7 mobile lessons media companies can learn from the travel industry

By Mark Challinor

London, United Kingdom


I have recently been doing some work for the travel industry. It made me think about how many issues they are facing regarding engagement and monetisation around mobile are kind of similar to the news industry. The lessons they are learning are similar to those we should consider, as we will see in this post.

We’re all in this together, it seems.

Virgin Holidays has won awards for its innovative interactive customer experiences.
Virgin Holidays has won awards for its innovative interactive customer experiences.

Today, thanks to technology (especially mobile tech) and fast Internet, customers (travelers) are able to book their own flights and hotels online, choose to stay in a complete stranger’s house (a la AirBnB), and, rather than experiencing the “unknown” restaurant with a degree of foreboding, search for reviews online on their mobile, maybe while connected to their hotel’s Wi-Fi connection.

The digital era has given us big choice in a big way. Technology has also given us much more information than ever on the places we are going to. Want to know if there is a specialist wine shop close to your hotel in, say, Florence? Well, now you can, in matter of seconds.

So what has this meant for businesses in the travel industry?

Low-cost airline carriers and online travel bookers and agencies were the clear winner of the online Web travel revolution over the past dozen years or more, changing the way their customers plan and book their trips.

Tour operators suffered the rise of independent travel and are today embracing the online and, especially now, the mobile channel to stay ahead of the competition.

A representative for one of the main UK travel agents, Thomas Cook, said recently, “As part of our multi-channel strategy, we have seen the need to make sure our customers can be served in a seamless way through whatever channel they wish — online through mobile, tablet, or desktop, or offline in a store or over the phone.”

The company has stepped up its digital innovations recently, too, even introducing Virtual Reality experiences across select stores.

Thomas Cook is providing opportunities for customers to access its brand across many platforms, using a variety of methods.
Thomas Cook is providing opportunities for customers to access its brand across many platforms, using a variety of methods.

Same goes for Richard Branson’s Virgin Holidays, which offered customers a VR experience while they waited to be served. I was a judge at 2015’s UK Mobile Marketing awards, and the company won “best interactive experience” due to the creative approach it took and the results.

In stores where the immersive experience was offered (highlighting sale destinations), there was a whopping 96% increase to those destinations and a 5% overall lift in holidays generally.

One of the biggest disruptors to the travel industry, as mentioned earlier, has been AirBnB. The company says that, thanks to the rise of such sharing-economy companies, we’re more likely to book a room in a total stranger’s house, with 9% of UK and U.S. travelers having rented space in a private home or apartment already.

Representatives at AirBnB say the (mobile) digital revolution has impacted almost everything in the world as we know it. In its case, bringing tradition into the mainstream.

The concept of staying in people’s houses when traveling is not a new one and dates back many hundreds of years. But what mobile technology has been able to do is accelerate this to a fast-paced and easily accessed, global case study of huge proportions.

Mobile technology has also highlighted new opportunities for small- and medium-sized businesses in the travel industry. For example, customers globally can now find, for example, a bed-and-breakfast establishment in Liverpool or luxury game reserve in Africa, all through online review sites, social media influence, and the businesses’ own Web sites. And, increasingly, this is becoming more “on the move,” meaning done on mobile.

But, just one word of caution: Mr. and Mrs. Smith boutique hotels say that, in the whole of their first month online, they did 10 bookings and now they do 300 a day. Covenience matters. But the human factor still has a place.

While the business allows online bookings, it still runs a customer service support central (24/7) via the phone for people who still want that human element. This is still important!

For travel brands overall, this means you have to get smarter and adapt to the environment as customers’ expectations rise too.

A representative from Starwood Hotels & Resorts recently said: “Mobile technology has changed the way we communicate with our guests, creating a 24/7 relationship. It is also transforming every phase of hospitality, from finding accommodation, to checking in, to unlocking your bedroom door and personalising your stay. And, as travel is, by definition, mobile, our customers expect to use their mobile devices to amplify and enrich their travel experiences.”

As a result of all this, Starwood has adapted and invested in further mobile interactions, leading to overall mobile bookings rising more than 50% in 2015 compared with the year before.

Like others in the industry, Starwood is continuing to embrace mobile technology to attract customers. It recently launched “Let’s chat?” enabling guests to communicate with its front desk via WhatsApp before, during, or after their stay. Mobile and social go hand-in-hand.

So, how will technology shape the future of travel, and what parallels are there to news?

The next few years will see travelers requiring an increasingly personalised service, with companies able to suggest customised products to them on the basis of their customer profiles and past behaviour. That’s exactly how news media should think.

Also, that’s where data comes in.

With many travelers already seeking more customised and (hyper) “local” experiences, truly personalised trips are already beginning to take off. A better experience all enabled via technology + data + creativity. And for me, that equation amounts to the holy grail of future media digital success.

Interestingly, EyeforTravel’s research for the travel industry highlights some important statistics and trends emerging for that industry. This is the end result of interviews with 20,000 consumers and more than 30 industry players, and the surveying of 2,000 executives. Substantial.

They point to seven things the (travel) industry needs to know. I would say that these points play to our industry in news, too:

1. Nearly two-thirds (63%) more travel suppliers saw mobile booking volumes increase, yet half of consumers surveyed still prefer to research and book travel online using a desktop. Is this because many travel suppliers are still unable to deliver a slick, user-friendly, mobile experience? But, more importantly, it’s changing and shifting to mobile.

2. 45% of travelers are willing to make a booking on a tablet up to a week before travel and 44% will do so on a mobile. Speed and impulse are important. Don’t overlook this.

3. E-mail marketing is rising and is supported through the mobile channel. Many travel companies still find e-mail is a strong marketing tool, and, as it is becoming even more relevant with mobile, we need to think how a customer views the content on a small screen.

4. “Ancillary products” represent a big opportunity for the mobile channel. Micro-payments and contact-less technology make impulse purchases fundamental, based on location. This creates potential for companies to deliver new revenue streams.

5. Heavy mobile users have the most spending power. We sometimes think of mobile consumers as being the younger generation but in fact older consumers (45+) are heavy users of mobile technology. Don’t be misled.

6. The multi-platform environment means social and mobile should never be thought of as separate. Using both social and mobile together is the most effective way to acquire data and drive engagement and future growth.

7. One size doesn’t fit all. Experiment. What works for you may not work elsewhere perhaps due to audience or culture. Try new things, and if they don’t work, shift gears and try other things. You’ll eventually find your niche or your vertical.

About Mark Challinor

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