Understanding the evolving mobile travel landscape is a journey that involves both figuring out how to make money
and staying current with connected consumers using the latest technologies before, during and after travel.
Digital marketing intelligence company eMarketer
's latest report
, "The Mobile Traveler: How Smartphones Are Changing the Customer Journey," is a not-so-subtle reminder of the voracious appetite that travelers are showing for their mobile devices - and the gap between consumer behavior and travel marketing spend.
The report is overflowing with statistics that should make any forward-looking marketer in the travel space salivate.
78.8% of American travelers use their smartphone and/or tablet regularly on vacation, revealing opportunities for travel brands to provide value at various points throughout a traveler's journey. (The eMarketer study focused only on mobile devices - not tablets, despite the inclusion of tablets in the graphic below.)
Despite the opportunity to deliver a customer experience that translates into more bookings, many travel marketers are concerned that the majority of smartphone users are purchasing large-value transactions online or offline after extensively researching their travel destinations on their mobile devices.
eMarketer points to the most obvious reasons for this:
- lack of full consumer trust in entering credit cards on mobile phones
- lack of mobile optimized websites or native apps designed to present long lists of travel options in a clean, informative, uncluttered, and mobile-friendly way
- limitations of a small screen on user experience
The mobile experience is an afterthought for some travel marketers, especially those that look at the disparity between general smartphone travel research and actual revenue-generating mobile bookings.
The key takeaway here is "provide value." Consumers are tethered to these devices by choice, and they will be using apps that are the most seamless, smart and straightforward
Nearly 40% of hospitality professionals have a whopping zero percent allocated for mobile in their annual marketing budgets.
So with this statistical lack of purchase conversions in the mobile bookings space, why should marketers invest in travel's much-ballyhooed mobile future now?
Screens are getting bigger, consumers are becoming more comfortable with mobile purchases, and the desire for targeted, personal recommendations are leading many consumers to see branded mobile apps as their latest must-have while traveling.
Many of the leading hotel brands realize that the long-term payoff of investing in mobile is three-fold: boosting loyalty, creating convenience, and generally increasing guest satisfaction via better experiences.
The long-term payoff also includes potential partnerships that allow the most successful travel brands to confer access to their army of mobile-wielding travelers at all points of the travel lifecycle, potentially increasing the value of each guest over time.
Bill Keen, director of mobile solutions for InterContinental Hotels Group
, had this to say:
"The value of mobile is how consumers use it at all stages of the customer journey. We're looking at user needs once they get past the search, shop and book stages, and if we create compelling experiences at those steps, we can use the platform as a guest service to cultivate loyalty."
The Ritz-Carlton is also using mobile as a way to increase engagement and therefore brand loyalty. Clayton Ruebensaal, VP of marketing:
"When people travel, they have questions about what to do, where to eat, what to see, and where they should visit. The smartphone allows them to answer those questions in real-time. If we answer those questions, we can be part of their journey to discover new places, or help them discover places they've already experienced in a different way."
Digital-as-amenity is a growing paradigm shift, with travel brands beginning to see digital apps as essential extensions of their brand's promise to customers.
Dan Marcec, the author of the eMarketer report, sees this as a positive development, one that portends a shift in understanding regarding the utility, and ultimate place, of mobile in a travel marketer's arsenal.
"The point of the report was to show all the other ways smartphones are useful in the guest experience. I think the hotel industry’s focus on ROI has too much emphasis on booking revenue.
The long-term revenue that stems from everyday customer service and long-term loyalty have a much greater contribution to the success of an overall marketing plan than a smattering of 50% discounts through mobile booking. That may not be immediately measurable, which makes it difficult, so it’s understandable that small business owners can’t see the forest for the trees when they’re allocating initial investment dollars into mobile.
But smartphones’ impact on the entire customer journey – not just booking – has much larger implications."
With a doubling of mobile booking revenue projected by 2016, skeptical travel brands should start considering user experience and mobile needs alongside other channels.
By improving user experience, offering verified secure transactions, and considering the integration between handheld and desktop screens, travel marketers can accelerate user adoption of revenue-generating digital tools and reap a mobile-driven windfall far sooner than 2016.
NB: Mind the Gap image from Shutterstock