STA Travel is poised to launch a new fully-optimised mobile website ahead of making its first app available later this year.
Speaking to Travolution at the official unveiling of the new look of its flagship London store this week, chief executive John Constable conceded the firm has been slow to adapt to mobile.
He said mobile traffic to the student and independent traveller specialist’s website now accounted for 40% – this figure was for mobile phones only, discounting tablets.
“We are later than we should have been [on mobile],” Constable said, “we have had a lot of change going on and different agendas we have had to pursue.
“We have got a good amount of learning from the behaviour of our customers now so we will accelerate from here. Mobile is touching our customers, which is no surprise for our demographic.”
Mobile is a key focus for STA whose target customer is young tech-savvy travellers.
It’s new stores are fully Wi-Fi enabled and the London premises – STA’s largest – now features a video wall in the front window streaming social media interactions with the company.
STA is hoping to have its UK mobile-optimised site live by tomorrow (Thursday) before rolling it out to other markets.
The app will be aimed at customers on their travels with opportunities for last-minute hotel and hostel bookings as well as other products like tours and excursions.
Constable said he expected to see more simple point-to-point and hostel bookings via mobile.
It will also encourage customers to share their experiences, increasing the level of interaction on social media and providing more marketing content to display in their stores.
“It [mobile] is an amazing channel to talk to our customer when they are on the road,” Constable added.
STA said customer numbers in the UK were up 30% in 2013, the best year the travel agency has seen in the last seven.
It also saw growth in overseas markets including Australia, South America and Germany, although numbers were down 3% in the US after it closed all but one of its retail outlets.
Constable said outside of the US there was a resilient culture of high street travel retailing, which he said was not competing with the web but working alongside it.
“This is about bringing ‘omni-channel’ to life, not having segmented prices on and offline as the consumer is wanting to come back to the high street and build on our expertise,” he said.
The new store design dispenses with consultants’ desks – agents will move around the store with laptops and tablet computers, sitting beside customers as they research.
The Victoria shopfront features a large video screen facing a central ‘inspiration zone’, with terraced seating, atlases, books and iPads.
In an adjacent ‘planning zone’ there is a large table for consultants to sit with customers.
Constable said: “Retail is about complexity in our world and our customer demographic is investing a large amount of money, maybe for the first time.
“They want to understand what other people have done and be in an environment where they can talk, listen and share.”