We’ve all known about the “power of mobile” for quite some time now. Smartphones already have a big impact on the travel industry, and with the steady increase of mobile adoption, they will continue to heavily influence the way consumers make travel plans.
By the end of 2012, roughly 36 million Americans will have used a smartphone to research travel. And eMarketer forecasts that by 2016, the number of people who will actually book travel by smartphone will jump from 15.8 million to 36.3 million annually.
Clearly, mobile is a channel with huge potential for the travel industry. Unfortunately, however, mobile booking experiences have yet to reach their potential. Mobile-optimized—or even mobile-specific—digital assets are certainly must-haves, but for the travel industry, especially, it can’t end there. You have a mobile-friendly site? Great, start testing and optimizing it. You have a new strategy for targeted offers and promotions? Wonderful, make sure you’re using personalization to get them right. And don’t forget about tablet users—a mobile site and tablet site are similar, but they offer different experiences.
In 2013, we’ll see the travel industry leaders continue to expand their digital and mobile footprint. After all, if they want to claim their share of the 36.3 million customers booking by smartphone, they will have to. Here are some trends to watch for next year—and to consider planning for as well:
1. Mobile site testing and optimization.
Now that many brands have a mobile site or app in place, they are beginning to test its content’s performance for their audience. A/B and multivariate testing are now designed to perform specifically for mobile sites. It’s essential that everything from strategy to testing to optimization programs is in place to ensure that your mobile presence is helping you achieve desired business goals. When it comes to mobile content, if you aren’t testing, you’re guessing—and you certainly won’t be able to increase conversion rates without it.
Insight from testing will also give you a wealth of information about visitors—enabling you to devise a strategy for adapting and personalizing the mobile experience for each visitor, for integrating with other digital properties, and for connecting the mobile experience with the offline one—all while measuring the impact of your initiatives on engagement, revenue and customer loyalty.
2. Personalization of mobile
As mobile-rich sites and apps increasingly serve travelers better, faster and in new, creative ways, consumers are more frequently willing to give brands access to their information, such as sharing their locations, check-ins, demographics, pictures and activities. It also means that consumers are coming to expect an enhanced, personalized mobile experience, and the brands that keep pace with this changing landscape will dominate the market.
While travelers often have very definitive needs (How do I get from Point A to Point B? Where is my hotel? Where should I eat?), they’re also more open to the pleasures of relaxation, spontaneity and novelty than they are in their normal lives and routines. Real-time personalization in a mobile environment allows sites and apps to “think on their feet” for travelers, offering them content in real time, based on their current behavior, rather than on their accumulated data from past (and often no longer relevant) visits. For example, when visitors log into your site/app during a trip, you may choose to re-target them based on their recent search information—with promotions like tickets to a local attraction or a discounted hotel stay on an extra night. These types of promotions could entice them to buy anew from you or a partner, or even extend their trip.
3. Optimizing for tablets.
When it comes to strategy, e-commerce marketers tend to group tablets and smartphones into the same mobile category. But the reality is, the typical browsing and buying habits of a smartphone user are quite distinct from an average tablet user. In fact, a recent study from Econsultancy cited that the Average Order Values via tablet commerce were at least 1.5 times higher than those of smartphones.
Just as a traditional website does not work on a mobile screen, a mobile site is not necessarily right for a tablet experience. Expect to see different strategies developed for this in-between device as the leaders recognize its opportunities. For example, it’s worth considering the development of a parallel site that takes into account the different functionality and features of the tablet over the mobile phone—from larger screen size to keyboard usage, to pop-overs and CTAs. You have a bigger screen, yes, but the user is still engaging via “touch.” The decision will ultimately depend on the brand and the sophistication of the mobile offer, but it is an issue that requires consideration and planning.
4. Using mobile to extend personalized experiences across channels.
While you should get excited about the possibilities of mobile, it’s also important to remember that mobile should be treated as part of your marketing mix and should therefore provide a consistent experience. The personalized content people receive on their smartphone should work in conjunction with anything they find online or in other marketing channels. Mobile may be new, flashy and exciting, but you never want customers to feel that the mobile experience is somehow disconnected from their other experiences of your brand—or worse, to get the feeling that they are interacting with a different brand altogether!
Furthermore, browsing and buying behavioral data gained from mobile testing and personalization data will soon be used to enhance the customer experience across websites, email marketing, social media and even in person. Not only should your content and branding remain consistent, but the information customers receive across the mediums should reflect their real-time location in the booking journey.
In the end, some travel companies might not be confident or even fail in their attempts as they release mobile-specific sites or apps, but that’s why it’s all the more important as we continue to spiral into a tech-savvy consumer era that companies stay ahead of the curve. Being prepared to adapt and change via significant user testing and targeting will have you becoming a trendsetter in no time.