For years now we’ve been told that our mobile phone is the remote control of our lives. If anything, this is now becoming an understatement. In the past, forgetting it would induce cold sweats and panic. But ask yourself, when is the last time you forgot yours? Probably a long, long time ago. It’s so ingrained with us that it’s part of our mental checklist as we walk out the door these days - keys, wallet, mobile.
That little remote control is now part of our self identification. It’s part of us. It’s our memory, our diary, our planner, our tour guide, our trusted adviser, our newspaper, our entertainment, our best friend, our doctor, our oracle…the list goes on and on. Whatever it is you want it to be, there’s an app for that.
Oh yeah, and it’s a phone as well.
So when we asked several experts in the field for their thoughts on what will be the most important trend in mobile travel for 2017, well it’s safe to say, that the short answer is pretty much EVERYTHING.
But for more specifics, read on…
‘A Year of Mobile Experience Investment’
Henry H. Harteveldt - Travel industry analyst and advisor at Atmosphere Research Group
Our research shows 90% of all US travellers owning a smartphone, projected to increase to 93% by year-end 2017. In the UK, we show 80% of UK travelers own smartphones; our forecast currently anticipates 83% will have a smartphone by the end of next year. So, mobile has passed the point of being a channel — it is really the channel that travel brands must optimize around. It’s not enough to be mobile-first. Travel brands need to be mobile-centric, designing every interaction and experience to be explorable and sellable through a mobile device. Clearly, that won’t be enough, either, because mobile apps and their user experiences are in need of substantial improvement. Just 14% of US travelers who used their smartphones to book a trip were satisfied with the experience.
Booking hotels, especially for a last-minute stay (which we define as booking the same day the traveler plans to check-in) receives higher marks than booking flights or other travel services. The standards for mobile commerce excellence are being set by firms such as Uber and Starbucks, which have created intuitive, frictionless mobile commerce experiences. I expect 2017 to be another year of mobile experience investment and incremental evolution in functions such as planning/booking, trip/itinerary management, and account relationship management.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and personalization are two key areas of technology investment and focus for 2017 among travel providers. While these aren’t mobile-specific investments, mobile will greatly benefit from them. In addition to the data scientists and others needed for AI/personalization, travel organizations tell me they’re aggressively planning to hire more mobile developers and UX professionals. They see mobile as a way to engage with travelers before and during their trips — not just to sell, but importantly also for service. A great example of this is Google Trips.
I believe we will see travel brands do a better job of sharing destination information (weather, traffic, disruptions, etc.). Our research shows that, depending on the product, between 403% and 95% airline ancillary products’ sales opportunities exists after the initial reservation has been made. I believe that airlines will start to do a better job of time- and place-based marketing. But, it’s one thing to talk about this, and another to actually do it. Travel brands believe there are opportunities to benefit from mobile-specific technologies, such as geolocation, and how mobile devices can play a role within the “Internet of Things” to improve the traveler’s experience and benefit the business.
Another key area where we will see more focus and innovation is in “conversational commerce,” aided by platforms such as Facebook Messenger, Apple Siri, Google Assistant, Amazon’s Echo and others. Although we have had a number of travel brands tap conversational commerce (KLM, Condor, Booking.com, others), the recent US Presidential Election and media brands’ use of Messenger bots and other similar tools to share news and information spurred further engagement with these tools. Finally, look for more in the virtual/artificial reality areas, especially for new and/or premium travel brands or products.
‘Connecting the dots’
Kevin May - Senior Editor & Co-Founder at TNOOZ
Travel brands will have to ensure they have connected all the dots between their web and mobile offerings, allowing travellers to search, shop, buy AND manage their trips on multiple devices. The mobile should no longer be seen as a different or separate channel that needs to be catered to, but as the primary way in which consumers use a service.
‘Embracing Conversational Commerce’
Mike Slone - Chief Experience Officer at Travelaer
In 2017, we will begin to see more and more travel companies embrace conversational commerce and customer care as a core part of their digital experience. We’ve started to see airlines like KLM and Icelandair utilize bots for basic functionality via FB Messenger, but these are only limited functionality bots that don’t necessarily solve immediate Customer pain points or really improve the greater travel experience. In 2017, travel companies will begin to go beyond basic bots and instead we will see the emergence of cohesive conversational platforms that allow 1 to 1 engagement between Customer and brands throughout all phases of travel.
Conversational interfaces across a multitude of chat applications will introduce a new way of interacting with travel companies to Customers that will bring such simplicity to booking and managing trips that travel company websites and mobile apps will start to be used less and less. The days of travel companies spending their marketing and advertising budgets to send their Customers to their digital destinations will end and instead the shift in budget will go towards bringing the digital experience to Customers where they spend the majority of their time- on messaging apps.
