By Carin van Vuuren, chief marketing officer of Usablenet
A major shift is occurring among travel marketers as brands are moving beyond asking “how can we increase the rate at which mobile users book a reservation” to also consider “how can we use mobile to create a more compelling experience for our customers?”
The answer lies in creating sustained customer engagement across mobile channels.
When it comes to mobile, travel brands are recognising that the ultimate goal is not only booking, but increasing loyalty.
For when brands focus on creating a compelling experience that adds value to the customer and makes the brand a trusted source of information, bookings will follow.
Mobile booking is a basic customer expectation
Mobile enables a deeper connection between brands and travellers. Smartphone users spend 1/3 of their time on mobile engaging with travel content.
In general those booking travel via tablet will do so in the home (70%) so they will often have time to do more than merely book, they will have time to explore a site a little further and engage in further research on the area, hotel etc.
This new pathway for communication and information sharing offers a huge opportunity for brands at every stage of the customer journey, including before, during, and after each trip.
Historically, the primary measure of success for mobile travel sites had been bookings. It is broadly known that travellers increasingly depend on smartphones for booking: 65% for hotel room booking, 49% for flight reservations, and 33% to book rental cars.
However, it is less common for travel brands to incorporate experiential elements – such as inspiration, story, and discovery – into the mobile experience, as it is often difficult to correlate the impact of this content with actual bookings.
Yet booking is only the beginning of a customer’s journey and travel brands have a big opportunity to leverage mobile beyond a purchase and turn it into a valued tool to enhance the travel experience.
Relevance as the differentiator
In the competitive and saturated travel and hospitality space, it’s no surprise that price is often the primary focus for customers. In fact, 41% of customers identify deals as a top differentiator in choosing a hotel.
To capitalise on this traveller behaviour, brands must find new ways to build and sustain engagement that create real value with customers.
One way to differentiate is to focus on relevant, fresh content. Travellers are always looking for inspiration and mobile is the ideal platform to tap into this discovery mindset and inspire trip ideas.
By providing compelling photography, incentives to take action, and relevant content on featured destinations, brands can encourage customers to keep coming back for more.
Hyatt is a great example of a hotel brand using relevant content to give customers reason to use mobile. The brand’s mobile web and mobile app experiences are visually rich, offer super-fast navigation and seamless booking.
Hyatt’s mobile site aims at combining functional excellence with high-quality content that inspires.
Further, mobile becomes a personalised channel between brand and traveller to create a truly memorable experience.
Think of a mobile device as a handheld concierge service, providing useful information to travellers at their fingertips, such as access to amenities, recommended activities, details on services, and automated check-in functionality – all resources that today’s travellers are demanding.
These resources propel a relationship that customers increasingly can depend on and seek out for future travel.
Travel companies can further elevate this level of personalised service by offering free Wi-Fi and using mobile devices to deliver targeted recommendations of area attractions to visit and restaurants to indulge, Google Maps for direction and local knowledge, and social sharing to tell their friends – all in an effort to create an end-to-end travel experience that is truly memorable.
Finally, strong reward programs add depth to the customer experience. The key to creating a premier reward experience lies in looking beyond the functional transaction and instead at the bigger picture of sustained relationship between brand and traveller.
Mobile as a window to authentic experiences
Should a brand prioritise their mobile web or invest in an app experience? The short answer is both. Mobile web and apps each have their own benefits – offering marketers complementary strategies to achieve the ultimate goal of providing convenient and authentic experiences.
An effective mobile site is a strong access point for quick searches and transactions, while apps are ideal to foster sustained and repeat engagement with oft-returning customers.
Mobile apps allow travel brands to create a more tailored travel experience that also makes the most of native device capabilities such as GPS and camera. Integrating social platforms such as TripAdvisor or Foursquare further allows customers to browse recommendations, reviews and other unbiased content from fellow travellers.
Pullman Hotels, for example, created an iPad app experience that extends beyond the routine in-room magazine. The brand leverages an iPad version of its magazine, The Pullman Magazine, to offer exclusive information to create a selective, and visual experience for frequent travellers.
Pullman’s iPad experience is seamless and intuitive, engaging travellers with unique, memorable content that truly delivers a white glove experience.
Loyalty feeds the funnel
Relevant recommendations and inspirational content coupled with the ease and convenience of a streamlined booking path will satisfy travellers at all points through their journey.
The key to a healthy booking funnel on mobile is understanding the bigger picture of how great content and inspirational experiences can drive loyalty and repeat purchase.
The travel brands that succeed on mobile will be those that look beyond single transactions and create a complete experience that meets multiple customer needs.