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Votes from 15,000 industry executives led to eight finalists in four categories and next week they go into the ring but it’s too close to call

Two industry veterans – Priceline’s Booking.com and Expedia’s Hotwire – will be going head-to-head next week in San Francisco for arguably the most coveted category of EyeforTravel’s Mobile Innovation in Travel awards – the ‘Best Mobile Travel User Experience’.

Data from our recent research backs this up: give your customers a poor user experience and chances are you’ve lost them forever.

Clearly not the approach of Booking.com and Hotwire! With access to vast amounts of big data, not to mention big development budgets, perhaps that’s no surprise. But what’s also clear is that if you want to survive and thrive in this competitive space, user experience really does count.

“When you work in an industry like ours, shaped by customer demand, you have to do two things: remain agile and have the ability to scale quickly when you find the formula to success – just like a startup. In fact, even though we have over 8,000 employees, we try to work in small, entrepreneurial teams,” Booking.com told EyeforTravel.

Quick to recognise that mobile is now at the heart of the user experience, Hotwire and booking.com haven’t wasted a moment.

Take Booking.com’s brand new mobile offering Booking Now is one example moving with the times. The firm states: “Rooted in and developed out of a deep understanding of proprietary customer data, the launch of Booking Now supports the growing importance of mobile when it comes to booking accommodations within 48 hours.”

According to Booking.com data, almost half of reservations worldwide are made within 48 hours and are booked on a mobile device.

That’s an incredible shift.

And one that Booking.com is taking seriously and is acutely focused on the big trends of the day: personalisation localisation and relevance. The app:

  • Personalises real-time search results based on the unique traveller profile created by each first-time user
  • Takes into account specific accommodation preferences, such as desired price range and options like parking, breakfast and WiFi
  • Presents users with the most relevant available accommodation suggestions based on their profile and within their defined location
  • Uses predictive analytics to become more personalised, as frequency of use increases

A hard act to follow you may well argue. So, the competition for Hotwire is – well – hot.

But the discount travel website is also taking mobile seriously, and a recent update of its mobile Android app shows its metal. Over two million travellers have downloaded the app and the group says it has witnessed a 37% increase in mobile hotel bookings. Hotwire told EyeforTravel that “it’s important to really understand who your audience is and how they would be using your app”.

Also tapping into an of-the-moment industry trend, HotWire’s Android app “leverages native map functionality in hotel results, details and confirmation pages”.

What the firm has aimed to do is make it easier for travellers to see the map and the detail list on one page. Hotwire achieves this by actively gathering and accumulating data via mobile device to deliver personalised, relevant information. That means providing customers that have opted in, location information to show nearby facilities.

Interactive, smooth, useful and an app with the minimal tap is how Hotwire seems to be positioning itself.

But which of these two household names will come out tops in the user experience race? We’ll find out next week.

More battles to be fought

In the ‘Best Mobile in Travel Solution’, Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT), another industry veteran, goes up against self-funded mTrip, which launched in 2010 and has been profitable ever since.  

Founded in 1994, innovation certainly isn’t new for CWT, but it has certainly recognised the need to keep innovating. Establishing a new corporate innovation team was a deliberate way to drive this forward. Amy Ludwig, Director, Product Management Mobile CWT says the group is constantly looking at evolving, developing and using the latest technology by listening to what clients need and want. That’s led to the introduction of mobile hotel booking app CWT To Go in 2014, and one for air and ground transportation is expected this year.

But the agility and a freshness of a relative newbie could be what gives mTrip the edge in this category.

It’s too close to call so we asked mTrip CEO Frederic de Pardieu why he leads this race. “Even though nearly 85% of travellers bring their mobile device with them on their trip, most travel operators currently don’t offer any application or post-sale support. Over the next five years we expect to see rapid adoption of mobile technologies among travel operators and we see ourselves being a leader in providing them with mobile solutions.”

Last but not least is the category of ‘best mobile travel strategy’, where hotel group Ritz Carlton and car rental industry solution Silvercar are finalists - two quite different firms, but both with a strong focus on location technology. The use of location-based data to enhance a guest’s experience in-stay has certainly been a key thrust for Ritz Carlton (read more in this White Paper).

Having said that, nothing is a given in this fast-changing industry as Silvercar’s growth proves. According to the company it has witnessed 1,000 app downloads a day and 30% month-on-month growth in the last year.

“Silvercar is an app that puts you in the driver’s seat and manages your entire experience from reservation to return-it even unlocks the car for you,” says Amber Soletti, Director of Marketing and Communications for Silvercar.

With venture capitalists lining up to take their stake, including a personal investment from Eduardo Saverin, one of Facebook’s co-founders, it seems to be a mobile strategy that is working.

Like HotWire and booking.com the finalists for the ‘best mobile travel app’ are not newcomers to the travel scene, as we reported last week. But TripCase by Sabre and TripIt by Concur also prove that innovation is alive and well, and that giving travellers the right information at the right time really does matter.

Like we said, it’s just too close to call.

Join us next week March 23rd in San Francisco for the EyeforTravel’s Mobile Innovation in Travel Awards grand finale!

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