By Rob Sinclair-Barnes, marketing director of Amadeus UK and Ireland
Mobile technology is changing the face of travel booking. According to eMarketer, this year, people will book nearly twice as much travel via tablets and smartphones as they did last year.
For the business traveller, the mobile acts much like a concierge; nestled snugly in the traveller’s hand, it guides him through the journey by offering up itineraries, information, tickets and bookings at the swipe of a finger.
If a traveller wants to make an impromptu booking in the back of a cab from the airport, they can increasingly do so. Mobile is fast becoming the tool to enable the traveller to always connected and do more, with minimal effort.
With mobile technology offering a new type of freedom and independence to the business traveller, travel managers and operators are adapting their approach.
Keeping travellers ‘policy compliant’ (that is, within the boundaries of the accepted corporate travel policy) can be made more tricky for travel managers, which is why there is a clear need to set and maintain boundaries where bookings are concerned.
On the other hand, there are opportunities to capitalise on travellers’ demands for stress free travel, and operators are aware that trends such as ‘in trip’ sales can provide a much-needed boost to revenue.
The paradox of mobile technology
A recent survey by Amadeus has highlighted a paradoxical situation for mobile technology within the industry. Demand for the ability to change plans on the go clearly outstrips provision.
In The 21st Century Business Traveller report, it was found that half of business traveller respondents need to change their itinerary after booking, with ‘convenience’ during travel being their greatest priority. Despite this, only a third of respondents have access to mobile booking technology.
So why the lag? Lack of control is likely a motivator behind corporates’ reluctance to roll out mobile booking. As a company, how exactly do you control the booking process of one of your travellers when they’re in a hotel hundreds of miles away, eyeing up the mini bar? With difficulty. Which is why there is an absolute need to have a corporate booking platform which extends seamlessly to the mobile interface.
Amadeus have successfully trialled Amadeus e-Travel Management Mobile (AeTM Mobile), which is an extension of Amadeus’ corporate online booking tool, but for mobile devices.
The traveller has the freedom to make and amend bookings via their smartphone, but all travel options will be policy compliant, and automatically feed the booking data back into the desktop version of the tool. The travel manager maintains visibility and control across all booking platforms, whilst the traveller can enjoy the ease of booking on the move.
The challenge will be to maintain consistency and offer a single, extended view to travel arrangers, managers and travellers rather than creating a different kind of stress and inefficiency by bolting on myriads of apps and other add-on solutions that don’t harmonise with the existing infrastructure. We anticipate that mobile extensions of desktop tools will become more prevalent, providing a middle path for corporations and travellers.
Moving with the times
The way in which operators are reaching out to customers has changed hugely due to mobile. Mobile ticketing or m-tickets and mobile boarding passes are a clear example.
M-tickets have become increasingly popular for both business and leisure travellers, allowing them to take trips without needing to print out reams of paper.
Just like their predecessor e-tickets, m-tickets and mobile boarding passes have multiple advantages: they’re harder to ‘lose’ as they are logged on the database and they’re almost impossible to alter fraudulently.
They are also hard to steal as long as your mobile or tablet security is up to scratch.
Making amendments to existing bookings can also be easier. Travel agents or travel managers need only update the booking in the global distribution system, which seamlessly feeds information through to online and mobile devices, rather than facing the logistical headache of re-issuing physical documents and somehow getting them through to the traveller who may be thousands of miles away.
A passenger uses m-tickets has easy access to their travel documents, but more than this, the service provider has a clear channel of communication to the passenger.
This is helpful in the event of needing to notify the traveller of itinerary changes, delays, or cancellations. A traveller who is kept informed about a delayed flight or train then has the ability and means (via mobile booking capabilities) to make another either another booking, or other arrangements.
Just how long it will be until paper tickets are dispensed with altogether and replaced by e-tickets and m-tickets is anyone’s guess – but traveller convenience is a key driver of adoption, so expect it to arrive sooner rather than later.
Looking beyond the immediate future, m-ticketing will play vital role in the creation of a more integrated ticketing system across all forms of transport. In their ‘Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area’ report, the European Commission has made clear its plans to create ‘a more efficient, sustainable transport system to increase mobility across Europe’.
The EC envisages greater co-operation between transport providers and infrastructures across European countries, which is no mean feat.
The idea is that the booking process across a number of transport modes will be far more fluent; a passenger could book a cross-border high-speed train, followed by a short-haul flight, followed by a bus, without having to book multiple tickets via different operators.
A multi-modal approach such as this will rely on shared data between operators, and a paperless ticketing system which offers one electronic travel document to the passenger for their whole journey. The way of delivering this ticket to the traveller will almost certainly be via smartphone or tablet device.
Given the prevalence of mobile devices amongst travellers, we can expect to see greater demands placed upon mobile apps and usage.
Corporations and travel providers are faced with the task of responding to both the travellers’ technology needs en-masse, but they also need to get better at delivering on a more personal, one-to-one traveller level.
Mobile tech is progressively getting smarter, but the challenge for the travel industry is to match the pace at which the 21st century traveller wants to get their hands on such innovation.