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The future may be mobile but there is still work to do and the journey may be a bumpy one, writes Pamela Whitby

“Embarrassingly behind,” is how Bob Healy, the outspoken chief technology officer of CarTrawler, describes the mobile strategy of a large chunk of the travel industry but adds the good news is that “it’s catching up very quickly”.

That’s because “the inflection point of mobile adoption has finally arrived,” an overriding theme that has emerged from the B2B tech platform’s close to 100 airline customers.

Better still, mobile platforms will continue to improve over the course of the coming year. Ryanair’s app, for example, is already the most downloaded app in Europe.

As a technology platform that connects travel businesses including OTAs, airlines and accommodation providers to all forms of ground transportation, CarTrawler must understand emerging technology trends. And from it’s own business, the case for mobile is clear. “Our own traffic is now close to 50% mobile,” Healy says, “and for the past three years we’ve treated mobile web and native as a totally separate architecture, use case and investment to our desktop products”.

 
Bob Healy, CTO
CarTrawler 
 

Mobile is a theme playing out across the travel industry. According to Andrew Shelton, MD of Cheapflights, 60% of their demand is now coming from mobile devices, leading him to believe that “portable travel search will be the biggest step change in travel in 2017”.

Firms are also seeing more bookings made via mobile, especially in the last minute, says San Francisco-based Henrik Kjellberg the president of Hotwire. In 2016, the US-based low-cost OTA saw as many as 50% of its bookings made via mobile in 2016. And with the move to bigger screens, many brands believe that higher conversions could be on the cards.

While mobile may be coming of age, Jamie Andrews, the co-founder of rail metasearch Loco2, says the app landscape is also becoming increasingly competitive. “Yes, users will be more willing than ever to make purchases on mobile, but at the same time they will be more reluctant to delete existing apps to make way for new ones, as device storage becomes scarce,” he says.

In his view brands need to make ongoing investments in the mobile user experience, but also “be aware that price is likely to be the only differentiator capable of causing disruption”.

users will be more willing than ever to make purchases on mobile, but at the same time they will be more reluctant to delete existing apps to make way for new ones

Jamie Andrews, co-founder, Loco2

What’s clear is that brands need to think carefully about their mobile strategy and on this score there is still work to do. “User behavior is very different on mobile,” says Healy, “yet many companies are simply creating mobile versions of their desktop”.

7 mobile lessons include:

#1: Treat mobile web and native as a totally separate architecture and use case to desktop products

#2. Understand that user behaviour is very different on a mobile so don’t simply recreate a desktop driven version for mobile

#3. Only offer customers the best, most comprehensive selection of relevant products for their needs. In CarTrawler’s case, for example, this has meant the ability to sell every single product the travelling customer may need (outside of air) at every stage of the journey – hence the move to add CabForce. 

#4. Try selling different products at different times and use push selling alongside normal user-driven behaviour such as search/choose/buy

#5. Track customers across multiple devices, but also across several channels and even where don’t control the user interface (eg. metasearch). A focus on channel attribution is crucial to any ancillary revenue strategy!

#6. Don’t scrimp on customer service - it’s a very false economy

#7. Invest in professional external user testing – even if you’re a tech company. “It’s actually expensive as hell but we do feel it’s worth the cost. It shuts up the HiPPO!”

[The name of this hefty African animal is an acronym for the ‘Highest Paid Person’s Opinion’ – the overpaid, opinionated, often powerful in-house member of staff who comes in and contradicts the results of focus groups, customer surveys, and extensive data analysis.]

People are now sick of hearing about AI and bots, so I think they’ll actually start doing something in that space rather than just talking about it

Healy

Joining the chatbot and artificial intelligence (AI) race was what dominated headlines in 2017 but this year Healy believes that mobile and mobile-related announcements will get the most noise. “People are now sick of hearing about AI and bots, so I think they’ll actually start doing something in that space rather than just talking about it. A lot of companies, who I won’t name though I’d love to, were guilty of an over-exaggerated product/reality quotient this last 12 months!”

To end on an even more contrarian note, Healy final point is this: “I think Google will continue to make moves to screw its entire advertiser base by capturing and extending its monopoly into the top of the travel planning funnel. The EU will get more teeth but Trump will weigh in and it might get mighty fun, and ugly.”

Join us in San Francisco (April 24-25) for the EyeforTravel San Francisco Summit  to hear more useful mobile lessons from the biggest and most innovative names in travel

EyeforTravel's San Francisco Summit 2017

April 2017, San Francisco

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