By Peter Gough, creative partner and founder, ORM
When it comes to booking travel, all customers are looking for the same thing – a hassle free, no nonsense experience.
But with the hotly debated question of app versus mobile site making some travel companies question their booking offerings, which should your travel business be focusing on in 2015?
According to a recent Expedia/Egencia survey 58% of people have now used an app to book a holiday; however, during a typical customer lifecycle the preference for how they engage with a brand will inevitably change.
The most common process is that customers will initially engage via a website, before moving on to a mobile app when they have built up a certain level of preference and loyalty for the travel brand.
Why use apps?
Since the rise in popularity of mobile apps every industry has tried to build a presence in this space, including the travel industry.
When it comes to content, if you’re a luxury travel brand offering high-end holidays that require a deeper consideration process then a greater level of loyalty and trust is required from your users.
In this case an app is a perfect fit for you, as it offers a more permanent purchasing service and provides more traction.
For some businesses, apps can be an unpopular choice mainly due to the costs needed to launch, support and ensure that it’s kept up to date.
However, there are obvious benefits. A well built, fully functioning smartphone/ tablet app can provide users with a great customer experience.
Most travel apps are able to offer a higher degree of interaction, functionality and content that mobile sites will generally find harder to achieve.
They can allow users to plan their trips using the likes of Tripit and Worldmate, book flights and check in, map routes and find alternative arrangements and have access to real time travel updates.
All of these factors can help get customers through the sales funnel, with a streamlined and delightful user experience that customers will value if you get it right.
Apps are a more permanent fixture on a customer’s mobile device meaning they benefit from established brand identity and awareness.
However, this also means they require a higher degree of customer loyalty, something that is not necessarily needed for a quick browse on a mobile site.
The level of commitment required can result in customers potentially shying away from downloading an app, the action that is essential for their use and success.
Why use a mobile site?
On the other hand, if your travel business believes in a more ‘snacky’, on-the-go approach with less outright commitment from the customer then a mobile optimised website would likely be a better fit.
Mobile ready websites have a real convenience factor, making them a popular choice amongst both the travel company and the user.
There is the on going debate about what type of mobile website to consider – at base level you must at least have a responsive website that can optimise for different displays.
Adaptive mobile websites can enhance the user experience even more by taking advantage of device features and content in context – or a specific website for mobile might be preferable if there is a set of tasks that are critical for your mobile audience compared to the desktop view.
You will find travel companies that lean towards quick booking and service features will opt for the later option.
Mobile sites need to rely heavily on their search visibility and therefore, good optimised content is a must if you want to rank ahead of your competitors on Google.
If you are not offering content that is of a certain quality and benefit to your customers they will lose interest in visiting your site.
There’s no right or wrong for choosing an app versus an optimised mobile website – it really depends on your audience and serving their needs.
If your customers have a frequent task they perform, or require deeper functionality then an app might prove the better route.
But let’s be clear, in reality, customers don’t care whether they’re using a great app or a great mobile site; they see value in ease of use and the right content.
Failing to provide this in the form of an engaging and personalised booking service, on either platform, will inevitably drive customers to competitor travel sites.
One further factor to keep in mind would be the inevitability of the travel technology sector adapting and growing.
This year it may not be the battle of mobile vs. apps but the added value wearables and augmented reality can bring to the user experience.