Interview with Rob Torres, managing director for Travel, GoogleBy Ritesh Gupta The usage of mobile phones for travel planning and booking continues to be on the rise. This trend is gaining prominence especially with tangible results being shared by various travel companies.
Published: 13 May 2010
Interview with Rob Torres, managing director for Travel, Google
By Ritesh Gupta
The usage of mobile phones for travel planning and booking continues to be on the rise. This trend is gaining prominence especially with tangible results being shared by various travel companies.
For instance, in a recent interview with EyeforTravel, InterContinental Hotels Group shared that the group’s statistics show that roughly 70 percent of mobile web bookings are same day compared to 11 percent via the web.
Also, when a company like Google takes an initiative, that arena has to be followed closely. In the recent past, Google unveiled a mobile feature that allows advertisers to add a clickable local phone number to mobile paid search ads.
Providing an insight into the same, Rob Torres, managing director for Travel, Google, Inc., says this will be a huge opportunity for travel marketers, especially national advertisers that are experimenting with mobile advertising and remain focused on transparent, performance-based solutions.
“We are already seeing great results from marketers who have added a phone number to their mobile ads. Overall marketers are seeing anywhere from 5-30% increase in CTR by adding a phone number to their ad text. In a recent case study we found that calls from Google Mobile ads were 22% more likely to be relevant than calls from other lead sources and were 31% more likely to result in a booking,” Torres told EyeforTravel’s Ritesh Gupta.
With over 20 years of travel industry experience, Torres serves as Google’s MD of advertising and marketing for the North American Travel sector. In this role, he oversees the strategy development and profitable growth of integrated and innovative advertising campaigns. His group serves some of the largest wWeb and brick-and-mortar travel brands in the US.
Torres, who is scheduled to speak at the Online Marketing Strategies for Travel USA conference, which will take place in Miami (2-3 June), spoke about the usage of mobile devices among consumers in the US and other critical issues. Excerpts:
Ritesh Gupta: How do consumers wish to engage with travel companies via mobile in a market like the U.S.?
Rob Torres: Currently, US consumers are primarily using their mobile devices to look up driving directions, flight status and restaurant information. However, this is changing quickly. A recent Forrester study found that 15% of leisure travellers are using their mobile device to research hotel availability and 9% are using the device to book air and hotel travel. In fact, you read more articles and case studies every day about success that companies are having with driving bookings through the mobile platform; just consider how Marriott continued to report ROI gains through their mobile channel during the deep period of recession at the end of 2008 and how PhoCusWright is projecting mobile travel bookings to grow to ~$160M in just two years. As more travel companies create mobile specific sites with booking capability, I believe it is very likely that the current percentage of consumers booking in this manner will continue to grow correspondingly.
It is recommended that mobile travel information and booking services need to be quick, easy, and light on data transfer. Do you think this is really the case right now?
Rob Torres: Overall, booking services are definitely not operating easily and smoothly today; but this is where a major opportunity lies.
The travel industry has always placed adoption of new technology at the bottom of the priority list; thus, the development of a mobile web site is often overlooked as the foundational step of being engaged in the Mobile space. I believe that our industry is truly missing the boat so far; travel companies need to consider a mobile, commerce-enabled site as an additional revenue stream and make it a forward-looking element of their 2010 distribution strategy. Of course, when creating a mobile site, there are a few things to remember: the purchase process needs to be simple, fewer clicks leads to better user retention, functionality and text should be specific to mobile phones rather than desktop computers.
Remember, mobile is not desktop; marketers should not think that they can just push out their desktop assets to mobile and see success. Improvements in the ease and simplicity of the Mobile booking process (autofill properties, advanced mobile web design) are available as building blocks of a great Mobile campaign. Marketers who are aware of a few key principles and these advancing capabilities, will be able to truly capture the opportunity that exists in mobile bookings today.
What according to you are the new trends as far as the development of applications or tools, which facilitate travellers’ planning and booking process, are concerned?
Rob Torres: We are seeing a large amount of travel advertisers adding booking functionality to their mobile applications, as mobile is proving to be a powerful distribution channel. Travelers may enjoy applications that inform or enhance the travel experience, but they are often really looking for the full product functionality; if users can book on your website, they will expect to book through your application, so you’d better be ready to meet that need. Don’t know what consumers are expecting about your brand in the mobile arena? Go and listen to some of the blogs, such as FlyerTalk, to hear what consumers expect from you. Remember that there is value in application downloads beyond the booking as well; users who download and play in applications are the most highly engaged mobile users overall, making them a prime market for loyalty efforts. In regard to promoting your application, we are seeing that targeted ad campaigns with clear ad text driving users to download work well, as do ads that appear in other relevant applications to capture users already taking part in this behavior.
