Like an artist surveying a blank canvas, Kayak CEO Steve Hafner and his technophile minions just love the fact that smartphone screens are getting bigger, and these out-sized homescreens are likely to play a pumped-up role for travelers as they switch from phone to laptop and tablet, and back again.
From dining reservations platform OpenTable to hotel-booker and review site TripAdvisor and La Quinta Inns & Suites, the CEOs of these companies and others are investing lots of dough and people-power into changing the way travelers use their smartphones and tablets to make trips more sleek and elegant.
Or — more accurately — they are responding to the game-changing new ways consumers are using their mobile devices in order to provide new features and services to ease and speed various aspects of your planning and actual travel experiences.
We caught up with 10 online travel agency and hotel CEOs, as well as an executive chairman to see what their companies are up to in terms of rolling out the next phase in mobile innovations.
1. Paying the Check
OpenTable CEO Matthew Roberts on a nouveau dining experience: “Very few people like the dance of flagging the waiter down. The waiter comes, you give him the credit card, he walks back. My wife and I are sitting there saying, OK, we are going to be late for getting back and relieving the sitter.
“That’s not a fun part of the evening. What we’ve created is a very seamless experience that when you are ready to go you just take out your OpenTable app, you can review what you’ve ordered, you can leave a tip, and get up and walk out.”
2. Tracking What You Searched
Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi on tracking your searches: “We see our users now shop across more sites than ever before. A user who’s doing a flight search will be doing over 40 flight searches before booking a flight. And we are seeing users shop across multiple devices they book. Where we see today around 40% of our users using multiple devices to book.”
“So you are really moving from a single device pull world to a multi-device push world. And, that for us is where we see ScratchPad going. We know that users search a lot so that it allows you to store all of your searches within the Expedia framework. We know that they are searching across different devices so whatever device you are searching from if you are logged in, with your cookie, we are going to track those searches.
“So if you are on your phone and you are interrupted, and you go to your PC you can see those searches. And then what we are doing, as far as pull going to push is, once a user pulls from us — say they are interested in a New York shop, for example — we are going then going to do the shopping for you.
“For example, you can ask us to send you an email everyday, showing you the price changes of flights and hotels. We are going to extend this to every single product that’s available on Expedia in a push manner so you don’t have to constantly come back and search and shop and shop. We can do that for you.”
3. Bigger Is Better
Kayak CEO Stephen Hafner on smartphone screens and TV: “You can always do more with a bigger screen. I think like with TVs, they just got bigger over time. It used to be that people thought a 13-inch screen was big, then a 20-inch screen, then a 27. Now we are looking at 70-inch screens and bigger.
“I don’t think mobile phones will go that big. I just upgraded from an iPhone 4 to an iPhone 6. There’s no way I would go back. My guess is that a year from now if I were using a 6 Plus there’s no way I’d go back to a 6. I think it is just natural that over time people will gravitate to a larger screen size and that’s good for all of us.
“The trend is that people are consuming content or conducting their queries over multiple devices and platforms. As a result it used to be your home PC got 50% of your queries and your work PCs got the other 50% and you deleted your cookies on both every 30 days. But now what is happening is you are doing a search on your home PC, then you go into your tablet, then you go into your smartphone, then you go to your work PC. Our ability to see all your behavior is a lot harder now than it used to be.”
4. Striving for a Perfect Trip
Concur Technologies CEO Steve Singh on mobile apps for road warriors: “Say I’d like to book a trip from Seattle to San Francisco. And then I want my phone to make a recommendation on hotels based upon my pattern, based upon my company policy. If my flight is delayed, I shouldn’t have to pick up my phone and call somebody to change flights. Why can’t there be a recommendation pushed right into my app, saying here are the three options within your [company’s travel] policy, here are the three options outside your policy. Which one would you like?
“When the plane lands, why can’t I start the check-in process for the hotel. The technologies needed to that are in part there, and in part they have to be invested in. And some of them we actually invested in. Then when I am walking from the jetway, why can’t I get a push notification that says would you like me to set up a car? And after the car has been arranged, then that transaction goes into the expense report.”
