It was the year that the iPhone celebrated its 10th birthday, the use of biometric technology in the consumer market got its fair share of column inches, and increasingly sophisticated artificial intelligence courted controversy and caused unease.
Change was delivered at lightning speed this year (you can read our 2017 expert round-up here) but as it draws to a close, we naturally begin to think about what lies in store for 2018. While no one has a crystal ball that can see into the future, we do have expert observations from those with a finger on the pulse of the travel tech industry - and some might say that’s even better.
Travelport Digital quizzed 16 of our respected industry peers about the technology-powered solutions that have the greatest potential to enhance the travel experience in 2018. The specific question was: what will be the most important trends in mobile travel for 2018?
Without further ado, it’s over to our panel of experts for their thoughts.
Bobby Healy - Chief Technology Officer at cartrawler
Cartrawler CTO Bobby anticipates Google’s tightening grip on the travel industry in 2018. He predicts that the tech giant will become increasingly important and indispensable to the planning stage of travel for consumers.
"Mobile commerce will be the key trend for the next 3 years as the rest of the world catches up with China and Southeast Asia in mobile adoption and channel shift.
With that comes the need for high-class native and mobile web storefronts and airlines will lag the intermediaries in that regard; creating space for further intermediation – and turbo-charged by Google’s taking over the top of the trip planning funnel.
Optimizations within mobile will be largely driven by technology investment and underpinned by algorithmic (mostly machine learning based) product curation and pricing. Additionally, voice and chat will emerge as important sales and support channels and will be powered by now off-the-shelf natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning (ML) platforms from Amazon and Google mostly - with a little bit of Facebook for good measure. Disruption will come with new entrants on these channels."
Gordon Wilson - President & CEO at Travelport
As CEO of one of the world’s leading providers of critical travel content aggregation, search and booking services, Gordon believes that mobile apps - above all other media - will continue to prove their worth to the travel industry in 2018. Not only do they provide unprecedented engagement potential, but they also offer greater security and autonomy for the travel brand.
“Travelport’s recent Global Traveler Survey highlighted how one in three travelers now books on a mobile device. We believe 70% of all OTA bookings will be via mobile by 2020, with global smartphone ownership forecast to rise by 50% from 3.8bn in 2016 to 5.7bn in 2020. The mobile networks’ improved connectivity will help drive this with 3.6bn 4G users, two-thirds of the mobile base, expected by 2025. Apps are still very much the way to go, enabling levels of engagement with the consumer which are not possible through other media. Mobile enables the creation of a whole new raft of players specialized in this channel and deploying different cost models for customer attraction which are not reliant on either metasearch or search engine fees for traffic.”
Sebastian Juarez - CTO & Co-Founder at eTips
Could 2018 be the year the travel industry experiences a seismic shift away from the web and toward mobile in the global travel marketplace? It’s a distinct possibility, according to expert developer Sebastian, who also cites the change from GDS to internet APIs and blockchain as game changers in distribution services.
“The most important trend in mobile travel for 2018 will be tickets and bookings distribution, as 2017 cleared the path to, with Trip.com and Via.com acquisition, that will lead the biggest travel operator to fight for it. Also, GDS changes to internet APIs, and blockchain distribution will leverage mobile software game, overtaking web's place, for multi-search engines and recommendation engines.”
Bob W. Mann Jr. - President at RWMann
For airline industry analyst and former airline executive officer, Bob, airlines’ omnipresence will continue to be felt by consumers in 2018 as travel brands move to embrace more fully the benefits of digital engagement via mobile.
“For the airline, the ability to identify via mobile, facility-located beacons and displayed avatars, the location of passengers as they start their journeys to and through the airport [will continue to be built on]. The ability to select, pitch up-sells/ancillaries and notify travelers near/in the airport, during and post-flight, and development of analytics that identify incipient service failures and pain points for real-time remediation [will continue to trend].
[There will also be] opportunities for integration into the manpower and service planning cycles, across shifts, stations, and the entire airline.
For travelers and travel managers, the ability to fuse all aspects of their itineraries, and to resource mapping and real-time communication when at risk or there are service failures [is a huge advantage of constant digital engagement via mobile]. [In addition] real-time travel expense capture and 'after-action' report writing, could be rolled up by the travel management organization to rate and give feedback to individual airlines and other vendors.
We believe the benefits [of digital engagement] to airlines easily exceed $1 billion annually for each of the largest four U.S. airlines.”
Norm Rose - President & Founder at Travel Tech Consulting
Norm Rose has spent his career demystifying the technologies that emerge year-on-year to make their mark in the global travel industry. He believes that location-aware mobile software has the ability to service consumers in the best, most contextual way… but airlines must work harder to understand their frequent travelers in order to make it work to their advantage.
“Location is easy, but context is challenging. Mobile technology has permanently changed the travel experience. Whether it’s airline passengers checking their smartphone immediately upon arrival, or a traveler looking for a great authentic Greek meal in Athens, mobile technology has become the indispensable, go-to device for travelers.
