Mobile and the Travel Consumer


by Michael Della Penna

Since so many consumers use mobile devices to check-in to flights, book rooms and look at maps, it’s crucial for marketers in the travel industry to offer strong mobile experiences.

Summer is in full swing and according to the U.S. Travel Association, the busiest travel days of the year are “Fridays, June, July and August.” Add in the occasional weather delay, and efforts to extend the weekends a day or two, and more likely than not, most of us will face a few bad travel days. As a result, more and more Americans will turn to their mobile devices to navigate life’s little bumps and accomplish nearly everything while on the road.

But as is so often the case, brand investments in the mobile channel lag actual consumer behavior and way too many companies are under-investing. In fact, most marketers eyed mobile with uncertainty and trepidation when it first emerged on their radar several years ago.

Doing so, many marketers chose to treat it as a separate channel, with its own small budget, plans, and resources. As a result, most marketers’ mobile efforts were limited in scope and included building a mobile-friendly website to essentially check the box.

Fast forward a few years, and the stats and consumer trends reveal a new reality as consumers increasingly flock to their mobile devices during the dog days of summer and beyond. In fact, if you’re a travel marketer, the opportunity to maximize each and every mobile moment has never been richer and more important.

Here’s why:

The Go-To Channel

Travel consumers are increasingly turning to their mobile devices and having just a mobile-friendly site is no longer enough. Think and operate as if the world was mobile-only.

For the first six months of 2014, more than 40 percent of Americans booked a travel reservation on a mobile device, up more than 20 percent from the same period in 2013.

Apps Utility Expanding

Expanding functionality and integration into existing loyalty programs continues to accelerate engagement and usage among travel consumers.

  • Accessing maps and directions is the No. 1 mobile activity (81 percent), according to a recent study by Adobe.
  • Travel consumers increasingly want to be self-sufficient, with 84 percent indicating that they want to use their smartphones to choose their own rooms.
  • 46 percent of leisure travelers and 61 percent of business travelers use a smartphone to check-in to flights.

App Growth & Engagement Increasing

Given that apps are doing more, it’s not surprising that growth and engagement are increasing for brands serious about embracing mobile. In fact, for many market leaders, total app downloads have already surpassed their social community audiences – specifically, Facebook Likes and Twitter followers.

Since apps provide brands so much insight into user engagement – as well as invaluable data, such as location – it’s easy to see why many brands are starting to invest heavily in building and promoting their apps. There is little doubt that mobile will quickly become the top channel in reach and engagement for many travel brands.


Mobile Technology Investment Is Growing and Fuels Better Experiences

Leading travel companies from around the world are investing heavily in mobile technology to differentiate their brands.

Among the most vocal has been Hilton Hotels, which last year announced a plan to spend $500 million on mobile technology, allowing guests to easily book rooms, check-in and unlock doors from their mobile devices. The functionality is now available at more than 4,000 Hiltons worldwide, across 11 brands in more than 80 countries via members’ Hilton HHonors accounts.

Similar investments are also being made by market leaders Starwood, Marriott, Hyatt and IHG, as well as major airlines. In fact, many travel brands are extending those investments to upgrade Wi-Fi capabilities, test beacons, and implement strategies and efforts that tie data, decisioning and deployment capabilities together.

The data doesn’t lie: the new mobile reality is forcing marketers within the travel industry and beyond to rethink the customer journey, as consumers increasingly expect and demand seamless, high-quality mobile experiences. Convinced your brand needs to spend more, but don’t know where to start? Check out my last column, The 5 Imperatives for Mobile Success, for tips on how to get started so you, too, can maximize each and every mobile moment.