5. It’s Not Just About Making a Booking
Priceline Group CEO Darren Huston on the whole travel experience: “An article just recently came out rating Booking.com’s mobile apps as the best apps in travel. That’s very satisfying to me because we’ve invested a lot of time on the plumbing. It’s not a small amount of work.
“It’s one thing to just create an app, it’s another thing to make it actually work and connect itself in this multi-screen world. Like if you book on the desktop, my iPhone will shake because I’ve made a booking and it’s registering in my app.
“The next wave we’re focused on is how do we innovate in terms of the end-to-end experience and what are the innovations that are critical for the customer beyond just a transaction.”
6. Nobody’s Booking Tours
TripAdvisor CEO Stephen Kaufer on tour bookings: “[Recently acquired] Viator already has all the ingredients for mobile. On a trip that I booked recently, I booked my tour while I was in-market using Viator’s mobile app. It works. The question mark is how many people around the world already have the mobile app on their phone to book tours and attractions? Answer: Basically nobody.”
Hipmunk CEO Adam Goldstein on getting smarter about making traveler recommendations: “When we released the first version of Hipmunk Anywhere, it was better than anything else out there, but still didn’t completely take into account all of the different facets of booking on different devices. There’s a lot more that we can do to remember people’s preferences to proactively suggest things that might make sense depending on where they are, or how long they have been searching, or how many devices they’ve used in the past. We will be rolling out improvements to that over time.”
8. Forget Email, Please
Generator Hostels executive chairman Carl Michel on Millennials’ habits: “A new thing that’s quite interesting to me is that guests are using their mobile and tablet devices way ahead of the purchase decision now. In the past, guests would book on their mobile phone because they were arriving in city and didn’t have anywhere to stay.
“Now they’ll actually do the entire booking experience on their mobile device. That goes back to the essential of having a fully responsive site. Also, millennial’s will essentially not bother with email so you have to focus on social media to communicate. Forget email.”
9. A Text That Your Room Is Ready
La Quinta Inns & Suites CEO Wayne Goldberg on making things easier: “Guests told us that when they’re on a mobile device that they want it to be easy. They want to be able to engage in a very quick, simple manner. We designed our mobile platform with that in mind so LQ.com on a smartphone or tablet will bring users directly to the platform.
“We’ve also done it with ‘Ready for You,’ a platform by which customers on desktop can choose their own arrival time and whether they want to be alerted that the room is ready via email or text. We’ve seen a very, very high success rate of folks opting into this program in a very short period of time. It’s about, again, continuing to listen to the customer.”
10. Your Wearables Are Always On
Starwood Hotels CEO Frits van Paasschen on closer interactions with guests: “The next phase of where this evolution is clearly wearable technology. How do you go from dialogue to real-time functionality? In a mobile environment people interact with their phones every six or seven minutes, but with wearables, they’re essentially always online and their devices have the potential always to be doing things in real-time for them.
“If we have state awareness in our app like we do, then that means we know when you’ve arrived in a city and we can make sure that we’re ready for you. We can ask you whether you know how to get to our hotel. If you’re on property, increasingly, we should be able to deal with you through our mobile app in case there’s something you need or want.
“There’s so many more touch points now where we can learn from you, and it’s not just by the way of ‘big data.’ One thing is having a lot of analysis to be able to identify what people want or what they may have wanted in the past. If we know you’re in touch with us and there’s something about your room that you don’t like then we want to hear about it.”
11. Check Out Mobile Check-Ins
Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson on getting tighter with guests: “We rolled out mobile check-in to the entire Marriott Hotels and Resorts brand nine months ago and it is quickly rolling across the other brands as well. Our customers absolutely love it. They take out their mobile device as they’re approaching the hotel and check in. It allows them to get into their rooms faster and I think there’s just some pleasure in being able to use that technology.
“We’ve talked to our customers about that experience and what they tell us overwhelmingly is that they find the experience better and one that draws them to us more tightly.”