"There is a current fixation with mobile as a reservations distribution channel"

Travel Distribution Summit Europe 2008Mobile Travel Technologies (MTT) has developed mobile travel web capabilities for 100s of Utell hotels and has launched the UK's first full functionality mobile airline website for Silverjet in the recent past.

Published: 29 May 2008

Travel Distribution Summit Europe 2008

Mobile Travel Technologies (MTT) has developed mobile travel web capabilities for 100s of Utell hotels and has launched the UK's first full functionality mobile airline website for Silverjet in the recent past.

According to Gerry Samuels, founder & executive director, MTT, for mobile travel services the company has implemented for clients, MTT is already seeing 10% of the number of unique users on the regular website accessing the site on mobile. In the US, large carriers have over 100,000 unique accesses per month, which is growing by up to 20% per month.

"Despite the quality of phones improving, with the iPhone setting a new benchmark, what people want to access on a mobile is different to what they want to access on the web, so heavy travel site browsing on mobiles is not something we predict. Mobile travel services are more about accessing services whilst travellers are on the go," Samuels told EyeforTravel.com's Ritesh Gupta in an interview.

Samuels, who attended EyeforTravel's Travel Distribution Summit Europe 2008 last week in London, shared developments related to mobile phones and travel distribution, standardisation of browser technology and other issues. Excerpts:

Ritesh Gupta: If the success of the fixed-line Internet is anything to learn from, then mobile users need to be able to browse "consequence-free" before the medium shapes up to justify the large-scale development of mobile-oriented services online. How do you assess the situation from a mobile travel technology perspective? Is the lack of standardisation of browser technology as seen in fixed Internet is still a concern?

Gerry Samuels: In markets where there is a low cost to access the mobile Internet, for example the UK (1p per mobile screen accessed), there is high mobile Internet access, up to 30% of mobile phone subscribers. In other markets, where access costs can be 3-4 times that cost, access is lower.

In terms of standardisation, there still is and will be for a fair while yet, a lack of standardisation with multiple mobile operating systems (plus the arrival of Android and iPhone SDK), multiple mobile browsers, etc, there are thousands of variables to consider.

This is the raison d'etre of MTT – the benefit of our M2B mobile travel platform is that it takes away that concern from travel suppliers and intermediaries. It works on virtually all mobile phone devices (3,000+) and supports all the standard locale elements (date formats, number formats, language, time format, currencies etc) as well as non-Latin, double byte scripts and non left to right languages.

Ritesh Gupta: Couple of years back, you quoted an expert as saying – "we are moving away from viewing mobile technology as the next "cool" thing to an understanding that wireless communication is an essential part of the new travel process." How would assess the situation today considering mobile technology as a platform for distribution?

Gerry Samuels: There is a current fixation with mobile as a reservations distribution channel. In fact, in more developed markets, the role mobile plays is more about service tool, offering manage my booking and check in functions plus accessing travel information including such as hotel maps and directions.

However, in some developing markets, where mobile internet is 'the' Internet, we are seeing the development of mobile commerce, i.e. people making reservations on mobiles.

Ritesh Gupta: What kind of progress has MTT's advanced mobile travel technology platform called M2B made in the last year or so?

Gerry Samuels: The mobile airline website for Silverjet even offers graphical seat maps, in addition to booking functionality, with different versions dynamically generated to match the capabilities of the user's mobile device. (To access the Silverjet mobile site, enter flysilverjet.com into your mobile device's browser, or click on: http://tinyurl.com/5lo9gl - your PC browser requires Java).

We have worked with Pegasus to develop a new servicing channel for their hotels. We have also developed an SMS engine, which bridges the gap between online and mobile, using our M2B platform.

Combining these services means a customer can for example, book on the web, push the booking to their mobile device, then travel, retrieve their booking and see directions and maps to help them find their hotel. Finally we have developed on-handset applications.

Ritesh Gupta: When Pegasus and MTT had formed partnership last year, it was shared that in a test pilot performed by MTT, the mobile reservations technology helped hotels increase conversion rates for hotel promotions by more than 10%. In your opinion, has the hospitality industry embraced such potential openly (you may talk from Europe perspective)?

Gerry Samuels: Pegasus' hotel representation division, Utell Hotels & Resorts has launched Mobile.Utell.com, allowing hotel guests the ability to make reservations, check booking details and view hotel information via their mobile device.

In our opinion, travel suppliers, especially airlines and hotel chains have begun to embrace the mobile channel, however travel agents and travel management companies have been slower to.

Ritesh Gupta: Recently, Priceline.com launched a suite of mobile services that enable travelers with web-enabled wireless devices to search hotel inventories, pricing and availability in real-time, book rooms and check the status of their flights. Why do you think such developments are happening now (may be later than expected) when the OTAs aggressively eye last-minute travelers?

Gerry Samuels: Clearly now there is a critical mass of good quality mobile devices connected to the mobile internet at decent speeds to support the use of mobile travel services. In addition, mobile search engines such as Google.

Mobile is becoming incredibly popular and as an intermediary, if you don't have a mobile optimised site, you're not going to rank well in Google Mobile, so you won't rank well in searches such as 'late availability New York', for example.

Ritesh Gupta: How do your mobile applications and services from search engines have changed the equation as far as mobile phones and travel are concerned?

Gerry Samuels: People are using them for last minute bookings. If your site isn't listed then it won't be found by search engines.

Ritesh Gupta: The Open Handset Alliance, a group of more than 30 technology and mobile companies, is developing Android: the first complete, open, and free mobile platform. How do you see such developments providing a fillip to mobile + travel going forward?

Gerry Samuels: We need to wait and see. A few years ago there was excitement about the Symbian operating system. Google Android should be able to provide an ideal platform to integrate travel services with certain Google functionality such as Google Maps – 'Mobile Mashups'.

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