the past 10 years and planning to open 40 additional hotels this year. It's kicking butt on the performance side of the business, too. Fueled by an 8% increase in RevPAR, systemwide revenue jumped 10% last year to $1.3 billion. Its LQ.com bookings were up 6% and revenues from all electronic distribution soared 11%.

Backed by the power and deep pockets of its owner, The Blackstone Group, and headed by the passionate leadership of Wayne Goldberg and Raj Trivedi, La Quinta seems poised to become the number-one brand in its midscale competitive set.

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