The key to a successful mobile strategy is understanding the context of the traveler. What does the traveler need at that very moment? Location-based technology, such as beacons, can provide a platform for communication with the on-the-go traveler, but what should be the message?
If a travel company is serious about mobile communication, determining the context of the traveler is critical. The best strategy is simply to know your customer. Any marketing or service message needs to be personalized to the individual traveler’s needs. This is easier for frequent travelers, but infrequent travelers may lack the data to understand their context. Before any message is sent out, the travel company needs to use whatever information is available (e.g. past trip behavior, social media content, location) to anticipate the traveler’s immediate need.”
Bayram Annakov - CEO & Founder at App in the Air
Mastermind mobile app developer Bayram has varying degrees of certainty about the mobile travel trends which could rise to prominence in 2018. However, the possibility of greater and more widespread use of augmented reality for travel planning, and the use of data to deliver an improved customer service, are things the feels will continue to develop in the new year.
“I think we will see more AR applications that help travelers and airlines: checking luggage size requirements and looking into an aircraft. I believe we will see some specific improvements in using traveler’s data to simplify and speed up search and book part of the customer journey. I hope we will see more companies applying subscriptions business model to travel."
Jason Rabinowitz - Aviation expert & influencer at AirlineFlyer
Aviation researcher and writer Jason identifies the need for greater simplification of payment systems as crucial to the airline industry in 2018. Minimising the steps taken to complete secure payments will continue to dominate the conversation in the upcoming year.
"Mobile and alternative payment systems have become widely used enough where airlines will be able to streamline the arduous payment process. Passengers will be exposed to booking travel quickly and securely with their phones."
John Hale - Head of Marketing and Communications, Travelport Hotelzon
Travel marketing guru John hopes that 2018 will be the year that the travel industry bids farewell to plastic, turning instead to embrace a new era of virtual payments.
“While consumers are already used to paying for their lattes with mobile, the world of business travel still relies heavily on decades-old plastic credit cards to settle bills. Hotel payments, in particular, are a major pain point in corporate travel, with hotels being paid in different ways depending on the person booking it.
With the widespread acceptance of alternative payment methods, such as mobile payments, corporate travel programs are poised to catch up with more convenient and secure payment options. While not entirely new, virtual credit cards should become the norm to guarantee bookings and settle hotel payments in business travel.
Automated, end-to-end solutions, such as Travelport Hotelzon’s, help companies streamline their hotel payment flow, from booking to book-keeping. Soon enough, travelers can forget about carrying credit cards or collecting receipts all-together.”
Mark Lenahan - Travel Technology Specialist at CJ Ignition
Over the course of his 20+ year career, Mark Lenahan, advisor to leading travel brands has witnessed the evolution of the internet and mobile, observing its impact on the travel industry. While in-flight connectivity as standard won’t be a 2018 trend - that is at minimum three years off, he guesses - Mark believes that this could be the year travel brands begin giving attention to the full customer journey, not just the areas with which they’re directly engaged.
“We are no longer really talking about smartphone or mobile internet penetration, most of the world's markets are nearly saturated and the vast majority of travelers are ‘always-on’ or, more importantly, have that expectation. Mobile usage is increasing, customers assume mobile connectivity and expect brands to be relevant everywhere.
Two parts of the travel customer journey which highlight this always-on expectation are are in-flight and in-destination. We are probably 3 to 5 years away from in-flight connectivity being the norm rather than the exception, but airlines are investing heavily in different ways to interact with passengers onboard, especially when it comes to in-flight products and services.
In-destination has some catching up to do, but maybe 2018 is the year it will start to emerge. Even though destination activities are the fastest growing sector in the industry (according to PhoCusWright), many traditional travel retailers like airlines and OTAs essentially turn silent during this part of the journey. Hotels are still struggling to find compelling reasons for guests to download and use their apps. Local discovery is being ceded to Google and TripAdvisor.
All travel brands need to consider the entire customer journey, not just the parts they are engaged in today. As a brand, if you are just there for the initial sale, and then ignore the customer don't be surprised if there's no loyalty and you face all the same customer acquisition costs all over again for their next trip. This is one area where consumer travel brands are just too complacent.”
Thomas Husson - Vice-president & principal analyst serving B2C Marketing Professionals at Forrester
Thomas has nearly 20 years of experience in the digital and mobile space, and has been with Forrester since 2008. For 2018 Thomas warns that while early adopters have been sold on the idea of mobile engagement in consumer travel since the get-go, latecomers to the party could find themselves at a disadvantage in 2018. While evolution necessarily follows innovation, travel brands could see a chasm develop between themselves and their competitors - with opportunity favoring the more pioneering of the cohorts.
