Mobile payments in travel - what you can hear is the sound of no trend happeningNews / TechnologyBy Viewpoints | October 11, 2013Share This article was originally published on Speaking at a conference earlier this year with some 200 mostly global airlines and hotels in attendance, I did a simple audience poll.NB: This is a viewpoint from Douglas Quinby, vice president for research at PhoCusWright.I asked: "Do any of your organizations, anywhere in the world, support any mobile-only payment capabilities, such as NFC, a card-swipe service or an account-to-account funds transfer service such as M-Pesa?"Share this quote Not a single attendee raised their hand.As mobile assumes center stage across the travel search, shop and – increasingly – buy process, mobile payments has certainly become a hot topic.Tnooz has been covering it aggressively.But while there may be enormous expectations and lofty forecasts for mobile payments across retail and other industries, as it stands today, at least in travel, there is no mobile payments revolution.For PhoCusWright’s Payment Unsettled: Cost, Opportunity and Disruption in Travel’s Complex Payment Landscape, in a survey fielded in Q4 2012 to Q1 2013, we posed a series of questions regarding mobile-specific payment methods to the industry and use and future intent for mobile funds transfer or bill-to-carrier service, mobile card-swipe (eg, GoPayment, Square) and contact-less, proximity-based payment solutions such as near-field communication (NFC).So far, global industry support for mobile-only payment methods is statistically insignificant. A small minority of respondents – just over 10% — indicate some future intent to implement mobile card-swipe services, mobile funds transfer capability, or some contactless payment solution.By and large, respondents report no plans to implement (or have no knowledge of) these payment services (see figure).There were more than 1,200 respondents to this question, representing OTAs, travel agencies, airlines, hotels and other suppliers.There were no significant differences among these segments.Current mobile payment methods for travel’s core products such as flights, hotels, and car rental are a transplant of existing, traditional online payment methods, rather than payment systems specifically created for use on mobile devices.In most cases, mobile bookers pay exactly as they would on a desktop site, entering their credit card details and using the existing rails of the global card processing infrastructure.Adoption may be all but non-existent, but mobile-specific payment methods are top of mind for many travel companies, especially those with a large online sales channel (such as online travel agencies) and companies with a larger physical retail footprint (such as hotels).But these emerging mobile-only payment technologies will have little near-term impact on the purchasing of bigger-ticket travel products, such as flights, hotel and car reservations, cruises and vacation packages, all of which are typically purchased in advance (and, more and more often, online).Contactless payment technologies, (of which NFC appears to be the most well-known standard), or stored value cards (such as those used by Starbucks), are more about in-person retail purchases and redemption and may be mid- to longer-term opportunities for hotels, airports, and even local tourism entities, although it may take a bit longer for the latter.Card swipe services too may play a role for itinerant merchants, whether it’s a taxi, a tour guide, or perhaps a roaming receptionist at a hotel no longer lodged behind the front desk.But the immediate urgency for the industry is making payments easy – both acceptance for the merchant and entering payment details for the consumer.The objective is really simple, even if the solution is complex. From the merchant perspective, payment service providers that are focused on providing all-in-one payment processing services through a flexible, mobile-oriented platform are pointing payments in a compelling direction. (Note PayPal’s recent acquisition of Braintree and reported interest in Stripe.)On the consumer side, the payments killer app of course is the much-discussed digital (or mobile) wallet.While we may have to wait a while for the winner(s) of the much-heralded mobile wallet wars, the end goal is clear: enable any website or mobile app to pull my preferred payment details (card or otherwise), stored in my phone (or tablet), and let me say yay or nay with a few taps and a swipe (or perhaps just with my fingerprint).Several travel companies have already integrated with Google Wallet (although consumer uptake remains a question), and we all await the expected next step in the evolution of Apple’s Passbook.NB: This is a viewpoint from Douglas Quinby, vice president for research at PhoCusWright.NB2: These findings are based on PhoCusWright’s Payment Unsettled: Cost, Opportunity and Disruption in Travel’s Complex Payment Landscape, a study of the global travel payments landscape.PhoCusWright fielded an industry survey globally through several partners: African Business Travel Association (ABTA)Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE)Business Travel News (BTN)Hotel Electronic Distribution Network Association (HEDNA)International Air Transport Association (IATA)TnoozTravel Trade Gazette (TTG)WebInTravel (WIT) The survey received more than 1,500 qualified responses representing all regions and multiple travel segments. PhoCusWright and its study sponsors have made select findings from the study freely available through a series of white papers, which are available here.NB3:Tumbleweed image via Shutterstock.