Opinion: Mobile hype does not live up to its promise

Opinion: Mobile hype does not live up to its promise

By Steve Endacott, chief executive On Holiday Group

At a recent World Travel Market round-table on mobile run in conjunction with Travel Weekly sister publication Travolution we debated one of the latest buzzwords in the industry ‘mobile first’.

This is where companies put mobile at the heart of their development program by developing for mobile first, rather than retro fitting development on to mobile platforms.

Soon 75% of the UK population will own a smartphone, and the 20% growth Google has seen in search volumes in 2013 has all come from mobile. So how could you possible ignore this?

Simply, mobile just makes the internet much more assessable to customers, allowing them to fill dead time interacting with their phones 120 times a day, apparently, or sitting on the couch at home using tablets.

However, the advent of mobile presents travel companies with masses of complexity and problems beyond even the non-trivial requirement to introduce websites that scale depending on screen size, offer different search processes based on device recognition and move to a recommendation basis offering two to three offers rather than hundreds of results.

Online search has always been a highly trackable advertising method, using ‘cookies’ or ‘mookies’ (the mobile version of cookies).

These allow attribution so that advertisers can track customers through the entire booking process, giving credit to early stage searches that do not result in a booking, but crucially introduce customers to an advertiser’s brand in the first place.

But mobile breaks this flow, because it has introduced multiple platforms.

Customers often complete complex holiday bookings on the desktop which is a ‘lean forward’ technology suited to data input, that may have originated on a phone or more likely, in my opinion, tablets which I regard as a lean back technology more suited to researching holidays while sitting on the couch.

So unless you’re a major brand that can afford to take the gamble that mobile phone advertising builds brand awareness and early stage interaction, its very hard to justify it.

At the moment mobile does not deliver an effective return on investment (ROI) and I am not convinced OTAs should adopt a mobile phone first approach.

Tablets are a completely different story.

Their simplicity of use and always-open mode has led to a a surge in housewives and silver surfers bypassing desktop and using these as their platform of choice to access the internet.

Unlike phones, the screen real estate makes it relatively simple to adapt existing travel sites, with a few minor tweaks to get over clumsy finger syndrome and gives direct access to the core holiday decision makers in the family – women.

Currently high roaming charges mean that 60% of customers travelling on holiday turn off data roaming and the ability to access the internet.

However, the massive increase in Wi-Fi access in hotels, restaurants and coffee shops, along with impending European legislation aimed at reducing roaming charges should soon remove this barrier.

Once the issue of roaming charges have been solved, mobile provides a great opportunity for OTAs to extend their holiday offering with in-resort services via the phone.

At the moment OTAs suffer from the ‘tarmac wave’ where they send customers on holiday and just have to hope that they have a good time.

They have no real ability to interact with customers while they are on holiday, unlike the traditional tour operators who have in-resort infrastructures and reps.

Moving forward OTAs will be able to offer phone-based support tools. These may be as simple as restaurant recommendations, local taxi numbers or maps marking all local attractions, delivered on their phones either on a cached basis or via live streaming.

So, in summary, I believe mobile represents another major evolution of how people access and use the Internet.

But in terms of driving holiday bookings I do not see the ROI on mobile phone advertising at present and will be avoiding it.

In many ways mobile reminds me of the explosion of social media.

We all know it’s an opportunity, but so far nobody has found a way to commercially use it to sell holidays, irrespective of the marketing hype it receives.

The above article is reproduced from the personal blog of Steve Endacott, On Holiday Group chief executive


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