Commentary

Mobile Payments vs. the World of Travel

Just because mobile payments have not yet taken off as quickly as some might like, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a need, at least in some quarters.

I was starkly reminded of this in the course of a recent quick trip to Europe. The way my travel worked out, I had to overnight in London on the way to Germany.

Looking for the closest hotel to catch an early flight the next day, I checked to find that I was both landing and departing from Terminal 5 at Heathrow, so booked the hotel officially named The Hilton London Heathrow Airport Terminal 5.

So how does one get from Terminal 5 to a hotel at Terminal 5? Take a bus, of course. It turned out the Terminal 5 hotel was hardly at Terminal 5. Bad research on my part, to state the obvious.

Not having planned to be taking public transport, I neglected to convert any of my US dollars or Euros to British pounds. Another big mistake on my part.

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Walking out of the terminal, I watched my bus (#57) leave just before I reached it. I waited the 30 minutes for the next one and was first in line to get on.

Since the buses were called Heathrow Hotel Shuttle, I wrongly guessed they would be complimentary. Upon boarding, the driver said the hotel ride would cost about 5 pounds.

            “Can you take euros?”
            “No, cash only.”
            “U.S. dollars?"
            “No, British pounds only.”
            “How about a credit card?”
            “Cash only.”

And there’s one of the opportunities for mobile payments, an obvious thought running through my mind while scurrying back to the airport terminal in search of a currency conversion kiosk.

The bus had left by time I returned with the correct local currency, so I waited another 30 minutes for the next one.

This wouldn’t have normally bothered me except that I had been battling with British Airways to get my luggage for well over two hours after landing.

The highly computerized and automated luggage system determined my bag should go into overnight storage and sent along to Berlin in the morning, with my scheduled flight, but that’s another story.

On an international scale, mobile payment systems have the ability to deal with different currencies and automatic conversions.

For example, my American Express card is linked into Apple’s Passbook so that I receive an instant notification at every AmEx charge. After paying for a taxi from the airport in Berlin to the hotel, I received a message showing how much I was charged, converted to U.S. dollars, before I even got out of the cab.

This is a great example of how some parts of the mobile commerce value chain are starting to be connected, at least from the post payment to the notification stage.

Now if some of the earlier parts of the chain can get connected, mobile payments have a chance to move to great scale.

Meanwhile, local cash is still king.

Have you had any similar experiences where mobile payments could have made your life easier?

5 comments about "Mobile Payments vs. the World of Travel".
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  1. Paul Verna from eMarketer, September 5, 2013 at 12:48 p.m.

    I just returned from a trip to Europe where I had similarly frustrating experiences with the lack of mobile payment options. Two different kiosks at the Paris Metro station where I landed (after taking the Chunnel from London) did not accept my credit card. One didn't accept non-EU credit cards and the other was supposed to, but didn't. After waiting on those two very long lines, I ended up waiting on a third line for a teller who was able to help. It would have saved me 45 minutes to be able to use a mobile payment system, or to purchase the tickets in advance and retrieve them from a kiosk.

  2. Chuck Martin from Chuck Martin, September 5, 2013 at 12:56 p.m.

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Paul. You also correctly point out one of the biggest downsides of lack of mobile payments: time-killers.

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, September 5, 2013 at 2:41 p.m.

    So far, no. I do not have a smart phone and have no intention of getting one. I plan. It doesn't take long. I know that international currencies are not internationally acceptable and I know about the chip card. So I carry some extra cash. It doesn't take up a lot of space. If you don't have some at home before you go, most banks at home or even in other countries can get you international cash. Even AAA offices has packets of euros and pounds on hand. Airports have banks and ATM's. 60 seconds of planning during your downtime on the plane, if not before, avoids 60+ minutes of waiting.

  4. Stephenie Rodriguez from Mighty Media Group Pty Ltd, September 5, 2013 at 6:24 p.m.

    Chuck - Great post on the future of mobile payments. As an agency that works with many global companies in the travel retail market (http://www.mightymediagroup.com.au) we are always interested in the opinions and real time stories of how a mass adoption of digital wallets would offer greater convenience for all stakeholders especially as it relates to travel. Currency market volatility varies from country to country and minute to minute and exchange rates also vary bank to bank -- a mobile wallet could offer some consistency for all travelers as well as other advantages. One of our client's major challenges with having 5,500 retail outlets in 60 countries in airports is loss and theft with cash handling. A digital wallet and cash-less transactions would reduce this dramatically for them so they are beginning to work with POS suppliers to bring pilots into various markets where there is mass smartphone adoption using the Starbucks model as best practice. Our research indicates that 40% of all Chinese travelers are au fait with mobile wallet transactions and willing to use them because it is incorruptible and requires no discussion on how to settle payment. Being in Asia Pacific, we are paying attention to this. Those businesses wishing to attract this segment of the travel market should consider this as a means of enticing them with convenience and added security. Again, thanks for sharing your story. I personally believe that we will move more towards a cashless society.

  5. Chuck Martin from Chuck Martin, September 5, 2013 at 6:33 p.m.

    Thank you Stephenie, great inisights and so very true. But as you know, deployment is somewhat complex, especially with the various POS issues involved. AP market also more comfortable with the practice of scanning, of course.

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