By Mark Holden, head of futures at Arena Media
As the dark days continue – with the Daily Mail’s Shane Warne recently describing the British weather as nine months of winter and three months of bad weather – our thoughts turn to sunnier climes and, namely, escape via travel.
Travel brands are waking up to the fact that as we daydream ourselves out of our drizzly climate, people are thinking about, dreaming of and ‘exploring’ travel wherever they are.
And mobiles, tablets or smartphones are often the tools that deliver our travel dreams.
Mobile is playing a bigger and bigger role across ecommerce. The growth of smartphones and their influence on almost every business sector is impossible to ignore – and it’s happening quickly, particularly in the UK.
Smartphone ownership has risen to 58% of the UK population, and 16% of UK site traffic in 2012 was on a mobile connected device, higher than any other country in Europe.
Mobile will become a major part of both travel retail and traveller experiences.
Already 38% of leisure travellers use their mobiles to search for travel information before or during a trip, rising to 57% for business travellers.
In some areas mobile has become a primary sales channel: Expedia report that 68% of last minute hotel bookings (24 hours before arrival) are made via mobile. This is just the start.
The travel business will become mobile by definition: travel is a connected experience, with mobile likely to be at the centre of it in the coming years.
There are a number of factors which will further accelerate the use of mobile in travel: the roll out of 4G networks; regulator-driven reductions in tariff premiums for international data roaming; and a growth of Wifi networks outside of the home, including an increasing expectation that airports, hotels and even airlines provide free access.
The next generation of smartphones will be equipped with a greater suite of pre-installed software, such as cloud storage, translation and navigation, which will again have an impact on the role of mobile in the travel sector.
As will the development of the mobile wallet and mobile payment systems. Visa Europe predicts that 50% of its transactions will be via mobile by 2020.
These changes require that the travel sector thinks in the short and the long-term.
In the short-term, the primary task now is to be open for business, focusing on search and discovery.
Travel companies must ensure they have a mobile-friendly booking site in place, while optimising their sites for SEO and integrating mobile into their overall communications strategies.
To win in the long-term, travel brands must develop a strategy for how they can add value to customers by developing mobile services across their travel experience.
For example, consider how mobile can make transit easier and more pleasurable – such as through mobile ticketing, Wifi access and entertainment content.
There are opportunities here to broker arrangements with entertainment and content providers to develop services quickly.
There has also been a huge growth in destination-specific apps and city guides – which could be an added value service or even new revenue stream.
Likewise, travel brands have the opportunity to identify exclusive mobile-based services they can uniquely offer to travellers.
There are many opportunities to add value: on-location booking, concierge services, location guides, downloadable maps, user community tips and recommendations.
Finally, mobile is a potential platform for the travel sector to build on customer service and loyalty, while facilitating feedback and recommendations.
Mobile services are increasingly used by frontline staff to proactively delight valuable customers or manage customer service issues that have previously been flagged.
Travel brands must continue to wake up to the power of mobile in travel, particularly in these dank dark days when travel is a tempting means of escape.
Ultimately, a comprehensive mobile strategy for the travel sector is not a luxury. It is fast becoming a necessity.
Those who act now and develop a customer-centric plan will be in an advantageous position to profit from the travellers’ essential companion device going forward: the mobile.