by WEX Travel
Are small devices only good for small spending? Consumers and business travelers increasingly use their smartphones to research their travel options, but booking is still mostly handled through desktop platforms, reports Travel Weekly.
That may be changing. Travel Weekly reported that for the US only 5 percent of online travel was booked from a mobile device in 2012 but that is expected to climb. Recent estimates of mobile booking numbers are significantly higher. eMarketer reported that 51.8% of all travelers who book trips digitally will do so from mobile devices in 2016. With newer smartphones having larger screens, that’s likely to continue.
That growth means there’s lots of opportunity for online travel agents with well-designed booking sites.
Know What Your Mobile Customer Wants to Accomplish
To take advantage of that opportunity, travel sites need to understand how and why users are booking travel online. Currently, mobile sites and applications appear to primarily be used to make same day, urgent-need bookings. Both Orbitz and Expedia have reported more than two-thirds of mobile hotel reservations are made within a day of arrival. Uber and Lyft car sharing apps let users make transportation arrangements on demand and simplify the payment process; last-minute hotel bookings are another popular use. Sites and applications that make same day availability obvious and easy to access will appeal to customers.
The other major current use of mobile devices in travel planning is researching destinations for future travel. Making the information easy to browse and easy to book—including easy transition to booking on another device—will appeal to potential travel bookers. That other device might still be the traveler’s phone, used for a call rather than an online booking. The 2013 Google Click-to-Call study found that half of customers would call during their research and purchase process if that option were easily available from mobile search results.
Make the Mobile Booking Process Painless
The mobile platform can’t simply be a limited or scaled-down version of the travel provider’s website. At the very least, companies need to use responsive design on their sites, but given the growth of mobile bookings, a “mobile first” strategy may be most effective.
This means the interface needs to be streamlined to simplify the booking process for smaller screen size so customers are physically comfortable making the purchase, as well as comfortable with the technology. Emphasizing user experience design will be key to prevent customers from giving up in the middle of the booking process; you might design different apps for smartphones and tablets because of their different sizes. Features that reduce the amount of typing users need to do, through using autofill and prepopulating values based on the user’s current location, are important.
Allowing users to book their entire travel process from one application will also encourage users to create online bookings. Initiating air, hotel, ground transportation, and excursion bookings from a single site makes the process easier for users.
Maintain a Relationship With Your Mobile Customer
Additional services that use the features of smartphones, like the ability to push notifications to customers, add value to your mobile booking site and encourage users to complete their purchase. You can build loyalty by sending important notifications before, during, and after the travel period. Notifications need to be managed so they don’t overwhelm the user, and they need to be personalized and contain valuable information or they become annoyances instead.
Because consumers use multiple devices, being able to identify customers on multiple platforms—desktops, smartphones, tablets, and even wearables—will allow travel sites to present a consistent, personalized experience, no matter what device the user accesses the site with. A streamlined, simpler, seamless, better experience across all platforms will turn mobile browsers into mobile buyers, whichever device is ultimately used to make the booking.