‘The convergence of four mobile sub-trends’
Robert Cole - Founder/CEO at RockCheetah & Phocuswright's Senior Lodging and Leisure Travel Research Analyst
I see the main trend being the convergence of four mobile sub-trends that apply universally to all mobile applications, including travel:
1) Speech Recognition
Expect an end to the thumb-aerobics era as mobile user interfaces will move towards voice-driven actions. With microphones always active, awaiting the next query, there will be little reason to type – it’s simply too slow and inconvenient, unless in a setting where speaking is inappropriate.
2) Natural Language Processing
Moving beyond simple keyword associations to sophisticated graph development, the mobile platform will understand the context of a query to provide more relevant responses. The device won’t just hear what you say, but know what you mean.
3) Machine Learning
Responding to a query is one thing, but retaining that query (and continually improving the quality of its result set) for future use will be the norm. As artificial intelligence platforms are open-sourced to enhance knowledge exchange.
4) Unsupervised Learning (Taking the humans out of the loop…)
AI platforms are already authoring their own code – to the point that for some, intervention of human programmers is no longer required. The machines are able to identify patterns, develop models and test results much faster and more accurately than their creators.
As a result, intelligent assistants, using voice interfaces will be a major mobile trend, with the underlying plumbing of these processes serving as the catalyst for future mobile travel innovation.
‘Mobile optimized web apps and Instant Apps’
Gerry Soejatman - Aviation Consultant at Communicavia & Gerry Airways
Mobile optimized web apps and Instant Apps! There is nothing more annoying that having to download an app that you really need but only need it for a short time while you're travelling. A lot of mobile solutions for travel and retail can have a much larger impact if it doesn't require an app to be installed, because not everyone has a high end mobile phone that can have large numbers of apps.
Heavy apps tend to discourage those on the budget conscious mobile phone to use them. I/we are working on several solutions that can help airlines and airline customers’ travels more integrated ranging from the existing concierge solutions to a real-time minder service that knows where you are and can be integrated to airline/airport operations. This we believe will be a new trend that will emerge in 2017, largely thanks to Instant Apps and mobile optimized web apps.
‘Travel becomes a whole lot less stressful if you have a mobile device’
Addison Schonland - Founder & Partner at AirInsight
Mobile and travel have proven to be mutually crucial so I would expect that to continue. Travel becomes a whole lot less stressful if you have a mobile device. The limit is always data access, not voice. Therefore, from my perspective, I’d love to see global data plans that can be bought for a period (while on travel). T-Mobile has a version of this now and it’s a great feature. Anyone that travels abroad can only make their trip a whole lot better by having data access on their mobile. It enables even the most simple things like banking, but crucially, it makes getting an Uber a snap.
‘Bots will increase customer satisfaction’
Thierry S. Huguenin - Business Aviation Consultant | Entrepreneur | Gentleman Horse Farmer at TSH Aviation LLC
With the constant increase of time spent on mobile devices by consumers generally speaking mobile travel arrangement, booking and travel management bots look like a winner to me!
Mobile apps certainly can assure the acquisition of the consumer particularly if the app is sharp looking, hassle-free to use, fast and most importantly secure.
But bots and chat bots, AI will go a step further by engaging with the consumer personally and enhancing the level of services and efficiency travelers need to organize and manage their travel plans.
Ultimately, bots shall increase customer satisfaction and loyalty dramatically and reduce vendor costs drastically which, obviously, is good for all.
‘A significant trend is customer communication through chat’
Mark Lenahan - Travel Industry & Travel Technology Specialist at CJ Ignition
For airlines, OTAs, TMCs, to succeed they need to realise that their branded consumer app is only a part of a larger mobile customer engagement strategy that has to include chat, email, SMS, mobile web, and enterprise apps for customer facing employees.
The mobile apps market is now saturated, mobile app download and retention rates are not going to improve, customers are spending the vast majority of their time in a small set of media, social and chat apps (Facebook, Whatsapp, Snapchat, YouTube, etc.).
We think a significant trend is customer communication through chat.
Trend leaders: KLM and the Chinese market.
‘At-the-airport mobile applications’
Harriet Baskas - Award-winning multi-media journalist / Contributor to NBCNews.com, USAToday.com, CNBC.com & others.
I think we'll see some new and very welcome at-the-airport mobile applications that will let passengers order food and drinks (including cocktails) to be delivered to them anywhere in the airport- including gate hold areas and that seat by the last available power plug.
