The growth in web technology has widened consumers’ access to data – but how ready is the travel industry to embrace mobile and how can it be used to capture the attention of an information-rich audience? David Bicknell reports
Mobile commerce is forecast to grow from $15 billion in 2004 to $90 billion by 2009, with 76% of European consumers in 2008 having a mobile web-enabled handset and the majority of them using mobile data services regularly, according to research from Trivnet and Forrester.
Only recently, consumers camped out all night to get their hands on the latest ‘must-have’ device, Apple’s iPhone, which again demonstrated how entranced consumers are by their mobile devices.
“I got here 26 hours ago,” said one 20-year old student. “It is a great piece of hardware. It is a great phone and I love it.”
The reality is that the travel industry is now on the verge of seeing the mobile device taking off as a tool with which to communicate, use as a geographical location-finder, or market travel-related services to. And the opportunities are significant.
According to mobile travel specialist Mobile Travel Technologies, innovative travel suppliers and intermediaries should be getting ready to exploit the true potential of mobile: the personal connection, the context (i.e. the time and place) and the ability to serve highly targeted services.
“A number of forces have come together to fuel this adoption of mobile phones, and the information is absolutely good enough to be using mobile travel services,” says Gerry Samuels, executive director of MTT.
“Around 30% of the mobile subscriber base are using the mobile web regularly. Since the end of 2006, we have gone from two million to between 13 million and 15 million users.”
Among the driving forces are colour display handsets with user-friendly icon-based menus, while more than 80% of mobile handsets shipped in 2005 and 2006 have colour displays.
GPRS 2.5G and 3G are now standard, and users are becoming more aware of the costs of browsing the mobile Internet from their handsets. Typical costs are around €0.02 per screen/page accessed. There has been an expanded range of content, and marketing services are being heavily marketed by service providers such as O2 taking advantage of increased awareness of customised context-aware services. Meanwhile, developments such as Vodafone m-pay and Orange Directbill enable payments for content consumed to be added simply to a user’s mobile bill.
A recent spate of acquisitions has also demonstrated the intention of several large mobile players to begin delivering travel guide content across mobile devices: Tom Tom, the supplier of GPS personal navigation devices has acquired TeleAtlas, the second biggest supplier of maps in the world, while Nokia bought Navteq, the world’s biggest supplier of digital maps.
Henry Harteveldt, vice-president and principal analyst, airline/travel industry research at research group Forrester, believes mobile as a key customer channel for the travel industry is on the verge of taking off.
He says: “SMS text has been adopted by a number of airlines in providing flight services for travellers. US Airways now offers on-demand flight status and frequent-flyer registration via text. This is a particularly useful tool for travellers with connecting flights to stay informed and on schedule. Next year will certainly see companies wanting to know more about mobile messaging.”
In addition, says Harteveldt, InterContinental Hotels has been providing wireless reservation services for five years, while Hilton has recently gone down the same route. Meanwhile, GetThere, a business travel brand of Sabre, offers corporations using its web-based travel procurement system the ability for their business travellers to book and manage trips anywhere around the globe via their hand-held device.
Travel applications for mobile phones can be split into three categories:
● Using a phone as a communications device to bridge the gap from the customer’s PC if they booked online, and, before too long, using the phone as a check-in device holding a 2D barcode (see IATA section). In future, the same customer relationship will follow from a booking made over a mobile phone.
In some parts of the world, this happens already. For example, in Japan on Nippon Airways, 5% of all domestic flights are booked on mobile phones. In Japan, more web surfing is done on mobiles than on PCs and because of the length of their commute to work, people use a mobile to surf. The same mobile solution applies for checking or making hotel bookings on the move. Pegasus Solutions is working with Dublin-based MTT to launch a Mobile Reservation Services distribution channel enabling hotels to offer guests booking and customer service via their mobile device.
● Using the mobile as a means of providing GPS or location-based services. A new concept of ‘geotagging’ has evolved where location-based services can piggyback on a traveller’s GPS location. The German company Locr (locr.com) has created a service using GPS photo software for Windows Mobile in which geotags can be added to users’ photos uploaded via GPRS, UMTS or wireless LAN to www.locr.com. It then automatically assigns the photos appropriate descriptions from Wikipedia.
While on their travels, users can view other’s photos and access information about their current location, turning the mobile phone into an interactive travel guide. Microsoft mobility specialist Jason Langridge says: “With the ready supply of smarter, GPS-enabled devices come new possibilities to deliver services relating specifically to the location customers find themselves in and relevant to what they are doing at the time. For consumers this could mean finding the right bank in a visited city, navigating on unfamiliar roads, avoiding dangerous foreign situations such as unregistered taxis, local language translation, or even simply posting pictures of their holiday in real-time to friends and family. For business, there’s also the ability to interact with colleagues or locate business support services while away from the office.”
