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 nine out of ten 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.
1. Smartphones are here to stay; not just for the last minute!
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, 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.com 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 travel via mobile too – and this, he says, “this won’t necessarily just be the case for last-minute bookings”.
2. M-Commerce is ramping up but it is still the Wild West
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,” 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,” says 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,” says Blakely.
3. The merging of social, local and mobile is “not just a flickering hope”
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,” says 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 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 monetises use of its ‘service’ on a mobile phone - this is something it will be thinking about very seriously.
4. Discounting in the mobile channel is a mistake
- 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.
“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 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% of all searches already come 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 “Marketers should be spending at least 15% of their overall digital marketing budgets on mobile marketing initiatives,” he says. This includes a bigger focus on optimisation, 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 centre stage for the foreseeable future, please take a bow and leave now.
Don’t forget that the $200 Early Bird Discount for TDS N. America 2012 expires tomorrow so contact firstname.lastname@example.org now to reserve your place.
Logos, product and company names mentioned are the property of their respective owners.