Apps, mobile web or both for travel companies?
There is no doubt that mobile apps in general have been a huge success over the past few years: last month the 10 billionth app was downloaded from the iTunes App Store.
The question I am now asking is whether too many travel industry participants are looking more to the past than the future by continuing to place a disproportionate level of resources in building apps whilst at the same time under-investing in making their regular websites mobile enabled?
When the Tnooz Predictions 2011 were collated, one of mine was that mobile apps in travel have hit their high water mark, meaning that as a proportion of overall travel related mobile internet traffic the share attributable to apps would decline.
Recently I’ve seen data out of both the UK and US showing massive growth during the past year in mobile search on Google and this leads to the question – where does mobile search lead to if not to the mobile web?
In some instances the subsequent click may be on a paid advertisement for a travel app, but trying to convert these leads into sales via this path is putting up a lot of unnecessary roadblocks.
Apps are great for loyal customers, as the data from Priceline shows, but with the massive growth in mobile search, under-investing in the browser based mobile web is a strategy surely doomed to fail.
The success of InterContinental Hotels Group with its mobile website is a good illustration of the importance of balancing priorities between apps and the browser.
ComScore recently released The 2010 Mobile Year in Review, containing some data points relevant to this discussion. Taken from the report, it looks as if the high water mark for apps may have come even sooner than I had predicted.
“Even though applications received much more attention by the media throughout 2010, our analysis in the US and the EU5 region [UK, Germany, France, Spain, Italy] showed that by a small margin, application usage is still second to browser usage when it comes to mobile web.”
The comScore report also highlights one possible reason why companies might be wary of committing to the mobile web, and that is related to cost control. Replicating the full functionality of one existing website to be optimized across so many platforms can be a daunting prospect.
“…there is far more technology fragmentation in mobile than in the PC world. There are more that 60 different browser versions being deployed across mobile handsets from over a dozen vendors, making mobile technology increasingly complicated.”
Airlines and other travel suppliers are really ramping up the talk around increased personalization in 2011, with mobile being seen as a key plank in this strategy of getting closer to the customer at every point in the travel purchase lifecycle.
But all players moving down this path, the convergence of personalization with content management must surely be expedited by the complexity of the mobile web and the challenge of controlling costs across a greater number of sites. With all the new tablets now coming our way, something must surely give.
Whether travel industry participants build over and over again for each different screen size and operating system, or whether content management systems or some other technology solution can manage to remove the need to hard code the user interface layer multiple times in an increasingly complex world of points of presence proliferation…. this will be a major factor in determining whether true personalization across multiple devices becomes a reality.
And, more importantly, whether it can happen without blowing the budget of everyone that attempts it?
Martin Collings is a contributing Node to Tnooz and is currently employed as Vice President, Innovation Management & Commercialization at MasterCard Labs, based in Sydney. In this position he manages various mobile payments initiatives with his role covering the region of Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa.
Prior to MasterCard, Martin Collings spent six years with Amadeus IT Group, based in both Madrid and Chicago in a variety of airline roles, most recently as head of airline e-commerce sales for the Americas.
During his time at Amadeus he also wrote the Shearwater Blog covering various topics of interest for airline selling via direct channels. The views of Martin Collings are his alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of MasterCard.