The Mobile Opportunity for the Travel Sector
By Gill Frood
In the seven years since Chelsea Apps Factory set up shop, mobile has transformed our lives, bringing with it new ways of working, playing, shopping and connecting. For the travel sector, mobile is ubiquitous, with consumers quoting their mobile device as their top travel accessory (75%) ahead of a loved one (38%) or their laptop or tablet (28%) (source Booking.com, 2016). It is no surprise, therefore, to learn that mobile tops the list of technology roll outs for hotel and travel operators in 2017.
Over the past decade the travel industry’s traditional business models have been overturned by a range of digital disruptors. For hoteliers, the growth in peer to peer sharing platforms like Airbnb (which saw a growth in listings in the London area of 54% in 2016 — PwC UK Hotel’s Forecast 2017) present a threat to both it’s tourist and business traveller revenues — whilst intermediary service organisations, like TripAdvisor, Trivago and Booking.com expose hotels to a wide audience of potential guests but at the expense of margin.
In the face of changing consumer habits and digital disruptors how can companies differentiate themselves, retain customers, generate profit and thrive?
1. Understand the new mobile consumer
Mobile usage has changed us, as consumers. As a result, we have high expectations of our interactions with travel companies, their ability to return relevant information when we search and provide an omnichannel experience of their brand. And we’ve become impatient; simply refusing to wait for slow-loading websites, moving on in the face of unresponsive design and hitting the ‘x’ on apps which disappoint.
According to US travel Industry advisor, Henry Harteveldt, “Mobile has produced a permanent sense of immediacy. It’s changing forever how our guests interact with us and how they expect us to interact with them.”
The new mobile consumer is data-driven with low levels of brand loyalty. Understanding their behaviours and expectations helps create customer experiences that differentiate and deliver high levels of customer satisfaction.
2. Create a unique customer experience
The travel industry has rushed to be front of the queue when it comes to testing emerging technologies such as augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and wearable devices to create unique customer experiences.
According to Adobe Digital Insights (ADI) at least eight of the largest hotels tested some kind of VR experience in the six months to April 2017. Most of these were programs that paired VR devices to consumers’ mobiles.
In an increasingly commoditised market, these innovative technologies offer a differentiated customer experience to inform, service and entertain.
Global hotel chains such as Hilton and Starwood now offer guest check in and door keys, through their mobile apps. With the introduction of keyless room entry, both organisations are cutting their cost base and increasing customer satisfaction by reducing check-in time at the front desk. Other hotel brands are trialling IoT products through mobile apps that control temperature, lighting and entertainment.
For business travellers, time and efficiency are often more important factors than cost. One executive travel agent found that the best way to differentiate their service was to deliver personalised services using customer data that made their customers feel looked after and business trips more bearable.
Treats, such as unexpected upgrades as well as the simple comfort of being offered their usual seat on a flight or favourite hotel room delivered high levels of customer satisfaction and retention.
3. Create a micro-moment strategy
According to Google, travellers are using their mobile devices in short bursts to make fast, informed decisions about travel plans. This behaviour has huge implications for the customer journey across devices and channels.
Travel micro-moments can be divided into:
Dreaming moments — when you know you want to get away. At this stage, consumers are looking for inspiration and haven’t made up their minds where they are going or how they’ll get there.
Planning moments — when you start to make a travel plan. The research starts here, and consumers are looking for the right flights on the right dates, places to stay and things to do in their chosen destination.
Booking moments — when you book your travel plans. All the research is complete, and now the consumer just wants to book their tickets and make their reservations as quickly and as simply as possible.
Experiencing moments — when you’re exploring your destination and want to share it with others.
Google research shows that 72% of travellers with mobile devices look for the most relevant information to fulfil their micro-moment needs, regardless of the travel company providing them.
Companies need to develop a strategy by identifying the micro-moments that matter to their consumers and then ensure that they are present at the point of search by providing relevant answers and information (through ads or organic SEO).
4. Make mobile a priority
With mobile at the centre of most travel decisions, a surprising number of consumers swap devices at the point of booking and paying for travel arrangements. This may be a combination of consumer trust in mobile financial transactions as much as a set of challenges around usability when attempting a payment process.
Prioritising the user experience so that the travel booking and payment process is seamless (and secure) on a mobile device will reduce abandoned baskets.
The hotel and travel industry is undergoing radical change. Customer loyalty has been eroded, and the market has become increasingly commoditised. Companies in this sector now need to look at new ways to retain customers and help them get the information they need to make informed travel choices and differentiate themselves and the services they provide. We can help.
Why not drop in for a cup of tea? We’ll work with you to drive opportunity through mobile — and we’ll also share how we worked with GLH to develop their own mobile app (and tell you why it won World Travel Market most Innovative Product of the year award and Techie Award for Travel Innovation of the year.)