Customer expectations are driving changes in the online travel business.
They want fast shopping whenever and wherever they feel like shopping, better selection, and good prices.
Consumers are increasingly getting comfortable with mobile sites and apps, plus mobile phone use for shopping is on the rise.
Considering the gadgets and the number of options available for travel planning and booking, one needs to understand how consumers are consuming content for their travel requirements.
Commenting on how content is consumed and eventually shapes up travel decisions, Katherine Bose, Director, Mobile Partnerships, Americas, TripAdvisor, says the “medium is the message” applies here as aptly as it did to researchers’ seminal work on the effects of television on society, family, and so on. In other words, there is no question that the smartphone is a different device from the laptop, which is different from the tablet.
The use cases are different, the user behavior is different, and, therefore, the presentation and consumption of content, information, and features are and should be different.
“Travel is one of those few and lucky verticals that is so broad and engaging that it actually works on various screens – but travel content and service providers need to be thoughtful about what to optimize for each screen and what to carry through to all to convey a consistent and integrated experience and message,” said Katherine, who is scheduled to speak at the forthcoming Social Media and Mobile Strategies for Travel USA 2012, to be held in San Francisco (March 5-6) this year.
Elaborating further, she said the example of maps is very handy – maps are critical on the smartphone and having GPS can be a lifesaver.
“A map on your laptop helps you plan certainly, but the immediate importance is rarely as profound as is the use case with your phone. Network speed – searching and finding what you need instantly is another must-have when you are in the field as a traveler. Photos on the other hand deserve a large screen.
Browsing, dreaming, shopping, becoming inspired – these magazine-like qualities are what make the tablet such a spectacular device. Those and the fact that people can make purchases with virtually frictionless ease,” Katherine told EyeforTravel.com’s Ritesh Gupta in an interview.
She spoke about consumer behavior across gadgets, the maturity level of communication strategies, and lot more. Excerpts:
How do you think travel companies have responded to varied consumer behavior across gadgets? How do you assess the maturity level of communication strategies accordingly?
KATHERINE BOSE: Great question and so true. Personally, I believe that the proliferation of deals and shopping offerings are great for consumers, but there are two flaws.
One, they are overwhelming, and we are already seeing evidence of “daily deal fatigue” from consumers who want fewer emails not more from this segment. The good news is that the mobile platform offers many new ways to engage users and hopefully alleviate some of that fatigue. Location-based deals and map-layer integration are a few new ways that users will engage with deal offerings. Intents and related apps or in-app purchases are another very smart way to help users find products and services that are relevant and affordably priced. Similarly, product or service providers could not ask for better, more targeted marketing or sales channels.
The other flaw – or assumption – I see in the deal and shopping space is that the deal service providers are curating a list of available things for purchase and then presenting the list to the user. In some ways that’s great – great for the retailer or similar to move product, great for the intermediary to know what’s coming and be able to plan for it and even for the user to not have to think much. The problem, however, is that often when we as consumers are shopping we already know what we want or need. I need a set of gloves for my mom, but none are offered today or this week – what should I do? This challenge is certainly true in travel. I need to go to Seattle on a such and such day or I have one week in April when my son’s school is on Spring Break, and we want to go somewhere warm. In these cases, I want to define and drive the deal process, and not be selecting from a prescribed menu.
In the travel industry, we have a very wide variety of appetites for technology adoption – from early adopters to very late. We have also seen not only new start-up entrants but also innovators who weren’t classically travel companies come into this vertical, because frankly it’s attractive, large, and profitable. A few examples that have impressed me as an outsider are:
InterContinental’s early and beautiful commitment to the tablet. Based solely on my observations, they made an early observation and bet that their customer base would align with iPad owners. They were right-on, and not just from a product-market fit perspective, but they knew they needed to create an app with high production value.
Another offering I like is Jetsetter from Gilt. Now Gilt did not start off with a travel offering, but they quickly moved in to that business. If you’ve experienced Gilt’s app on the iPad, you know how great and engaging it is, and their travel deals via Jetsetter are also engaging and magazine-like. They really fill that dreaming, inspiration phase of travel nicely.
Finally, and definitely a biased opinion, I love our City Guides apps on the smartphone. These apps are native and totally usable offline, which means super-fast search results. This is an example of a collaborative product done right. Often times when you bolt two pieces of a previously disjointed offering together you get a mess, not in this case. The team in Palo Alto, led by Joost Schreve, leveraged the content (points of interest and reviews for which TripAdvisor is known) with their native app building know-how and deep understanding of user behavior – especially those traveling overseas – to build a super-useful, fast city guide. They even included curated, professionally written itineraries in every city across several themes. All free to the user. It’s amazing.
How do you think travel companies have gone about tailoring or devising their marketing strategies as per the strength of the devices used by consumers. How do you assess the maturity level of such strategies?
