With mobile bookings becoming mainstream and roaming charges falling, could 2014 be the year of in-trip services?
NB: This is a report by Pamela Whitby, editor for EyeforTravel.
For the past few years, the "year of mobile" has been the oft-heard refrain of travel industry conferences and industry headlines.
Those brands that took note then and are taking action today will be well-positioned in 2014, the year where one in five bookings is expected to be made via a mobile device.
On that note, let’s take a look at five mobile trends that could set your brand apart in the coming year.
Trend 1: The year of the in-trip experience: watch out for OTAs upping their game
Nick Longman, distribution and online director for mainstream tour operations at TUI Travel, expects to see more people booking via mobile, but also that it will be used more as an engagement tool. And this is likely to explode when roaming charges fall (Trend 2).
Indeed, those brands that give their what their customers want, and when they need or want it, stand to gain.
Bob Rogers, co-founder of DealAngel, a firm acquired by the Russian online travel agent (OTA) OneTwoTrip, says they are currently working hard to build a lot more in-trip services.
"This is an area that has been neglected by all OTAs," says Rogers, adding that, "once a person is travelling, there is virtually nothing going on".
Citing an area for improvement, Rogers argues that with the amount of information OTAs have, customers could – and should - be pushed information about a flight at the right time.
In fact, he even goes as far as to say OTAs could check a customer in (something that can be automated), find them the best seat and so on. They shouldn’t even have to ask for it.
"You can offer so much value just by anticipating the inevitable," he says.
Trend 2: The rise of meta
Carl Michel, executive chairman at the Generator Hostels, has certainly taken note of OTAs upping their game. Booking.com, for example, with its big budget is investing massively in the mobile user experience.
"Mobile is definitely a top priority for us today," he says.
Michel is, however, cautiously optimistic that with the rise of metasearch the distribution playing field is being steadily levelled. While at first, this may be confusing for consumers it "has to be a good thing," he says.
Though needless to say all eyes should be on what Google does next – which could change the game, yet again.
Trend 3: Roaming, roaming, going?
One thing that has really held travel companies back on the mobile front is high roaming charges in Europe, for example.
If all goes to plan, operators could be banned from charging for incoming calls from as early as October this year and all charges could be scrapped by 2016.
Given the vested revenue interests of European mobile operators, the death of roaming may be longer, slower and more painful than many expect. But the time is definitely coming, says Rogers, and when it does, the opportunity to offer in-trip services that fit the market you’re in will soar exponentially.
Trend 4: Too much choice is a bad thing
A business traveller in Barcelona, for example, who needs a room for tonight, doesn’t want to see a list of 900 hotels.
"I don’t think we are going to get to the point where we can show you just one hotel, that’s perfect for you, but we are close to showing you three or four hotels that are relevant to your need on that day," says Conor O’Connor, CEO of Hot Hotels.
He admits though that it gets tricky when trying to establish whether a person is travelling for leisure or business – something Hot Hotels is currently working on.
So, yes, personalisation offers a real opportunity for differentiation but there are still many challenges to overcome.
The good news is that all companies with a web presence are in the same boat, says Ewan Nicolson, senior analyst, Skyscanner, a firm that is exploring a range of open sources technologies, and talking to others to define a way forward for data analysis and management.
Trend 5: The need for speed and a seamless experience
While people are undoubtedly using their mobile device to research travel, getting them to convert is more of a challenge.
For this reason, it is absolutely critical that the mobile booking experience is frictionless and speedy. Not only is the European customer looking for a deal, they want to complete it in record time.
"If you go to an OTA website, search the list, enter contact details, and so on, it’s a three to four minute process. On our app it takes ten seconds or less," says O’Connor.
TripAdvisor, a big name with a big mobile agenda, recognises this and has launched a product that will allow users to book a hotel room quickly and safely with one of TripAdvisor’s partners in just two clicks.
"We believe this will transform the user experience and online acquisition rates on mobile," says TripAdvisor senior account manager Adrian Hands.
Trend 6: Partnerships not parity - thank you
It’s a complex distribution landscape but mobile-only players like Hot Hotels and HotelTonight aim to differentiate by being partners in the true sense of the word.
While the business models of the two may differ (Hot, for example, is getting into distribution by integrating with two meta-search engines, whereas HotelTonight prefers to deal direct), both aim to sell unwanted inventory.
"Mobile is an opaque channel and we are not here to cannibalise the sales of our hotel partners," says O’Connor.
"By restricting the offers to mobile only and today or tomorrow, we can deliver more value and business for hotels than cannibalising traditional channels and them ending up in hot water over parity or other contractual issues."
To back this up Heather Leisman, managing director for HotelTonight in Europe, points to a recent survey of customers.
"We found that around 60% of customers tell us that they didn’t need a hotel room when they woke up that morning, but were swayed to book a room because of what they found at the last-minute on HotelTonight."
NB: This is a report by Pamela Whitby, editor for EyeforTravel. It appears here as part of Tnooz's sponsored content initiative.
NB2: EyeforTravel's Travel Distribution Summit takes place in London from May 22-23.
NB3: Mobile sales image via Shutterstock.