Putting in place a mobile strategy is no longer a nice-to-have, it is the essential weapon in a fast-paced and competitive sector. EyeforTravel.com identifies some emerging themes.
One thing is certain: the mobile channel is here to stay. The research – from a number of different sources - backs this up. IDC predicts that by 2015 smartphone sales will reach 982 million, and according to Morgan Stanley, by 2014, mobile web users will surpass “traditional” desktop Internet users. Travel firms, it seems are taking this seriously, too; a recent Airline IT Trends survey finds that 9 out of 10 airlines are planning to sell tickets via mobile by 2015.
Unsurprisingly, emerging trends and opportunities in mobile will be a central theme at EyeforTravel’s fast-approaching Travel Distribution Summit, North America which takes place in Las Vegas from September 13–14. So what are the emerging trends and opportunities? EyeforTravel.com goes in search of answers and identifies five central themes for mobile.
SMARTPHONE ARE HERE TO STAY; NOT JUST FOR THE LAST MINUTE!
For online hotel booking firm, HotelTonight, the single biggest trend to emerge in 2012 will be the continued penetration of smartphones and the resulting shift of everyday activities from PC-based websites to the device in the customers’ pocket. “We believe the smartphone will become the new laptop and the resulting opportunities and challenges for businesses will be extreme,” said Jared Simon, Chief Operating Officer of HotelTonight.com. So which platforms is HotelTonight focusing its energy: on iOS and Android, of course although Simon says “we are always ready to move on a dime to take advantage of trends in this fast-paced mobile environment.”
Chris Blakely, Vice President of Client Services at comScore, seems to be singing from the same hymn sheet. For him, the biggest trend for 2012 is: “Continued growth of smartphone ownership in general, and the use of Android and iOS platforms in particular, which are the core ‘rising tide that lifts all boats.’”
For many firms, said Max Starkov, President and Chief Executive of HebsDigital, the mobile channel is already a real travel planning and hotel distribution channel, and this is especially true for so-called “drive-in and last-minute travel markets.” But going forward, even that may be changing. Priceline.com Vice President for Corporate Strategy, Todd Henrich, said that all the research points to the fact that consumers are becoming more mobile, and before long they will be booking travel via mobile too – and this, he says, “this won’t necessarily just be the case for last-minute bookings.”
M-COMMERCE IS RAMPING UP BUT IT IS STILL THE WILD WEST
It may still be a minority of smartphone users who are using their phones to transact, pay bills, shop, and interact, but this is changing as consumers become increasingly comfortable using their phone for commerce. This trend will only continue. In fact during May, online travel agency, Orbitz, reported that 6 million people used a mobile device to shop for travel, more than doubling numbers on the previous year. During the first quarter of the year, more than 9 percent of Orbitz hotel bookings were made via mobile devices.
Comscore, for one, is seeing big across-the-board growth in categories involving mobile transactions. “Consumers are becoming increasingly comfortable using their phone for commerce, and this is a trend that will only continue,” said Blakely.
But when it comes to what technology will win the day in mobile commerce, this is still very much the Wild West.
“Any technology that makes commerce even easier on mobile devices is going to gain huge traction. I’m looking forward to the day that I no longer have to carry a wallet, and I think that day isn’t too far off. NFC isn’t the only means of getting there, but it certainly looks like a promising one,” said Simon.
Blakely, however, is not so convinced. Today, he argues, NFC-enabled handsets are owned by a very small number of consumers, and there continues to be lots of jockeying among credit card companies, mobile operators, and others for a piece of the “payment pie.” “That said, we’re seeing a rise in the use of phones for making online payments via existing services like PayPal and a host of startups offering point-of-sale solutions for payment and loyalty tracking such as Square and Level Up,” said Blakely.
THE MERGING OF SOCIAL, LOCAL AND MOBILE IS “NOT JUST A FLICKERING HOPE”
There is continued growth in social, local, and mobile, and while this is great news for travelers, the providers of travel should not forget that it presents several opportunities. “It’s never been easier for people on the go to navigate a strange city and discover places, find merchants or a great meal while traveling,” said Blakely.
Firms like HotelTonight and Uber, that have embraced mobile as an entirely new medium with completely different user dynamics and use cases are not just a flickering “hope” right now, they are “hot and will continue to gain momentum,” said Simon.
He also believes that pure social players will need to adapt their offerings to the increasing utility function of smartphones or risk becoming “afterthoughts.” Foursquare is one firm that understood this changing dynamic: it has morphed from a location check-in service to one that provides full-featured local discovery and recommendations and opportunities for sales, too.
While calling Facebook “hype” might be a step too far, in recent months the firm has certainly been grappling with how it monetizes use of its “service” on a mobile phone - this is something it will be thinking about very seriously.
DISCOUNTING IN THE MOBILE CHANNEL IS A MISTAKE
“The most common mistake made by hoteliers today is discounting in the mobile channel,” said HebsDigital’s Starkov. He cannot stress this strongly enough. And so what are his top tips:
-Avoid the temptation to discount! Don’t discount via mobile discounters, OTAs, and Flash Sales Sites.
-Invest in your mobile website and mobile marketing to boost last-minute reservations.
-Market your true best available rates last-minute.
-Maintain rate parity and brand integrity at all times.
CRYSTAL BALL GAZING… THINK GEOGRAPHY, TV, MARKETING AND TABLETS
“Services that take into account geographic, usage, and other contexts to know what users want before they actually do, are not too far off in mobile,” said HotelTonight’s Simon.
For Blakely, the thing to be watching closely is multi-screen services that allow you to seamlessly move from phone to tablet to computer to TV and back again, providing cloud-based syncing of content, experiences, and shopping carts.
According to Google, 7 percent of all searches already come from tablets versus 14 percent from mobile, and 79 percent from desktop. But watch out for rapid growth in this channel, too; while most tablet usage is currently occurring in the home, it is fast becoming a go-to device for road warriors. Whatever your view today on tablets, Starkov president says 2013 will be the year this channel really takes off.
If anything, said Starkov, travel marketers should be budgeting more for mobile. “Marketers should be spending at least 15 percent of their overall digital marketing budgets on mobile marketing initiatives,” he said. This includes a bigger focus on optimization, upgrades to the mobile website, mobile SEO, mobile display advertising, and text marketing initiatives – to name but a few. So put those on the list for the coming year.
If you are in any doubt that mobile is going to be center stage for the foreseeable future, please take a bow and leave now.