Opinions: 

Travel Tech

Of all the names associated with the field of tourism, Expedia must be one of the most well-known and influential. The travel booking site generated revenue of over $4 billion last year. This indicates the extent to which everyday consumers are turning to online sources in order to book travel and tourist trips.

With Expedia offering a diverse range of products and services to consumers, it seems likely that the company will grow still more in the future. From its relatively meagre beginnings, Expedia has expanded rapidly, and the authoritative business website Forbes ranked the travel site along the top 2,000 corporations on the planet in 2014.

It is therefore well worth paying attention to the opinion of Expedia on any travel-related subject. So a recent report produced by the company on what it describes as “the mobilised travel consumer” will certainly be of interest to tourism-related companies. The report examines the way that modern travellers are utilising mobile devices. Understanding the new mobile landscape, as well as how travel consumers participate with it, is vital for marketers who want to reach and meaningfully engage with these consumers.

Mobile Growth

The report firstly notes that mobile ownership is increasing rapidly, both in the United States and Europe. In the US, 172 million people own a smartphone; this represents the 22 percent increase from this time last year. It is also well over half of the US population. There are 93 million US consumers who currently own a tablet, and this has increased by 36 percent year-on-year. It is also clear from the report that consumers in both Britain and the United States are spending an increasing amount of time utilising mobile devices, while desktop use declines in parallel.

Not only are mobile users increasing, but this captive audience is utilising mobile devices to engage with travel opportunities. According to the Expedia report, of the 156 million people in the US who engage with digital travel content, 90 percent of monthly travel visitors use their smartphone or tablet. Similarly, two-thirds of all British travel site visitors access websites via mobile devices, and one-quarter of UK consumers have now completely abandoned their desktops in favour of solely mobile access to travel sites.

And as mobile technology becomes more sophisticated, user experience for mobile users improves. This incentivises mobile consumers to utilise the platforms on a more regular basis, and this trend is also reflected in the Expedia survey.

According to the report in question, in the UK 70 percent of those who booked travel via a smartphone would do so again, while the figure is even higher in the US, touching 80 percent. Travel marketers should note the increasing satisfaction with mobile devices and developing technology, coupled with their inherent convenience means that consumers are utilising mobile ever more frequently in order to book tourist trips.

Multiple Devices

It is also important for travel marketers to note that consumers are utilising multiple mobile devices in order to make travel decisions and ultimately book trips. Modern households have a broad range of device choices to make, and this is reflected in travel-related booking behaviour. In the United States, no less than 65 percent of households actually own three or more mobile devices, while one-in-three have five or more devices.

Thus, it hardly comes as a huge surprise that this multi-device environment is affecting consumer behaviour. Many customers now fluctuate between desktop and mobile devices on a regular basis, using them almost interchangeably. This means that digital marketers must ensure that campaigns and website resources are aligned to all possible device types.

And not only are travel customers utilising a wide variety of devices, but it is also possible to recognise, according to the Expedia survey, that consumers tend to opt for different devices at different times of the day. But digital marketers should note that smartphones seem to be constant companions of travel consumers. In the evenings at home, lightweight tablets are popular for browsing and leisure activities. And Expedia notes that a huge amount of travel planning takes place on desktop machines at people’s places of work.

Although most travel purchases continue to be made in via desktop computers, Expedia research indicates that mobile purchases peak during the evening hours. Tablets can also be utilised widely to book tourist trips during PM hours, and thus it might be advisable for digital marketers to shift messaging and strategy as days progress.

Mobile Future

The shift of consumers towards mobile devices is undoubtedly an opportunity for marketers, but it also provides a glimpse into the way that travel will be planned and booked in the future. Multi-device research and booking will become increasingly prominent in the future, and travel-related companies would also do well to note that the release of the Apple Watch in April could lead to further diversification of the market. Certainly future reports could indicate changes in the patterns of behaviour in the travel marketplace once smartwatches become a significant niche.

The growth of multi-device usage by consumers across all stages of the travel decision-making process, from the initial envisaging of a trip, through research, booking, buying, and modifying existing plans, means that travel advertisers must be prepared to engage with the consumer from wherever (s)he chooses. A consistent and fluently delivered message across all digital media must also be considered imperative.

With regard to the modern purchasing funnel, this indicates a fluctuating journey between desktop and mobile devices, and back and forth once more. Consumers are already displaying behaviour which suggests that they are increasingly comfortable with researching and purchasing via mobile devices, but this often forms merely part of an overall purchasing journey in the tourist industry.

Multi-Platform Digital Advertising Strategies

Expedia suggests that consumers will utilise multiple devices and switch between them at various parts of the day, and this does necessitate a cohesive marketing strategy which encompasses all devices. Such a strategy must also take into consideration the fact that consumers are likely to be utilising different devices at different times of the day, so consumers must be reached via multiple platforms, while messaging and strategy must shift along different media lines at different times of the day.

It is important to note that of the 500 million travel-related advertisements which are delivered to consumers every month, three-quarters of them are viewed on screens which are less than 75 percent of the size of a traditional desktop PC. This suggests that digital marketers and advertisers would be sensible to place messages within responsive web environments.

It is important to note that the overwhelming majority of consumers who have booked via mobile indicated that they intend to repeat this process, so advertisers are strongly incentivised to attempt to get in touch with these platforms. Unquestionably, mobile-specific targeting and planning around mobile searching should form a central part of digital marketing strategy for all tourist companies. This information is particularly relevant for advertisers targeting business and luxury travellers, who have displayed the highest intentional click-through rates on ads in the mobile arena.

Modern Mobile Landscape

Although the mobile landscape may seem daunting to companies, advertisers and marketers that are uninitiated with it, one cannot overemphasise that this will be a critical marketplace in the future. Already the 4G network standard is ensuring that ever more immersive content can be delivered via mobile platforms, and this will only intensify in the future.

Already there are rumours that 2015 will see the first mass market 4K resolution smartphone, and this absorbing technology will once more up the ante of the capabilities of mobile devices. To put this into perspective, most people who currently utilise desktop PCs rarely access 4K resolution, and although televisions are available which display content in this level of detail, very few consumers own them, and there is even less mainstream content available at this point in time.

So although mobile is already established as a major part of the tourism industry, we have probably in reality only experienced the tip of the iceberg thus far. While many consumers and everyday members of the public utilise mobile devices on a regular basis, it is also particularly important to note that the number of people solely relying on mobile devices for web access is increasing.

Thus, targeting mobile platforms effectively will become an absolutely central facet of digital marketing strategy in the future, and it is vital for travel-related companies to truly understand this medium. The Expedia report is a good starting point towards this goal, and the full report can be accessed here.

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