The travel industry continues to expand and refine its mobile portfolio as it attempts to engage and convert mobile shoppers.
Companies acknowledge that travelers want instant, reliable, and accurate information at all stages of travel, from planning, in-destination, through to the journey home. Providing this information clearly and efficiently is essential to success.
Specialists in this arena recommend that companies need to embrace mobile uniqueness. The focus should be on answering queries like – What can I add that would be impossible on a website? What customer problem is solvable that would have been impossible before mobile?
The industry has also understood that in case of mobile it is easy to overestimate benefits, and easy to underestimate cost.
Travel companies focusing on different product categories have different considerations and expectations from their mobile strategy. For instance, it is cautioned that travel companies should not expect exponential growth, particularly if their service is traditionally done via desktop site.
A company of TripAdvisor’s stature is clear that it wants to be where travelers are.
The company has mobile apps available for the iPhone, Android, Windows Phone 7, Nokia, Palm smartphones, Android tablets, iPad, and a mobile website available for all major mobile devices. The TripAdvisor app was downloaded an average of 25 times per minute in January 2012 and has already surpassed 15 million total downloads of the TripAdvisor app across all platforms and devices in 20 languages.
The mobile web vs. mobile app debate isn’t over yet. At this stage, there are certain things that only apps can still do, while mobile website development is generally much faster and easier.
Nathan Clapton,VP, Mobile Partnerships, TripAdvisor, agrees and says the argument pertaining to mobile web vs. mobile app isn’t settled yet.
“I am not sure that the argument is settled. From our point of view, we want to be where travelers are and currently they are using mobile web and apps. We provide a fairly uniform experience across all mobile platforms. However, we recognize that the native app route offers advantages in some areas e.g., speed and photo sharing. However, I would advise travel companies to work out what is best suited for them. The mobile strategy for an independent hotel will be different to that of a major OTA.”
Overall, there are several challenges be it for m-commerce or mobile advertising. For instance, figuring out what the “value of a click/download” for most companies is an arduous task — it’s a lot harder than when you can simply track a Google click directly to a booking.
“It (challenges) seems to be the same as the early days of the web in that there is a reluctance to perform more complex transactions on mobile,” said Clapton. “I think mobile is currently more about the here and now. The vast majority of hotel bookings on mobile are same day. Rail bookings also have a short booking window, however, they are seeing rapid growth,” added Clapton, who is scheduled to speak at the forthcoming Travel Distribution Summit Europe 2012, to be held in London (April 17-18) this year.
When it comes to delivering a faultless experience across all online channels, specialists point out that cross channel consistency has to be ensured. Companies have to find ways to validate all the paths in order to provide a faultless experience.
“Our straightforward approach to this is that we want to be where travelers are. We believe that their ability to access our reviews and opinions when they are most useful is very important when they are mobile. For us, the reach that Android and iOS offer make them a given and our mobile service is actually available on mobile web and across all app platforms apart from Blackberry,” said Clapton.
Travel companies are diligently looking at ways to be consistent across platforms so that they can let their consumers get used to one experience. This is a lot easier when you have all your developers working together, rather than have some in-house and some outsourced. It’s not that hard to be consistent, and to test thoroughly, when everyone’s coming from the same code base and thought process.
Clapton added: “Ideally, we would like to build once and deploy everywhere. We have taken a hybrid approach to app development to do this although we have recently launched a native Windows Phone app to ally our content, particularly our library of user-generated photos with the stunning metro design that Windows Phone 7 offers. We aim to be consistent across platforms whilst recognizing that the certain devices possess different user stories – e.g., 80 percent of iPad usage is reported to be in the home.”
The mobile device market is fairly fragmented at this time, with many platforms vying for market share. With that as the backdrop, travel companies should continue to innovate and offer travelers the ability to access their content across different mobile platforms, so they can reach the greatest number of travelers possible.
Clapton mentioned that apps and mobile web both offer marketing benefits depending on the scale and type of travel business. “I think this will mean that we will be dealing with this fragmentation for some time. Having said that, I think that we will see some consolidation in the major app platforms. iOS and Android are pretty much a given. I can’t see apps going away. HTML5 will allow companies to reduce their engineering effort and maybe even help to usher in a better app search process. I was interested to read about the Everything Project recently – they think they will be able to produce a next generation app search using HTML5 apps.”
The travel industry is also witnessing efforts pertaining to assessing the preferences of the users of different brands by comparing Blackberry, iPhone, and Android Phone users.
Clapton pointed out that it is well documented that iPhone tends to monetize better at the moment; also that iPhone users are more frequent travelers than Android users.
He added, “A good indicator of future trends are developer surveys. Appcelerate reveals that developers are bullish about Windows Phone 7, citing its speed and attractive metro design. At TripAdvisor, we take device preferences into account, but our goal is to help travelers plan and have the perfect trip no matter what device or platform they are using.”