Online travel is about to reach a tipping point: 2016 will be the year when, for the first time, more than half of all online bookings for U.S. travelers will be completed on a mobile device.
That’s according to eMarketer, which projects that next year’s U.S. mobile bookings will jump 18% over 2015, going from 43.8% of all online bookings this year to accounting for 51.8% of those bookings in 2016. By the end of the decade mobile will enjoy a very comfortable gain on desktop and officially claim a majority of all online bookings.
Leading up to this milestone, some 78.6% (38.1 million) of the 48.5 million U.S. travelers who will book flights and accommodations on mobile by the end of this year will use a smartphone to do so, eMarketer says. But fewer (31.3 million) have used a tablet to book flights and hotels in 2015—or 64.4% of all mobile travel bookers. That’s led eMarketer to downgrade its forecast for 2016 tablet bookings, anticipating that tablet bookings will account for 61.7% of all mobile bookings next year (see chart below). These percentages consider that some travelers use both smartphones and tablets for bookings throughout the year.
The gap between smartphone and tablet bookings continues to widen–even though the total number of both tablet and smartphone bookings will keep increasing, smartphone bookings growth will outpace tablet. This year the difference was a little more than 14% in smartphones’ favor. Next year that percentage difference will be about 18% in smartphones’ favor, with smartphones accounting for 79.1% of mobile bookings versus tablets’ 61.1% (see chart below).
Mobile bookings will represent $65 billion of online booking sales in 2016, compared to desktop taking $115.5 billion. By 2019 that divide will be much smaller, with desktop still bringing in greater sales but only by about $17 billion–somewhat paltry considering the difference between the two last year was nearly $90 billion.
These projections come as some mobile travel apps continue picking up momentum, such as Hotels.com’s iOS and Android apps. One in three transactions for the booking site now come from mobile, said Josh Belkin, vice president and general manager of Hotels.com, and to date the site has seen 50 million downloads of its apps. Belkin added between 60 to 70% of bookings made via the apps are for that same night.