Announcements from leading travel brands in Asia point firmly to mobile as the core focus going forward.
The moves are supported by significant increases in traffic and bookings to smartphone and tablet devices in the past few years.
Ctrip - OTA to MTA
China’s leading OTA, Ctrip, recently announced it wants to become an MTA - mobile travel agency. The company says 40% of its total hotel bookings are from the mobile channel and this exceeded the respective booking percentages from its websites and call centers.
Ctrip also acknowledges that mobile is becoming the key booking platform. Last week, the company launched a new version of its mobile application with the ability to choose dynamic packaging.
As of June 30, 2013, Ctrip’s mobile apps have been downloaded more than 50 million times. In Q2 2013, more than 20% of the company’s hotel bookings and around 15% of flight bookings were booked via the mobile platform.
eLong - allocates $100 million fund to promote mobile products
In the company’s recent Q2 earnings call, CEO Guangfu Cui announced that Expedia-owned eLong is shifting its focus from 'being-online' to 'being-mobile' when it comes to selling its hotel products in China.
In Q4 2012, 10% of eLong's total hotel bookings were from mobile. It has been increasing by 5% every quarter and the company now expects the share of hotel bookings from mobile in Q3 2013 to be 25%.
As part of the company's strategy to put mobile first, it has allocated an innovation fund of $100 million to promote mobile travel products and services.
The fund will be used for both internal and external innovation including investment in companies and mergers and acquisitions of target companies.
Venture Republic - mobile traffic to overtake desktop traffic
Japan's Venture Republic, which runs Travel.jp and Hotel.jp, announced that the combined mobile traffic to these two sites increased more than threefold on the previous year. Total monthly traffic from all channels to these sites crossed eight million visitors in August 2013.
Both the websites offer smartphone-specific displays and applications. Traffic from mobile now accounts for more than 40% of total visits to these two websites.
Kei Shibata, CEO of Venture Republic says:
"Our investment over the past 12+ months has really paid off. It is clearly only a matter of time before our traffic from smartphones exceeds that from desktop PCs.
"We continue to maintain our strong focus on mobile and are committed to driving innovations that will allow our users to find the best travel ideas and products quickly and conveniently."
Tnooz spoke to Shibata regarding this development:
The threefold increase in mobile traffic - what's the percentage split between mobile website and native apps?
Less than 10% of our mobile traffic is from the native apps.
What are the key innovations you are planning to implement in your mobile app/website?
We are focusing on bringing innovations in the area of "Call to Book." We have already started seeing great success.
Any plans to make both websites multi-lingual?
We do have plans, Hotel.jp might be the priority.
When you think total traffic from your mobile (mobile site + native app) will overtake traffic from desktop?
It could happen within a few weeks as we have already seen almost 50% on occasions.
What investments did you make in the past 12 months which resulted in a threefold increase in mobile traffic?
We got rid of the 'mobile team' in our organization and made every employee in every team work on mobile projects first. We invested heavily in mobile web (while we always see native apps as a great platform for testing new innovative products) by doing everything we can to optimize and upgrade every single page and service we have in our portfolio.
What are the challenges you face/see in your smartphones apps?
The cost of user acquisition is getting higher and higher. Usage of apps could be somewhat stagnant in markets such as Japan or Korea where 3G/LTE infrastructure is robust. The volume of users downloading a new app could also decline.
Just think how many travellers are willing to download every app that is provided by different hotel chains - From Hyatt to Hilton, Marriott and Starwood. Travellers would rather have Google on their smartphone to achieve their goal!
NB:Mobile image via Shutterstock