Online travel firms query mobile return on investment

Leading figures at a string of online travel companies and consultancies have questioned the value of investment in mobile travel apps.

Tripadvisor vice-president for mobile partnerships Nathan Clapton told the World Tourism Forum Lucerne (WTFL): “We’ve been in mobile for four years and there are challenges – not least getting people to use us regularly [by app].”

Clapton said: “We recommend to hotels that the mobile web is much more important than developing an app.”

However, he added: “App users do spend longer with us. We think only a small number of travel apps will be used and we want to be one of them.”

Expedia senior vice-president for global market management Cyril Ranque said: “Mobile is the fastest-growing channel, but it is just 7% of our room nights.

“It is complex to be in mobile and every next move is expensive. There is not one type of mobile device, and devices are different sizes.”

Nicholas Hall, managing director of London-based destination marketing agency SE1 Media and its DIgital Tourism Think Tank suggested only 20% of tourism offices in Europe have developed sites for the mobile web while 40% have a mobile app.

He told the forum: “There is a disconnet between priorities.”

Martin Lumbye, partner at travel search and price-comparison site Momondo, said: “The return on investment with mobile is poor.

“Less than 10% of searches on Momondo are on mobile. Travellers use Momondo for inspiration and, compared to a desktop, mobile is poor. We use mobile for branding.”

Ranque told the WTFL: “There is an important difference between smart phones and tablets. More than 70% of smart phone bookings are last minute. Tablets are different.

“The tablet is likely to become the next PC – it is more of a displacement of one device by another.”

Clapton agreed, saying: “Mobile is less about travel planning and decision making. It is about when you there.”

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