BOSE: I think consumers are still in exploratory mode, and so too are developers, content publishers, and advertisers – everyone seems open to experiment – to try out this new app or that one, eager to trade up to a new device. This is far from a mature market, which is largely why it is so exciting, and the market is seeing huge investment pouring in and unbelievable attention and analysis to go with it. These types are early analysis but still useful. For example, on that tablet statistic, well we also know that some large majority of tablets sold, used, and, therefore, owner behavior analyzed is for iPad only. Well, who on the planet is in a position to purchase an iPad and to have purchased one long enough ago to register on the graph of analysis served up by that stat? It’s a wealthy, tech-adopting minority. While an attractive demographic, it’s probably useful to understand who those folks are first and not be too quick to draw broad generalities into the future about how all tablet users will behave.
As Android becomes one of the most quickly-adopted OS on the planet in countries like Brazil and India and China and Russia, and in massive numbers in 2012, what new behaviors will emerge on those smartphones and tablets? Will social be the tail that wags the dog for travelers or something else? Will it be location-based services? Both? A lot of companies think social is the key to travel – established and upstarts. I cannot count the number of social-based travel start-ups we have seen over the past two years, and one of them will get it right. TripAdvisor is inherently social given our community review roots, and we have expanded upon that with Facebook’s “Instant Personalization.” Other start-ups will have even more ideas about how to best leverage the wisdom of crowds and friends.
EBay says it is using its mobile and tablet innovations to empower people to shop – and find the best deals – anytime, anywhere, any way they want – from the comfort of their couch or on the go. What do you think the travel industry can learn from such companies?
BOSE: That is an interesting example; personally I don’t think of eBay when I think of mobile innovation or in mobile shopping. I think of Apple and iTunes/App store or Amazon brands like Kindle and Kindle Fire, diapers.com and it’s main property, amazon.com. I also think of relative newcomers like Gilt when I think of mobile shopping done well – on the tablet that is. I simply can’t see large enough photos of clothes – or hotels for that matter – on my smartphone enough to warrant hours of clothes shopping or trip planning. Quicker transactions, however, like booking a hotel or flight on the phone? Sure, make it easy and fast, and I will. We try to make searching for hotels, restaurantsm and attractions quick and easy on our mobile apps.
Travel is interesting as I said before, because it is such a broad category, so there is a nice wide space for everyone from utilities to multi-service players to exist. For example, we have seen services like flight trackers, currency converter, language translators and itinerary records pop up over the past 2+ years, and they serve their single purpose very well. Other services offer more than one thing and meet multiple market needs. Keep in mind that these multi-service offerings may offer their various benefits on a given device or they may give the consumer one thing on the phone and something else on the web and yet something else on the tablet.
As an example, and if we use the popular travel cycle metaphor, on the web, travelers plan and explore, compare, and research. They also book and transact. On the tablet, they dream and explore, get inspired and definitely transact. On the phone, they go. They fly; drive; take the train; walk; catch cabs; check info. and confirmation numbers; take pictures; stare at maps; email; update Facebook statuses; check in at restaurants, attractions, bars, and monuments. Look at all of this information, this beautiful data from a single person or family. It’s all useful – to the individual, to the app/service provider, to the brands serving him/her on the trip, and much of it captured on the phone to friends and family back home – where did you go? What did you see? What did you eat? Was it good? Memorable? And when people return they want to share more, relive, look at pictures, maybe curate a narrative of their travel story, heck write reviews, make recommendations. It’s a limitless treasure trove of traveler goods. We can capture it all if they want to share it, and we can iterate and improve the services we as an industry provide.
What do you think is being done to personalize the whole experience of mobile shopping?
BOSE: Not nearly enough. Suggested similar items and “people who bought X also bought Y” type cues are certainly useful, but they are not personalized in my view. A few trends show great promise, however. “Instant Personalization” and bringing in one’s social network to aid in purchase decisions, especially big ones like travel, makes a ton of sense. TripAdvisor has enjoyed both product and customer improvement as a result of deeper Facebook integration.
I also think that flipping the recent deal model on its head to let the user name the product or service and the price (or range) s/he is willing to pay is where we are headed. That is a truly personalized shopping experience, and I believe it is not far away. Travel inherently has so many elements to it that it must be a personalized offering and frankly a spectrum of offerings – from dreaming and planning, to booking the flight and hotel to going there and eating, shopping, experiencing, and sharing from the field to returning and reliving the pictures, videos, and unique moments of the trip. These are all part of a continuum that offers tremendous opportunity in large part thanks to the smartphone.
For more information on the Social Media and Mobile Strategies for Travel USA 2012 conference, go to: http://events.eyefortravel.com/mobile/conference-agenda.php .