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Earlier this year, SkiftX released the 2018 Digital Transformation report—an annual research initiative that dives into the digital transformation efforts of executives across the travel industry. For more insights, explore the full series here.
Mobile devices have become indispensable tools for the modern traveler, whether they’re used for getting to the airport, checking in, accessing in-flight entertainment, managing itineraries, unlocking hotel rooms, handling customer service problems, or looking for what to do and where to eat. The signs of mobile’s success are all around us: 95 percent of adults now use smartphones, and according to CMO.com, mobile is poised to account for 79 percent of all Internet use this year. In a 2016 Travelzoo study, 85 percent of Chinese respondents and 54 percent of American ones said they prefer using travel apps for bookings.
For travel companies, the overwhelming shift to mobile has important consequences for their ongoing process of digital transformation. In fact, just having a mobile presence is no longer enough. “Adobe research shows that younger demographics have different expectations compared to older demographics when it comes to mobile, and that a fluid mobile experience is now table stakes,” said Julie Hoffmann, head of industry strategy for travel at Adobe. This is why today’s travel brands must “move beyond the app” as they work to design more seamless, integrated, experiences that reflect the evolving ways consumers use mobile while making travel easier, cheaper and less stressful.
Today’s travel brands recognize the importance of shifting toward this new environment. The majority of travel companies say that more than 20 percent of their traffic already comes from mobile platforms, according to a survey published in the 2018 Digital Transformation Report by Adobe and Skift. In a separate Adobe study, 81 percent of marketers said that mobile sites were extremely or very important to their marketing strategies, and 69 percent said the same about mobile apps. Among respondents who said their mobile marketing strategies were “advanced” (referring to the use of mobile strategies including automation, integration of consumer data, following mobile best practices, and possessing strong technical skills) those figures jumped to 97 percent for each.
And mobile’s importance will only grow from here, TripAdvisor CEO Stephen Kaufer said in a recent interview with Skift. “We see further penetration in mobile devices, of course, and when we look at our audience, they’re engaging with TripAdvisor on the trip a lot more,” Kaufer said. “That’s a wealth of opportunity for us to not only help [our audience] find the thing they want to do, but also cement that full-trip experience.”
Kaufer’s point about designing mobile products and services to address the full-trip experience is an important one. In fact, more travel marketers must utilize their full tool set to offer an enhanced experience. To do so, they must merge disparate data sets, such as those involving their CRM systems and app users. “The best of the best travel brands leverage their CRM data with tools like Adobe’s Audience Manager to create powerful unified audience profiles that can drive real-time experiences across channels,” said Hoffmann. Doing so allows travel brands to further personalize each traveler’s mobile experience based on who they are, where they are, and what the best experience will be for them. It also makes these experiences more relevant to the variety of mobile moments in the customer journey, reflecting today’s increasingly omni-channel environment. The need for mobile to serve as a “linchpin,” ensuring continuity across the growing range of offline and online travel touch points has never been greater. Research suggests the average consumer now owns 7.2 connected devices, making it all the more likely that travelers may experience disconnected or interrupted experiences.
How Travel Brands are Building Better Mobile Experiences
What does a successful mobile integration look like for today’s most forward-thinking travel businesses? Consider a few examples. Take Google Trips, which uses mobile location data, its vast database of reviews, and past customer data on searches and interests to suggest places to visit that are off-the-beaten path. Another good example is American Airlines, which recently partnered with food delivery company Grab to integrate mobile ordering at airport gates within the airline’s branded app.
Meanwhile, Wyndham Hotel Group is using tools like Adobe Analytics to help the hospitality company gather data including time-based metrics, geolocation, and personalization data that helps it to better tailor its app experience to loyalty members. Barry Goldstein, Wyndham’s chief marketing officer, explained the strategy behind the company’s mobile app experience at Adobe Summit 2017. Though the app converts at a rate 4.5 times higher than the mobile site, 60% of Wyndham’s customers are not loyalty members and thus unlikely to download the app. As result, he noted, the company’s app strategy is optimized and personalized to cater to loyalty users. “The app became very specific to loyalty… and mobile is really about trying to capture that person at that point and time and make the transaction easier.”
When it comes to reaching customers on personal mobile devices, Marriott Digital Marketing Director David Menda also notes that simplicity is key. “Anything we are saying in this channel either has to be mission critical or something the customer wants to hear or see,” he noted.
Not all businesses have such a sophisticated mobile strategy. In Skift’s 2018 Digital Transformation Report, when asked to rate their preparedness for a mobile world on a scale of one to five, 56 percent of businesses gave themselves a rating of three or less. This also reinforces the number-one technology investment for 2018 based on Adobe’s research: mobile experience analytics. Travel brands are investing in mobile to better optimize what is increasingly considered the “linchpin” of the travel experience.
The Future of Travel’s Mobile Customer Experience
We’ve now seen how today’s travel brands are using mobile to build better customer experiences. But what does the mobile travel experience of tomorrow look like? Many predict that emerging technologies, ranging from AI-driven personal assistants to connected devices, will soon expand opportunities to better serve travelers.
Messaging apps and chatbots are one example of how travel companies can integrate the growing power of AI into the mobile travel experience. Expedia began experimenting with the technology in a customer service context back in 2016, allowing travelers to text a command such as, “Cancel my hotel booking in New York next week,” CEO Dara Khosrowshashi said at Skift Global Forum 2016. His advice to brands that are interested in implementing AI? “Start with small use cases and start from there.”
Another promising technology innovation is the coming introduction of 5G, a soon-to-launch high-speed mobile data network. As 5G service becomes widely available, travel companies will be able to use mobile to offer a much wider variety of services and content to travelers to help meet their needs anytime and from anywhere. Hotels could be at the forefront of that trend, with Marriott and Hilton already experimenting with connected rooms where guests can stream movies from their phones or log onto high-definition video meeting applications.
The growing importance of voice technology will also have a significant impact on how the travel industry designs mobile services. Scores of voice-based travel commands are already available through home assistants. Amazon Echo can users can ask Alexa to book a car rental for them via Expedia, call an Uber, or check the wait at the airport security line. But unlike home assistants, mobile devices often travel with consumers wherever they go, making them an even more powerful tool for intelligent voice search.
As Dara Treseder, chief marketing officer of GE Ventures, put it, “When everything depends on voice, you can connect with people through your words, though in a more intimate and dynamic way than ever before.” The same may be said about the mobile experience overall.
Mobile takeaways for travel marketers:
- Mobile is a requirement, not just a trend: Customers expect seamless mobile experiences when they travel, from the planning through the travel itself and afterwards. Data and analytics are powerful tools to personalize that experience.
- Mobile experience analytics will be a key technology investment for 2018.
- Brands must take an omni-channel approach to customer experience: Customers are using multiple devices and touch points throughout their journey, which means that travel companies must offer a cohesive experience across platforms.
- Audience profiles are becoming the new architecture to leverage data such as CRM, geolocation and other contextual inputs to make mobile more meaningful and intimate.
- Emerging technologies will reshape mobile opportunities: The release of 5G, advancements in AI, and improved voice search are among the tech disruptions that will create new ways for companies to engage customers and make travel easier, richer and more convenient.