● Using the mobile phone as a means of marketing to travellers on the move. This uses text messaging as an instant communication response mechanism, offering instant promotions and deals, ideal for a target audience such as travellers already within an airport, in demob-happy travel mode and likely to respond to such promotions. ‘Need a hotel? Or want to book a quick discounted flight to San Francisco? Text us – and we’ll send you a link.’ In five steps you’ve made your booking (see Mobile Marketing section).
For organisations looking to enable a new marketing channel, MTT’s Samuels suggests there are some key principles they’ll need to be aware of. “We are very excited about mobile and it is building a very healthy momentum. The idea that ‘WAP is crap’ is an old-hat view now.
But if you are going to offer an option for mobile users to access your website, you will have to optimise your content firstly for the phone, and secondly by device, because devices differ in their complexity – and their users differ in their expectations.
“If as a user you’ve got a high-end device, it will frustrate you to get basic WAP-like content. Remember, it is going to be difficult to replicate your PC website content to a mobile on a 1:1 basis. If you don’t have a mobile site that is optimised for each mobile device, then you won’t appear in Google Mobile – or you’ll be hijacked by others who do have properly developed mobile services. Mobi rankings (mtld.mobi/emulator.php) can tell you how good your site is.
“It is perfectly possible to provide an optimised mobile view of the website within four-six weeks. But you’ll have to re-use what’s on PC websites and slice and dice your data. Shoving it all on to a mobile device is not the best way.”
Paul Conroy, sales manager of travel consultancy Hildebrand, who joined from Lastminute.com says the availability of video facilities on mobile phones and users’ familiarity with YouTube will see video on mobiles increase.
“This could work very well. People have a mindset that they will send images and videos of destinations to their friends by text. Holiday companies such as Mark Warner, which has much to say about the activities in its holidays, can invite would-be holidaymakers to view a video, especially if those customers have signed up to receive contact.
“On one of the recent talent shows, the power of a YouTube video of an opera singer singing Nessun Dorma helped ITV more than double the number of viewers for the show. Finding a way of harnessing that video power on a mobile is something that travel companies should aspire to. Travel firms are very experienced at adding value, offering deals such as a free city tour, an extra night in a hotel, or a flight upgrade to premium economy.”
Another benefit of mobile phone campaigns is their measurability, says Conroy. “You can track how many people call in as a direct comparison to a campaign. This measurability of mobile marketing solutions is very powerful for travel companies and can help build a return on investment.”
As for the future, the advent of so-called Near Field Communications holds out interesting developments for mobile devices, with embedded contactless payment cards. Already Orange is working with SNCF in a trial in which subscribing passengers test a prototype contactless phone integrating NFC technology in the SIM card. The card will provide access to various services, including transport ticketing, payment of purchases, timetable information and car park access.
For the consumer:
● Ability to make bookings and service travel arrangements on the move, during a trip away from home and office or when they just have time to kill.
● Virtually everyone carries a mobile – and a PC or laptop may not be to hand or available. Consumers are already used to self-booking via regular PC websites.
For the travel supplier and intermediary:
● Harnesses a compelling new direct distribution channel and offers a new way to reach and interact with customers, while complementing existing channels of distribution.
● Fills otherwise unsold inventory at the last minute.
● Attracts premium on-the-day (walk-in type) business.
● Higher response rates from ads and promotions when the public can respond immediately to a proposition by mobile.
● Meets the service requirements of your customers when they are ‘mobile’.
● Notifies your customers of unexpected events (e.g. flight cancellations, itinerary changes) and enables them to modify their bookings 24×7, and provides an edge over your competitors’ traditional distribution.
Who’s doing what with mobiles?
The Rough Guides travel books have already found their way on to five million phones throughout Europe. Created for Rough Guides by Creativity Software, Rough Guides Mobile is a mobile application that provides travel content through a navigable map interface, allowing consumers to access useful travel information to more than 200 cities in 33 European countries. It is embedded on all new Motorola handsets sold through retail in Europe and is offered by Samsung through its Fun Club portal in the UK.
Carnival Cruise Lines
The world’s largest cruise operator, Carnival Cruise Lines, has launched a mobile marketing campaign to promote FunShipIsland.com. The Razorfish-inspired campaign will run until January 1, 2008, and use JumboTron billboards in Times Square in New York to engage consumers in a new way through mobile devices.
