Here is a brief round-up of lessons learned and ideas shared at the Eyefortravel Mobile in Travel conference at the Travel Distribution Summit North America 2010 held in Chicago.
With presentations and panelists from fifteen different companies, the amount of experience and hands-on knowledge was hard to replicate, and hopefully was useful for the audience.
Given the nature of such events, sometimes after listening to so many people over so many hours it is hard to recap everything. Here’s a run-through of the main points, as delivered by the speakers and discussed in the panels.
The Time for Mobile is NOW!
This fact was demonstrated in two different ways by two very different presentations – Jared Miller from Continental showed the traction generated with the brand-new Continental iPhone app – within weeks of release the application was providing services to dozens of thousands of passengers and generating significant ancillary revenue. Tripit’s Gregg Brockway took the 30,000-feet approach, presenting mobile as part of another wave of change, which will change whole industries and which you should prefer to ride – rather than be crushed by. According to Gregg, the interoperability between current offerings, mobile and social capabilities provides for a new traveler-centric service approach. Similar thoughts were reflected by Max Starkov of HeBS in his talk about the “hyper-interactive travel consumer.” This is an opportunity for disruption, which could come from start-ups, incumbents, or companies not traditionally involved in travel, who decided to step in (especially mobile giants).
A video recording of Gregg, Max, and Chris’ session is available at: http://www.vimeo.com/16148080 .
Mobile Creates New Touch Points with the Customer
Jim Davidson of Farelogix moved the audience with his question – “What is the first thing that happens once an aircraft touches down?”
The answer – hundreds of cellphones are turned on all at once. The potential for revenue-generating or otherwise value-generating interaction with the arriving passengers right there and then is easy to understand. It is totally feasible to deliver relevant content and transactional opportunities at this time (to wit – it is a feature of WorldMate on BlackBerry). Many such examples exist, based on location, context, and immediacy. Jim predicted that “in 2012, 50 percent of all ancillary transactions will be made on mobile devices.”
While this may sound like a tall order, Jared from Continental presented a chart showing that weeks after their iPhone app was released, check-in transactions on iPhone were generating more ancillary revenue than on any other medium (web, kiosk, or mobile web). In the hotel domain, similar data points are emerging. Tony D’Astolfo quoted a Priceline report stating that 82 percent of their mobile customers book their hotel within one day of arrival – compared to only 45 percent who do it on the web.
The Platform Story is Complicated – and Will Remain So
It’s a complication from multiple aspects – first, the multitude of different mobile platforms (iOS, BlackBerry, Android, etc.) and approaches (apps vs. mobile web). And no – it doesn’t look like the platforms are consolidating soon, nor does it seem like HTML 5 will replace apps in the foreseeable future. TripAdvisor’s Mike Putnam suggests a hybrid approach, with an app that presents the main user interface but uses an integrated “browser window” to present most of the online content.
Second, some experiences call for a platform-wide solution, for instance mobile boarding passes – a sub-par experience that can be improved with an airline app – but only for boarding passes from that same airline – and do we really want to download and sign up on an app for each of the airlines we use? More likely, we want the platform to provide a solution, styled after Kerry Kennedy’s “save the screen shot” idea but a little more direct.
Last – Tablets. They are a Separate Opportunity
Tablets (e.g., iPad, PlayBook) are great travel research tools, unlike smartphones that are great immediate info retrieval/action tools. This market is growing quickly, as demonstrated by some of the stats provided by Orbitz’ Chris Brown.
It’s a different mode of interaction – more similar to the desktop, but still a different user interface. If you’re an online marketer, these, too, should be on your roadmap, and unfortunately, what you deploy on these should be different from what you plan to build for smartphones.
In retrospect, we’ve barely scratched the surface. Mobile continues its run as the enfant terrible of the travel industry, and it’s enormous influence will only contine as social readiness and technology continue to abound in giant leaps.