According to an EyeforTravel report, the number of mobile bookings in the travel space has accelerated from 20 million in 2008 to 200 million in 2010. And, Google projects that 8% of all mobile users will be booking travel from their smartphones by next year.
Mobile ticketing too, will soon explode, with a recent Jupiter research study claiming that 500 million people will leverage their mobile device as a travel ticket on metros, subways and buses by 2015.
No doubt the transactional capabilities of mobile devices, combined with their ubiquity, are what have gotten everyone's attention. And wherever there are bookings, resources and attention quickly follow, all of which is a good thing. But bookings, although for many businesses the end game, are really just the beginning of how brands need to start thinking about their mobile strategies.
Increasingly, brands need to be investing in mobile as a platform for servicing the traveler, providing a convenient way for brands to curate the customer experience and deliver exactly what the traveler needs, at exactly the moment they need it.
The focus now needs to be on developing mobile in much the same way that brands have refined their development process for the web, moving beyond booking to create a platform that also allows travelers to dream, research, experience and share.
With companies like E-marketer predicting that people using mobile to research travel will climb from 19.7 million in 2010 to 29.7 million by next year, the critical mass is now there to warrant the significant development costs that will be required to truly optimize mobile's potential to transform how we experience a brand or destination.
And travelers want this transformation. Google says that 95% of smartphone users say they are searching for local details, with 88% of those searching for information taking action within a day by either visiting a website or a venue in the real world.
While brands are clearly recognizing the need to be accessible and bookable through mobile devices, it's not as clear that brands are looking at how the device might play an active role in enhancing the actual travel experience or extending the brand into service areas that were previously impossible or difficult to impact.
Companies including Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, Mandarin Oriental Hotels, Louis Vuitton and others are beginning to create programs that allow travelers to experience a destination from the perspective of that brand, where locations, experiences, must-do's and inside information are readily accessible through a mobile device. In effect, they're putting a concierge in your pocket and having that brand shepherd you through a destination as your personal guide. More brands need to follow their lead.
Check-in services, property maps and loyalty programs are all gradually migrating to mobile, and while they offer added convenience on a mobile platform, it often merely represents a shift in venue for the information, not yet a reinvention of how people travel or are recognized on their journey.
Instead, travelers today must seek out a multitude of websites, apps and resources in order to effectively manage their experience on a mobile device, no doubt fueling the debate of mobile app versus mobile site. But regardless of how you elect to deliver information, there is a wealth of tools available to enrich the overall travel experience. Perhaps it's Google Translate or the incredible Word Lens that help you to speak the language. Maybe it's TripIt to keep track of all your disparate booking information or Ship Mate to manage your busy cruise schedule and maximize your time on board. Howcast can give you video tutorials on how to behave like a local, long before you arrive. SitorSquat can help you find the nearest bathroom no matter where you are. And the list goes on and on.
Slowly, the tools are being developed that truly can change the way you travel. Brands that are smart will find a way to mash together and integrate a group of these essential tools, marry it to their own unique perspective and deliver a mobile experience that accompanies the traveler from their earliest wishes to sharing their return home.
Along the way that same brand can add a wealth of location-based services (that add relevance by factoring in things like weather, date, time and your personal preferences) and sprinkle in some augmented and virtual reality that might educate and inform. Before we know it that mobile device has become an integral part of how that brand and destination engage the traveler and deliver on their promise.
Sure it's exciting to see the growth of mobile bookings, but it really is only the beginning of what mobile can deliver to your business, and more importantly to the traveler. The real winners will be those brands that are looking at mobile to service their traveler, not simply to sell.
For those brands the revolution has just begun.