Up until now, in-destination booking was done either over the phone or by walk-in, and there was very poor visibility and transparency into what was available for the mobile traveller. Location-aware apps, in particular those using augmented-reality literally surround you with real-time results. Do you think this will greatly increase traveller spontaneity and adventurousness?
Rob Torres: This type of application, based on location and participation in one’s environment, is certainly going to open up a whole new channel of distribution for those marketers who do it well.
When you take time to create technology of this sort, you are saying to your customers: We care about more than just the booking - We care about your experience with our product and we care about travel. That is a powerful statement to make in today’s get-it-done world and I believe that consumers will respond favorably. Take a look at what Hotels.com just launched: www.virtualvacay.com. VirtualVacation from Hotels.com, an augmented reality microsite, gives consumers the opportunity to 'travel' to New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington D.C., Las Vegas, San Francisco, New Orleans, Denver, San Diego, and Seattle – from their computers. Users are given the opportunity to modify local landmarks, customise street signs, land a plane at the airport, and even insert themselves into a postcard and send to friends and family through social networking sites. Alongside this fun information, the site also provides users with practical trip planning information such as local weather, event information, and special deals in each city. Hotels.com has carefully constructed a mobile-based app and site that work smoothly to present a fun, convenient, and useful experience. Very Cool!
What do you think are the pros and cons at this stage which one needs to consider to ensure mobile-related efforts get optimal results?
Rob Torres: Well, to begin with I want to remind folks that it’s no longer: Should I build for Mobile or not. You have to be developing and preparing to capture the traffic that is coming through the Mobile channel to flourish in tomorrow’s travel space. Phocuswright predicts that US travelers will spend $76 million on direct domestic hotel bookings through a mobile device this year.
Google is seeing that mobile Hotel queries have grown almost 3000% in three short years. So, although there are some developing, not quite fully-baked parts of the platform, mobile is a must. Let’s get that straight. To ensure your efforts get optimal results, it comes back to the idea of treating the mobile platform as just that – mobile. Marketers should consider how the information from a mobile phone can more fully inform them about their users. Use the location functionality of a phone to provide relevant, location-based ads and information about your company. 1 in 3 queries on a mobile phone has local intent, indicating a powerful desire on the part of consumers for location-specific information. Focusing on location is just one of the ways to best use mobile capability to drive optimal consumer response to your efforts.
The choice of hotel for most people is an involved process – location, facilities, brand, price all have a role to play especially when people are choosing their annual holiday. This perhaps makes it more suitable for PC-based browsing. What’s your opinion regarding mobile screen vs PC debate?
Rob Torres: National advertisers that are experimenting with mobile advertising and remain focused on transparent, performance-based solutions are not approaching this as an either-or question; they are doing both. The first evidence of strong preference for mobile-driven bookings is apparent in the anecdotal success we are seeing in the drive-up or extra-night market in the hotel space. That is to say, consumers are using mobile to book an additional night at a hotel that they are already staying at. They are also using mobile for the drive-up booking, when on the road or on the move and in quick need of a booking at an upcoming location. Additionally, Google has seen major success of call center bookings driven by ads with phone numbers in them.
How do you think the carriers have addressed bandwidth-related issues and supported the continued demand growth?
Rob Torres: The capabilities of carriers are somewhat beyond our grasp, so the best thing we can do as marketers is develop applications that are functional in themselves, and develop those applications across multiple platforms to achieve comprehensive inclusion on a variety of carriers. Android has become a major focus for users, as the open development of application allows for major creativity and massive growth. Apps like 3DCoche, an augmented reality app that helps you find your car by projecting the car’s position on top of the camera view from your mobile phone, or TripJournal, an easy way to document your travel experiences and automatically track your itinerary in real time. Did you know that the average Android user has over 40 applications on his or her phone and 25% of Android users spend 2 or more hours a day in applications? Android is also becoming more and more critical for marketers, as the platform is already #2 for mobile web browsing on US smartphones.
Google has unveiled a mobile feature that allows advertisers to add a clickable local phone number to mobile paid search ads. How do you expect this feature to shape up in the time to come?
Rob Torres: This will be a huge opportunity for travel marketers, especially national advertisers that are experimenting with mobile advertising and remain focused on transparent, performance-based solutions. We are already seeing great results from marketers who have added a phone number to their mobile ads. Overall marketers are seeing anywhere from 5-30% increase in CTR by adding a phone number to their ad text. In a recent case study, we found that calls from Google Mobile ads were 22% more likely to be relevant than calls from other lead sources and were 31% more likely to result in a booking.
Rob Torres, managing director for Travel, Google is scheduled to speak at the Online Marketing Strategies for Travel USA conference which will take place in Miami (2-3 June).
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