‘Start thinking outside the app icon box’
Glenville Morris - Director, Consulting & Digital Insight at Mobile Travel Technologies Ltd.
In the last few years ‘Apps’ have started to evolve into the digital future we’ve all dreamed about, where our experiences, our interactions, our communications with a brand became something that started to live across multiple touchpoints – apps are no longer just the little icons we carry around in our pockets, they are things we wear, things we touch (virtually), things we message (artificially) and even things we talk to in our living rooms. So my prediction for a mobile trend in 2017 is that we’re going to see the biggest shift of all… apps will no longer be just that icon in our pocket on a glassy homescreen.
Travel brands need to take their digital experience to where the user is and that's not just in app folders anymore, they need to start thinking outside the icon 'box'.
‘Embracing the endless potential of the new chat apps’
Roy Scheerder - Digital Strategist at Fjom
Looking at 2017, it will be very likely that travel companies will start investing into conversational user interfaces, or embracing the endless potential of the new chat apps that passengers will be using for search, purchase, usage and support of the travel services. The travel conversational UI's will come in very different shapes: fully automated chat bots, branded virtual assistants and hybrid setups focused on pure servicing powered by automation and human support.
‘More offline apps’
Sandy & Vyjay - Owners at IM Voyager
Mobiles and Apps are changing the way we travel every day, and we expect the trend to continue in 2017. We shall see more and more apps catering to each and every segment of travel. However one area which the industry will be looking at is providing more and more offline apps that would be network independent and be available to the traveler even in the remotest of locations. We see the apps maturing and going beyond the hotels and flight booking solutions to a more customized avatar. The trend would be to add more and more value in a personalized manner and keeping in mind the preferences of the individual traveler.
‘Keep everything in-app”
Stefan Krasowski - Multinational Business Development Executive at Rapidtravelchai
In 2016, particularly from hotels and OTAs, we have have seen incentives to book with mobile increase ahead of many app capabilities to deliver a fulfilling experience. 2017 will see airline, hotel and OTAs pushing to provide key booking, account management and customer service functions fully within their apps rather than linking out to web pages or offering reduced functionality. Road warriors will start to be convinced to put apps as their go-to first option rather than websites or phone lines.
So there you have it. Our experts believe that mobile tech in 2017 will involve more artificial intelligence and speech recognition. We will see a greater focus on connecting the end-to-end journey, personalisation of experiences with more focus on live chat, chat bots and conversational commerce, allowing travellers to search, shop and manage their trips across all their devices. All of which leads to increased customer satisfaction and loyalty dramatically.
As for our own thoughts…well, it’s clear that mobile will continue to play a dominant role in the wider digital travel strategy of airlines and travel companies going forward. But to discover the specific factors at play, we sought the opinion of airlines and travel agencies worldwide with our 2017 Travel Trends research paper (which you can download at the bottom of this article.)
For example, we uncovered that over 95% of airlines, and 100% of TMCs, are planning to invest more in response to the mobile centric world we live in.
Travel agencies are embracing opportunities to take customer service to another level via mobile by offering a more seamless, connected, end-to-end travel experience with a contextual, ‘day of travel’ guidance via more sophisticated apps and mobile services. Personalisation will become increasingly important as an enabler to drive long term loyalty amongst end-travellers.
Mapping out the customer journey and focusing on user experience and aesthetic design will be key as TMCs build up customer profiles and preferences arming them with a competitive advantage to retain brand loyalty.
Bots with increased AI and contextual understanding will further deepen relationships between TMCs and their travellers.
For airlines, the story is similar.
Mobile experiences will no longer be confined to just the little icons we carry around in our mobiles, they are things we wear, things we touch (virtually), things we message (artificially) and even things we talk to in our living rooms. It’s about enabling personalised experiences across multiple touch points and multiple devices that travellers engage with. It’s about increasing the relevance of your brand to your audience and delighting them, in real-time.
Mobile is primed for airlines to offer a more seamless travel experience by ‘joining the dots’ of what can be an otherwise disjointed, frustrating day of travel experience with mobile support at every stage, including mobile booking and check-in, card scanning, real-time flight alerts, check-in prompts, personalised itinerary updates, airport navigation, gate location & directions, baggage information, IFE navigation, flight connection details, destination information and so much more.
Information and interactions will be pushed out to travellers, providing a proactive digital travel assistant that knows the location, trip context, trip history, agenda and profile of the traveller, as well as behavioural analytics collected across the globe.
To view the detailed results of our survey findings, download the 2017 Mobile Travel Trends eBook below. It may just help shape your own strategies going forward or reassure you that you’re heading in the right direction if you’ve been future facing in your planning to date.