NB: This is a guest article by Marco Saio, director of global research and projects at EyeforTravel.
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.
One thing is certain: no matter what any of the last few remaining doubters have to say, the mobile channel is here to stay.
The research â€“ from multiple sources – supports this. 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 nine out of ten airlines are planning to sell tickets via mobile by 2015.
So what are the emerging trends and opportunities? Here are five central themes for mobile:
1. Smartphones are here to stay; not just for the last minute!
For online hotel booking brand, 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 customersâ€™ pocket.
“We believe the smartphone will become the new laptop and the resulting opportunities and challenges for businesses will be extreme,” says Jared Simon, chief operating officer of HotelTonight.
Chris Blakely, vice-president of client services at ComScore, seems to be singing from the same hymn sheet.
For him the biggest trend 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, says 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 vice-president for corporate strategy, Todd Henrich, says that all the research points to the fact that consumers are becoming more mobile and before long they will be booking ALL travel via mobile, too â€“ and this, he says, “this wonâ€™t necessarily just be the case for last-minute bookings”.
2. Mcommerce 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% of Orbitz hotel bookings were made via mobile devices.
Comscore, for one, is seeing big across-the-board growth in categories involving mobile transactions.Â ”Consumers are becoming increasingly comfortable using their phone for commerce and this is a trend that will only continue,” says 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.”
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 weâ€™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.”
3. 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 travellers, the providers of travel should not forget that it presents several opportunities.
“Itâ€™s never been easier for people on the go to navigate a strange city and discover places, find merchants or a great meal while travelling.”
Simon 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 has morphed from a location check-in service to one that provides full-featured local discovery and recommendations and opportunities for sales too.
While dismissing Facebook as hype might be a step too far, in recent months the firm has certainly been grappling with how it monetises use of its service on a mobile phone, an issue many travel content brands will be acutely aware of.
4. Discounting in the mobile channel is a mistake
“The most common mistake made by hoteliers today is discounting in the mobile channel,” claims Starkov.
Really? Here is why a strategy must be thought out properly:
- Avoid the temptation to discount! Donâ€™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.
5. 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,” says HotelTonightâ€™s Simon.
For Blakely, one development to watch 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.
This is all against the backdrop of what Google says are 7% of all searches already coming from tablets versus 14% from mobile and 79% 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, says Starkov, travel marketers should be budgeting more for mobile, spending at least 15% of their overall digital marketing budgets on mobile marketing initiatives.
This includes a bigger focus on optimisation, upgrades to the mobile website, mobile SEO, mobile display advertising and text marketing initiatives â€“ 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 centre stage for the foreseeable future, please take a bow and leave now.
NB:Â This is a guest article by Marco Saio, director of global research and projects atÂ EyeforTravel.
NB2: Mountain mobile travel image via Shutterstock.
NB3: ComScore, Google, Priceline, HotelTonight, HeBS ill be presenting detailed mobile trends, case studies and strategies at the EyeforTravel TDS North America Summit in Las Vegas, September 13-14th 2012.