Travelers are growing increasingly mobile. This is not breaking news for the travel industry. After all, the core concept of travel is to go somewhere and being mobile is inherently part of the journey. What has changed – and aggressively – is the traveler’s dependency on mobile devices throughout their travel experience.

Consider this: nearly half (47%) of all 2012 travel plans began on a smartphone. While telling, a second data point really strikes home for me: 2012 marked the first year that desktop travel searches declined. Not only is mobile travel usage growing, desktop usage is shrinking.  Further, mobile consumption is infiltrating the entire travel timeline.  The top three traveler frustrations with mobile include 1. Inability to easily transact (booking stage), 2. Limited search functionality (researching & planning stage), and 3. Poor UI (end-to-end experience).

At this year’s PhoCusWright Travel Conference, mobile was at the center of the annual theme, Pivot Point, which speaks to the radical transformations taking place in the travel space: new marketplaces are emerging, demand is being created, and human behavior is changing.  Mobile is the enabler of each of these themes and as devices are more able to match a person’s mobility, travel companies must pivot in order to meet travelers where they are, which is becoming increasingly – and exclusively – mobile.

But simply moving to the small screen isn’t enough. Companies need a strategy to accommodate how mobile consumption is very different across devices, itineraries, and travelers themselves. Also consider that travelers in the middle of their itinerary access different content than the 49% of travelers starting their research with no end-destination in mind. Further, each traveler has unique expectations of their experience – like the business traveler who is looking to efficiently get from Meeting 1 to Meeting 2, versus the Millenial who is leveraging their online peer network to find that perfect hotel. To generate loyalty and drive conversion a company must be contextually relevant; this means meeting travelers where they are on both their device, in their itinerary, and as a demographic.

In Bazaarvoice’s panel with Travelocity and Intercontinental Hotels Group, How To Drive More Bookings & Brand Loyalty with Social, IHG explained how, upon discovering that 60% of their mobile bookings are same-day and for shorter stays, their hoteliers focused on pushing last-minute deals to mobile users. Similarly, Travelocity knows that 80% of users still have a question after looking at a property’s page. Knowing half of these users are likely on mobile devices, Travelocity needs a simple way to deliver content while keeping them on the site. A solution? Promote user generated content (ratings, reviews, stories, questions, answers) in the mobile environment to help fill in the gaps of information.

When an industry is in the midst of an aggressive transformation, I like to look at the companies taking bold stances. Travel startup WeHostels has abandoned a traditional website strategy all together, choosing instead to perfect its mobile presence to effectively reach Millennial travelers. The result – a hyper-focused mobile application that is a booking engine wrapped up in a social media tool. It allows travelers to research and book rooms (generating revenue) and then find and make friends (creating a highly sticky and loyal fan base) all within the app. Their strategy was simple – pick your battles and know your target. CEO Diego Saez-Gil admits:

“I knew we couldn’t do everything [web, mobile site, native app] well, so we picked the one thing to be great in. For us, we had to be great in mobile, no question.”

AirBNB CEO Brian Chesky, sums up this point from a conceptual standpoint, advising travel brands:

“Build people what they want, not what they need.”

People want mobility and flexibility, so give it to them during any and every stage of their trip. His vision of the concept of mobile replacing travel especially resonates with me; understanding that travel is no longer a neat, boxed itinerary with a clear beginning and end. Technology is lifting the restraints for travel and people are now journeying further, staying longer, and working from anywhere in the world.

Yes, the travel landscape is pivoting. In the final executive roundtable at PhoCusWright, Joel Cutler tasked each attendee with a responsibility:

“Do something brave. Do something bold and new. Do it now.”

And as all the heads in the room nodded, it was clear to me that the key for success of the next big travel idea is that is translates to a small screen.


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