Each time a commercial for FunShip Island runs on the billboard, users will see a short-code with a call to action as a graphic overlay on the video, such as “Text the word ‘cruise’ to 445566 to receive a free mini-vacation wallpaper”. Users can then receive a message back with a link to download the wallpaper image to their mobile phone.
Specialist travel publisher Ski-Ride Productions has launched a series of free, electronic guidebooks that are downloadable to mobile phones, enabling skiers and snowboarders to have resort knowledge at their fingertips on the slopes. The resort-specific guidebooks are being published in a specially-developed electronic format (branded as TXTguides) that allows them to be read on mobile phones.
A parallel mobile-website, specially configured for mobile web-browsers, is provided for downloading TXTguides files direct to mobile phone handsets. Readers can request a weblink to be sent direct to their phone, by texting the word SNOW to 60777.
Tipped is an online community now accessible by mobile, for people to share tips on all the great, and not so great, places in their local area, covering greasy spoons to Michelin-starred restaurants, old pubs to cool bars, shops and boutiques, art galleries, spas, gyms, and hotels and more.
Mobile users will have access to a redesigned and highly customisable AOL.com WAP portal for mobile phones offering new mobile versions of AOL Search and AOL Mail, and services such as MapQuest and Moviefone. AOL is also expanding AIM functionality for mobile devices with a new text message-based AIM short code service and a new GPS-enabled widget called AIM Buddy Finder.
Intelligent travel organiser TripIt has launched TripIt To Me, a new feature that allows travelers to get their trip information from anywhere via e-mail, including from mobile devices. The company says it created TripIt To Me for road warriors to use mobile access to keep track of travel details on their trips.
Do Me – London
Do Me Mobile provides an audio guide to London enabling visitors and Londoners alike to access multimedia tours of more than 80 of the capital’s top attractions by sending a single text message. Ben Whitehead, a professional tour guide, narrates hidden tales of London while users can also access interactive maps, photos and detailed information from London Bridge to the London Dungeon. To get started, users text the word London to 83040 to receive a reply with a link to the Do Me London website accessible through their phone’s browser.
Mobile check-in – IATA standard paves way for mobile phone-based check-in
A recently announced International Air Transport Association global standard will pave the way for global mobile phone check-in using two-dimensional (2D) bar codes.
Mobile phone check-in enables airlines to send 2D bar codes directly to a passenger’s mobile phone, personal digital assistant or smartphone. Passengers simply register their mobile number with their airline at the time of booking to receive a text message with the bar code, or instructions to download it.
The bar code therefore becomes the passenger’s boarding pass and is read directly from the screen of the mobile device, getting rid of paper that bogs down processes and drives up costs.
By the end of 2010, the airline industry hopes to implement 100% bar-coded boarding passes, and save itself more than $500 million annually.
Mobile based marketing – How to engage your travellers with marketing to mobile phones
Wayne Helmore, chief executive of Marketing2Mobiles, says: “We live in a multi-channel marketing world where print and e-mail are no longer sufficient and continue to produce poor response levels. Your marketing message gets seen but your campaign gets lost in the sea of 3,000 marketing messages we receive daily.
“So, all of us are grappling with the problem of finding a new marketing edge where at last you can stand out from the crowd. Marketing to a travelling audience using a mobile phone offers the potential for your travel business to engage, inform and get response rates as high as 66%.
“By sending an engaging message with full colour details and information to a traveller’s mobile phone, your message has an excellent chance of being read, especially – and importantly – if the user has opted in to receive a service.
“The user simply texts a keyword reference to a short code placed on adverts, websites and shop window ads.
“They then receive instant full colour details to their mobile phone, while you instantly receive an e-mail for sales data capture and follow-ups. This short code offers the additional benefit of making all of your current marketing work harder and delivering much-improved results.
“The mobile phone channel is an opportunity for travel specialists to target the device that many hold to be dearer to them than their PC. If you do not want to be left behind by the competition, now is your tipping point for implementing a mobile phone-led campaign.”
Mobile Travel Technologies – is providing M2Plane, M2Bed and M2Drive mobile-based services and ‘middleware’ to enable mobiles to become a new travel channel
Hildebrand – worked with Carling on a successful mobile-based promotion for the World Cup in which the consumer sent a text to a unique code and received a match forecast and advice of how much money he would win if the forecast was correct.
Forrester – Research Document: ‘Travel eBusiness Execs: Focus On Mobile Data Now’ Mobile Data Creates A New Way To Distribute Travel And Engage Travellers, May 2007