Written by EyeForTravel’s Travel Distribution Summit North America 2010 Wednesday, 13 October 2010 15:09
According to Google, it is a matter of when, not if, mobile devices will overtake the desktop as the web access point of choice for users. Therefore, the trend that will have the greatest impact on the travel business is the astronomical rise in the use of smart phones.
The combination of sophisticated mobile devices coupled with location based applications, the possibility of offline navigation with no roaming fees, augmented reality and more of such developments mean the world of travel planning and buying continues to evolve.
Even as it seems there is plenty to do considering the latest technology and gadgets-related developments, it is also emphasized that gadgets or distribution technology do not make that much difference in terms of total travel spend worldwide.
However, a business’ performance can be impacted by changes in technology. A simple example is the decline of the brick and mortar travel agencies after the web developed. Now, does that mean if a business does not have a native iPad application, it’s doomed to fail? Doubtful. And on the other hand, if a business spends too much time on the latest/greatest gadget, it could seriously mis-direct resources. It is an interesting dilemma: How much attention / money should one spend on emerging technology? Unfortunately, there are no obvious answers and mistakes can be grievous down the road due to path-dependent development.
Significantly, travel-related mobile activities such as viewing maps, getting directions, researching local activities and travel products have gained steam faster than transactions to date. However, the growth opportunity in the mobile market as a source of travel-related transactions is far too big to be ignored and is gaining serious momentum.
“It is a matter of when, not if, mobile devices will overtake the desktop as the web access point of choice for users, so this is an area to watch closely,” Jane Butler, managing director for travel in the US at Google told EyeforTravel’s Ritesh Gupta in an interview.
For its part, Google believes that as smart phones with full webkit browsers continue to grow, more and more users will be able to access the web and search with Google from their mobile devices. The company wants to enable users to search as easily on their phones as they do on the desktop; keep in mind that searches on mobile phones are generally incremental to desktop searches as users often search with their phone when they are away from a desktop – on the road, away for the weekend. At the same time, Google acknowledges that search on the mobile device is special, however, in that there are unique characteristics of the phone that let us expand the ways users can search.
Overall, it is clear that travel planning and booking will happen anytime, anywhere – even up to the last minute. Also, travellers will draw upon the advice and influence of their social graph throughout the travel life cycle – and can immediately broadcast reviews and other insights back to their social graph whenever they want. Finally, with location-aware services out there, everyone (including businesses) will make their communications more relevant, based on where the traveller is physically located, at any given point in time.
Butler, who is scheduled to speak at the forthcoming Travel Distribution Summit North America 2010, to be held in Chicago (13-14 October), spoke about how the mobile web is transforming the way consumers - including travellers - interact with online content, and lot more. Excerpts:
Which according to you has been the most striking or potentially path-breaking development from the travel sector in the last six months or so?
The trend that I think will have the greatest impact on the travel business is the astronomical rise in the use of smart phones.
The emergence of the mobile web is transforming the way consumers - including travellers - interact with online content. Based on a recent survey that we conducted with OTX, 40% of business travellers said they used a mobile device to access online travel info; this was up from 25% just a year ago. We saw similar spikes among personal and affluent travellers as well. Consumers are also using their devices for a wide variety of activities, including: researching trips, reading travel reviews, checking into hotels, flights, and cruises, and downloading travel apps. It is a matter of when, not if, mobile devices will overtake the desktop as the web access point of choice for users, so this is an area to watch closely.
The industry is witnessing rapid and continued innovation in enhanced search at this juncture. When one looks at the capabilities of the iPhone and other GPS-based devices, and what Google is doing with ITA, it’s clear that the industry is moving quickly towards better, faster and more accurate personalized search. At the same time, it is said that the “holy grail” of the perfect search return has not been found yet. What’s your opinion about the same?
Search will evolve as the web evolves, and so I don’t think this is a project that will necessarily ever be finished. We’re very excited about the launch of Google Instant several weeks ago, which we believe will save users 2-5 seconds per search. There will always be ways to make search better, faster, and more useful; we’re still in the early days of the Internet's history and, given how far we’ve come in a short period of time, it will be exciting to look back 20, 30 years from now and see what kind of progress we’ve made.
Certainly, the explosion of smart phones with full webkit browsers has had a significant effect on search, as more users can now access the Internet wherever they are, and whenever they want to. Google Mobile search volume has grown by 400% in the last year and we’ve developed search tools like ‘Near Me Now’ that enable users to look for information about the area immediately surrounding them. For travellers, the growth of mobile is especially exciting news, as these search tools can help users find local information quickly and easily when they are visiting a new place, or when they’re researching a future trip.
(Rob Torres, managing director for Travel, Google, recently told EyeforTravel: the location-based nature of a Mobile phone, along with GPS technology enables Near Me Now, a search functionality that presents results based on your real-time location. Google Goggles, a really fun tool that can snap a picture and immediately return search results about the image, uses the mobile device’s camera functionality. All of these features of mobile search will be very handy for travellers. Just think: Google Goggles plus Android translation capability becomes a mobile translator for travellers. GPS location services plus relevant search results provides an answer to the “where do I stay tonight?” question for stranded travellers. Voice Search and Street View prove indispensable tools to the traveller who is driving a rental car and hopelessly lost).
Considering the gadgets and the number of options available on web for travel planning and booking, which according to you is the most significant development in terms of the way consumers consume content or engage for travel requirements?
Again, the growth of mobile, both for planning and discovery purposes after travellers have reached their destinations, is tremendously significant. This is a paradigm shift—it’s said that within the next few years, mobile devices will overtake the desktop as the most common way of accessing the web. Having constant access to the web will shift the way consumers research and purchase items, and will change the way marketers and businesses will approach online commerce as well.
Another major development that’s ‘changing the game’ in travel is online video. Our OTX survey revealed that 86% of personal travellers and 90% of business travellers watch video online. Given the broader growth of YouTube and other online video platforms, it would seem like just about everyone is watching video online these days. However, not only is video popular among travellers, but travel video is popular among travellers in particular. 63% of male business travellers and 58% of females told us they watched travel-specific content for a variety of different purposes: choosing destinations, organizing activities, making accommodation decisions, and more. Further, more and more users are uploading travel content to document their own trips, and share content with other users that are doing the same. The community that has emerged around online video will only continue to grow in the years to come.
Related Link: EyeForTravel’s Travel Distribution Summit North America 2010