Commentary

Mobile Travel Sites On Rocky Road

Mobile travel Web sites continue to attract new consumers, but lag in advanced mobile experiences and performance. Although Ipsos/Google estimate that at least 80% of consumers use online sites to research and plan trips, The Search Agency released findings Wednesday showing that eight of the 100 mobile sites use responsive Web design, 67% serve mobile dedicated sites, and the remaining 25 sites serve the desktop version to mobile users.

For The Mobile Experience Scorecard – Travel, The Search Agency scored a possible five points -- with zero being the lowest -- for each of the analyzed 100 mobile sites for travel accommodation and destination sites. The criterion included mobile best practices, search, click-to-call, account sign-in, social media share buttons, app download option, and responsive Web design.

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Choice Hotels International-owned sites, which include Choice Hotel International, Comfort Inn, Quality Inn, ComfortSuites.com, Econo Lodge and Sleep Inn, received the highest scores in travel report.

Of the key features evaluated, 86 of the 100 sites feature search functionality, 40 feature click-to-call, 67 offer account sign-in, 57 feature social media buttons or links, and 42 link to an app download.

Travel research and booking occurs on mobile devices much more today, so advertisers need to double-down on their mobile distribution, making sure they’ve tapped every viable channel and outlet for engaging with potential travelers, said Heather Pilat, VP of analytics at CJ Affiliate, which has seen an uptick in the advertiser programs for click-to-call and mobile app solutions.

"Advertisers have the opportunity to pull off a marketing double-play by creating an engagement strategy that taps the trend for higher booking by promoting higher priced packages or hotel stays within a mobile environment," Pilat said. "As the travel seasons winds down, advertisers should take a hard look at their organization’s data strategy. We find many companies still need to make some hard decisions about how they get data, analyze it and use it for customer engagement."

The Internet provides the No. 1 travel planning resource for most travelers, with U.S. leisure travel sales via digital channels -- desktop, mobile, and tablet -- totaling $126 billion in 2013, per CJ Affiliate's Travel Spotlight Benchmark study citing the eMarketer study U.S. Digital Travel Sales.

Too bad I can't give a thumbs-up to mobile Web site load times. While Google recommends an average mobile site download in one second,  The Mobile experience Scorecard from The Search Agency notes that the 100 most visited travel sites required an average of 2.64 seconds to load. Only eight in 100 sites use responsive design; 67, dedicated mobile sites; and the remaining 25 serve the desktop version of their sites to mobile users.

Load times per site format also varies with the average for dedicated mobile sites loading significantly faster at 1.82 seconds, compared with Responsive Web Design at 4.46 seconds and desktop sites at 4.26. Travel aggregator sites required the most time to load at 3.45 seconds, while sites for hotels and casinos were the quickest to load at 1.86 seconds.

Hotwire President Henrik Kjellberg told Media Daily News earlier this month that more than 70% of consumers book a hotel room through their Hotwire's mobile app the same day they need it.

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