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How the travel industry can stay ahead of the curve in mobile

By
January 25, 2013

Nowadays many major airline and hotel brands have a mobile presence that is aimed at driving reservations and bookings. However, more marketers need to be thinking outside the box to take the travel experience to another level.

Travelers rely on their mobile devices to stay connected while on the go when they may not have ready access to a desktop computer, which opens up a big opportunity for marketers. Now that mobile bookings are table stakes, marketing efforts need to be more comprehensive.

“The travel industry has been successful with basic mobile services,” said Gary Schwartz, author of “The Impulse Economy” and “Fast Shopper, Slow Store.”

“It is, by definition, servicing a very mobile consumer,” he said. “This subscriber base is made up of loyalists who require utilitarian mobile applications and mobile tickets. In this respect this industry has a significant edge over many other verticals.”

“Although necessary, this is a very vertical implementation of mobile. The more challenging opportunity for the travel industry is to follow their traveler.”

Travel on mobile
Over the past year, brands have continued to heavily invest in mobile as more consumers take to their smartphones and tablets as their primary device.

However, not many are taking an innovative approach with initiatives that solely focus on commerce or loyalty programs.

Take the airline industry, for example. As in-flight Wi-Fi becomes available on more airlines, more marketers should leverage the technology to keep travelers entertained.

To tap into this opportunity, several airline brands have developed apps for the iPad.

Delta recently launched an iPad app that can be used as an in-flight companion tool for travelers with a feature that lets users learn more about areas that they are flying over with social media, maps and online content.

The app also pulls in a digital version of its branded magazine (see story).


The Fly Delta iPad app

Additionally, American Airlines is also experimenting with in-flight Wi-Fi with an iPad app that lets travelers challenge each other with mobile gaming (see story).

Location location location 
Mobile is all about creating a one-on-one relationship with consumers.

Therefore, taking advantage of a device’s built-in GPS gives marketers a particularly strong advantage in activating mobile throughout the travel experience, per Mr. Schwartz.

“Take a lesson from Samsung’s media footprint in the airport and see how the industry can more effectively activate its media,” Mr. Schwartz said. “Every part of the travel journey should allow for mobile activation using the phone to tap, scan and text.”

These types of mobile interactions can take place everywhere from an airport to a hotel lobby.

As long as the message is contextually-relevant, location-based offers also offer marketers a way to tailor marketing to a group of engaged, opted-in consumers.

For example, a fast food restaurant inside an airport could use a geo-targeted mobile ad that is tied with a time-sensitive deal to drive foot traffic when consumers are likely looking for a quick meal.

This could then be combined with technology such as near-field communication or a mobile wallet to let users pay via their phones.

Stay on mobile
Hotel and accommodation brands are another example of an industry that has increased its emphasis in mobile as an additional revenue stream.

With online travel agencies also ramping up their mobile presence, hotel brands have relied on loyalty programs to drive bookings.

However, brands should also be looking at how to leverage photos and recommendations more seamlessly into their mobile apps and sites as a way for consumers to learn more about a hotel virtually.

Additionally, hotels should look at how to bundle multiple pieces of information into one place to help with fragmentation, according to Jared Simon, cofounder/chief operating officer at HotelTonight, San Francisco.

“We’ve never been big fans of the fragmented travel experience as it now exists,” Mr. Simon said.

“Research on one service, book using another, track your trips on a third and review your experience on another – we’ve all grown used to that experience when traveling,” he said.

“Mobile devices provide ubiquitous access and allow for personalization far beyond the Web, and we’ve only scratched the surface at this point.”

With a universal mobile app or site, restaurant reservations and other types of activity could automatically be synched with a hotel stay and changed in real-time to accommodate for a traveler’s often spur-of-the-moment changes.

“In order to truly push the boundaries of what can be accomplished on mobile devices, developers need to dedicate teams to mobile exclusively, and allow them to develop without the confines of an existing PC-based business,” Mr. Simon said.

“The possibilities are limitless, and that vision is what drives us to innovate every day,” he said.

Final Take
Lauren Johnson is associate reporter on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York

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