I recently had this exact conversation with Mike Murray, who heads up a company called TripCraft, whose technology platform powers the mobile application it recently built and launched for Mandarin Hotels. Mike has always been a leading thinker when it comes to travel distribution and technology, having created a company called HubX that was sold to SynXis a few years ago (which itself was then bought by Sabre) and, more recently, while he worked at ITA.
Murray said that, originally, TripCraft was squarely on the side of mobile apps, as there was no web-based solution that he felt could match the capabilities of a native app. Since then, a lot of web-based companies that don't have the skills or resources to tackle Apple and/or native app capabilities, have devised their response with the support of HTML5, browsers, etc. In Murray's opinion, the jury is still out on whether or not a browser app can deliver as well as a native app, since so much is still wrapped up in a promise of what's to come and not the reality of what's currently here.
Interestingly, Murray says that TripCraft has backed away from its original native bias and now feels the smart approach calls for remaining agnostic to the choices of native app, browser app, Apple, Google, iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, etc. He reasons that the market is evolving at a torrid pace, and it has the biggest, baddest technology companies in the world vying for leadership. So for anyone to pick a side or strategy and declare themselves an expert, he feels is "ignorant, arrogant and downright foolish."
Perhaps that explains why TripCraft has wisely been pushing the uniqueness of its platform and its ability to work across native and browser apps, rather than choosing sides.
As you contemplate your own approach to mobile in the travel space, Murray offers up these recommendations and advice:
1. Every travel/hospitality brand should have a mobile website.
2. Any strong travel/hospitality brand should have a mobile app, if:
- It feels its brand merits one, or in more direct terms, if a hotel is a well-known, full-service property with repeat customers (or the desire to have them), then it should consider a native app. If it is a little-known independent or franchise property, then it's probably not worth it.
- It wants a more personal and direct interaction with its customers.
- It understands that web app functionality that matches native app functionality is at best a few years away and, at worst, might never happen.
- It wants to promote its brand in a more progressive, interactive and elegant manner.
- It wants to expand its capabilities beyond a simple mobile brochure or booking engine. There is a whole new wave of on-property and near-property based services that is best addressed with a native app.
3. If Google and (especially) Apple are betting on mobile apps, then you should really consider the intelligence and/or agenda of any industry pundit, consultant or speaker that tells you not to think about a mobile app. It's important to understand that Apple puts apps first with a strategy that software should come to the consumer. Google puts the browser first with a strategy that the consumer should go to the software. But both companies are clearly embracing both strategies.
Apple has clearly bet big on apps as the future and is designing the next version of its desktop operating system to act just like its mobile operating system -- lots of small, simple apps with easy access from an online Apple store. While this approach scares most other tech vendors (since they don't have the ecosystem, consumer awareness or loyalty that Apple has), they're all spending big to try to catch up.
4. Mobile devices by their very nature are meant to be used with native software. They have lots of built-in hardware capabilities that lend themselves to software running on the device. If everything was going to be based on a browser, then all this hardware power wouldn't be needed.
What's clear in this debate is that the mobile phenomenon is unlike anything that has ever happened before, so, as Murray rightly points out, to try to project an outcome based on current or past experiences is foolish.
There are more smart devices than TVs, telephones, computers and any other electronic communications device in existence. Yet, the game remains in its early stages, so we only know where things are going directionally -- not where it's all going to end up.
Murray ended our conversation by saying, "IPad was the fastest-selling media device ever and net books (based primarily on everything being online) were a huge flop. What does that tell you?"
I say plenty.
|This Just In: Top Upscale Hotels|
|2 Embassy Suites and Hilton|
|Source: Brand Keys Customer |
Loyalty Engagement Index 2011