beach tablet
394 days ago

In online travel booking, mobile isn’t all mobile

NB: This is a guest article by Kurt Heinemann, chief marketing officer at Monetate.

Consumers use smartphones and tablets in markedly different ways when researching and booking travel. So, therefore, separate strategies are needed to play to the distinct usages of each device.

It’s no secret that booking via smartphone and tablets is increasing every quarter. In a survey by eMarketer in 2012, 62% of consumers who booked travel online made at least one purchase via smartphone or tablet.

However, it’s important to make the point that smartphone and tablet should not be grouped together as “mobile”. The two devices have different use profiles and should be approached with distinct strategies.

When it comes to travel, pull smartphones in case of emergency

Let’s look at the smartphone usage. The smartphone is the mobile-in-the-world, last-minute device. Recent research suggests that customers are less likely to complete a transaction on a smartphone than on a PC or tablet.

However, when travelers do book with a smartphone, it’s overwhelmingly for a last-minute hotel booking.

Therefore the smartphone is largely transactional, and a great tool for booking when the traveler is already on the road, needs connectivity, and wants to, for example, extend a stay or change hotels.

Tablets are a replacement for the desktop/laptop

Tablets are different when it comes to travel research and booking. A mobile-in-the-home device (think couchsurfing), the tablet is great for browsing and research.

While smartphones are impulse, emergency or on-a-whim devices, travelers tend to use the tablet similar to the way they use the PC or desktop ‑ for research, trip planning and booking ahead.

And given that 70% of casual travel purchases start with a search, travel sites need to display a form factor that allows the user to easily research, book on and interact with the site using a tablet.

Align your strategy to play to a device’s primary usage

Now that we’ve established the clear difference between tablet and smartphone usage and intent when it comes to online travel booking, what can hospitality sites take from these behavior trends?

It’s important to understand the traveler’s intent and allow design to follow function.

Key considerations for smartphone and tablet strategies:

1. Smartphone sites should be simple and transaction-friendly

Travel brands should adapt the smartphone experience for the traveler who is on the road, making the site transaction-friendly with easy access to reservation information.

Whether you decide on a mobile site or responsive design strategy, take into account that the smartphone travel user needs information quickly.

Resist the urge to crowd the homepage with extraneous information better suited to the tablet and PC experience.

2. Focus tablet strategy on formatting

While the smartphone is used for on-the-fly booking, the increasingly popular tablet is both a research and booking device, essentially used as a portable (not “mobile”) desktop/laptop.

Your tablet strategy site therefore should make it easy to research and book, with formatting as a priority. Consider the touchscreen nature, and make buttons bigger and navigation swipe friendly.

While the smartphone strategy should be simple and transactional, the tablet site is a place to provide additional information on trip upgrades and add-ons.

On a sidenote: travel brands should take advantage of the “second screen” nature of the iPad and other tablets by closely aligning television advertising and the online channel.

It’s easier than ever for a potential traveler to respond immediately to a broadcast ad, turning a research event into an immediate purchase event.

3. Web first, apps second

Whether booking from smartphones or tablets, business or pleasure, hotel reservations or plane tickets, travelers across the spectrum prefer to book via a web browser rather than an app according Google’s annual Traveler’s Road to Decision study.

While apps can be great for a brand’s most loyal members, travel brands should play to the universal access of the web and focus on site usability first, apps second.

4. No matter the device – make the experience relevant and contextual

While the aforementioned usability trends should help you understand the different uses for tablets and smartphones when booking travel, it’s critically important that you get to know your customer and create a real-time, relevant experience.

  • Are they business or leisure travelers?
  • Do they use tablets or mini-tablets?

Use the data you collect to tailor the site experience for your customers’ preferences, and you’ll develop a more loyal customer base that interacts with your brands consistently and across all channels and devices.

NB: This is a guest article by Kurt Heinemann, chief marketing officer at Monetate.

NB2: Disclosure ‑ Tnooz CEO and co-founder Gene Quinn is a member of Monetate’s advisory board.

NB3: Tablet beach image via Shutterstock.

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About the Writer :: Special Nodes

Special Nodes is the byline under which Tnooz publishes articles by guest authors from around the industry.



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  1. Michelle

    Something interesting….our clients (Indepdent Hotels, Resort and Professionally Managed Vacation Rental companies are noticing an increase in call volume because of the increase in mobile adoption. Any data on that?

  2. mobileguy

    Our experience is also that a majority of phone users are booking tonight, and tablet users are longer term.

  3. Uf Tukiel

    I’m also glad to hear that “mobile” now refers to smartphones exclusively versus tablets, since the tablet is basically an extension of the desktop and the tablet/desktop experience is basically identcal.

    Our Cruise Finder iPhone smartphone app for was the first iPhone and Android app in the cruise industry to offer full online booking capability. Our data supports your article in that most of our users begin their research on their app, generate a lead or inquiry and then finish the booking on their desktop or with a live travel agent. While we do get a few bookings on the smart phone, including a $12,000 Royal Caribbean Suite on an iPhone recently, these are the exception rather than the norm. Bookings from tablets are definitely more common.

    We took a different approach in that we developed our app first and then our mobile websites later. Would agree that the best strategy would be to build the mobile site first. We found that 24 hours after launching our mobile site, that the leads generated from the mobile site actually outpaced the number of leads generated from the apps. A company may find that after launching a mobile site, they may not even need to make the investment in an app.

    It’s overwhelming all the marketing strategies that travel companies have to consider these days in reaching customers. It may be easier and affordable for the big OTA’s, but you have to feel sorry for the smaller travel providers, hotels, suppliers and agencies who don’t have all these resources or understand the priorties. It’s crazy, Paid Search (mobile and tablet/desktop), SEO (mobile and desktop), Web design (mobile, desktop, smartphone AND tablet apps), Social Media. Crazy.

  4. Kathryn Bullock

    Hi Kurt,
    Nice article however I’m curious where your “recent research” comes from on the use of tablets versus smartphones for mobile travel bookings. I can confirm as a traveller that I’ve used my tablet as a mobile device but got so frustrated with the quality of the user interface that I gave up trying to do anything transactional on it for travel. Is this the real reason why they’re not used as much on the move as a smartphone for travel bookings?

    If only travellers would nicely segment into business and leisure ones but the reality is that they don’t and one day we are on business and the next we may be taking a leisure trip.

    Or more recently we may be travelling permanently and our work place is wherever we happen to be living at the time. Lots of new trends discussed at the G Adventures event last year on the future of tourism and what I call the “nomad worker”. You only have to read the changing locations on the bios of the early adopter Tweeters to know that people are changing how they combine travel, work and leisure, in part due to mobile devices, remote working and other trends.

    Anyone else think this is a significant shift in travel behaviour?

  5. Bol Croatia

    This is really important subject for modern travel websites, beacuse the trends are really changing fast and everyone in travel bussiness should be aware of more and more tablet and smartphone users. Problem is that you can probably invest in one technology this year, and next year it can be a totally different story.
    My point is that travel related bussinesses should have an IT employee who can more or less anticipate the ever-changing trends in this bussiness.

    • Alex

      …or at least an IT guy that understands tech and can aid making informed decisions.

      I totally second this notion!

  6. Alex

    I am overjoyed that someone has finally made this distinction as I believe it’s important to differentiate the two sources of traffic even though they’re both “mobile”.

    I’m kind of curious what we’ll call traffic from “Google glasses”-style devices… :)



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