“I think most players in the travel space are fully aware of the importance of mobile moments throughout the entire customer journey. What will differentiate leaders from laggards is their ability to automate these mobile moments at scale when they engage clients and consequently to change the mindset, organization, processes and IT infrastructure of their organizations to be able to deliver real-time contextual engagement.”
Raymond Kollau - Founder at Airline Trends
Before setting up Airline Trends, Raymond worked witih PwC as Industry Analyst. Many traditional travel retailers, like airlines and OTAs, have elected to be silent during the in-flight part of the journey - which is worrying to Raymond. He can see a future of more technology-led collaborations and partnerships, where airline apps seek to redefine themselves and their usefulness, shaking off their one-trick-pony image in the process.
“In 2018, airlines will further evolve their apps to ‘digital travel companions’ in order to extend their service offering beyond just flying passengers from A to B. By integrating third-party functionality into their own mobile apps – be it airport transfer (for example, JetBlue x Moxio, or Singapore Airlines x Grab Taxi), pre-ordering food at the airport (e.g. American Airlines x Grab Food), or providing real-time flight tracking (e.g. EasyJet x FlightRadar24) – airlines are building their own travel platforms, which makes their offering more relevant to passengers as well as a way to generate ancillary revenues.”
Stephen Joyce, CEO , Rezgo
Mobile personalization and targeted last minute offers will continue to dominate conversation for travel industry professionals in 2018, according to Stephen, The ability of systems to track, analyse and predict personal preferences will be made easier as the technology becomes more sophisticated.
“I believe we will see an increase in the number of mobile applications that will use a combination of location, previous purchase history, and demographic trends to push relevant offers to travelers while they are in destination. Most of this innovation will come from the large brands that have multiple trip histories for their customers. The best positioned sites for this would be TripAdvisor and Expedia since they are focused on the full trip lifecycle and have worked on building cohesion between their units. This mobile push however is also going to require that the underlying plumbing work is in place to support last minute offers, which means that initial efforts on this front will most likely be limited to popular destinations that have a large set of connected local providers.”
Rob Weisz, Head of Marketing & Communications, Travelport Locomote
As a business development professional with over 20 years of experience across a range of industries, Rob see the top trend of 2018 is simplification, simply.
"Simplification will be the most important trend in mobile travel in 2018. It is vital for technology to help simplify a trip for a user, for example, by recommending the best itinerary and timing. Not having to endlessly shop dates and routes will save the traveler time and money. As an industry, we need to move from offering a mobile version of a legacy solution to offering a killer mobile solution. Start-ups like Hopper, Rocketrip, Upside, Traxo and others are doing some great things and our Travelport Labs Accelerator and regular Hackathons are also very exciting – so watch this space."
Dr. Addison Schonland, Founder & Partner, Airinsight
Self-confessed aviation geek Addison believes that mobile use on airplanes will become more common before the year is out. Airlines will have to accommodate the change in consumer behaviour which favours being constantly connect to the world via mobile - regardless of whether or not they’re cruising at 35,000 feet.
“Mobile devices are doing so much more but battery technology is not keeping up with usage. Drivers and mobile users need to ‘top up’ with gas and power. Anything that prolongs battery life is a dream. More important is to provide power sources for that necessary top up. To capture mobile users, it would seem to be a great idea to offer easy power sources. Not under airplane seat in front of you that is unreachable. Or on the floor under the table when you’re dining. Put the power up where people are, and the charging cable can reach so the user can stay active and charge simultaneously.
Glenville Morris, Director, Consulting & Digital Insight, Travelport Digital
Prior to joining Travelport Digital Glenville worked at easyJet across analytics, mobile marketing & was the product owner for easyJet mobile. Glenville predicts in 2018 customers will become more expectant and more demanding than ever before. It could be the year travel brands have to get their mobile communication down to a fine art - or risk being irrelevant by the time 2019 rolls around.
"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". Now don't get me wrong apps aren't going anywhere (yet) but they are becoming an increasingly niche part of the digital journey, a journey that is now multi touchpoint and now more so than ever, multi-platform. So my prediction is this - Engagement in 2018 is not just going to be about mobile apps, we're going to see the dawn of a bright new age - the age of the customer. And in this new age the customer will want to engage with travel companies on whatever platform they choose to be on and if that brand isn't on that voice/messenger/mobile platform then don't expect that demand for your brand to still be there come 2019!”
Roy Scheerder, Managing Partner, Fjom
Roy, former CCO of Transavia and VP of Marketing at KLM, sees the airport in 2018 becoming more than the stomping ground of impatient travelers. It could instead be transformed into a maze of iBeacons and proximity detectors, geo-location and geo-fencing sensors. According to Roy, airports could be where cutting-edge communications unfurl between travel brand and customer.
“I have witnessed some interesting developments at Schiphol last year, which drives me to predict the following trends: The use of airport mobile channels will gain traction over the use of other mobile channels when passengers are preparing and fulfilling their travel journey. Airport mobile channels increase in value due to worldwide adoption of indoor wayfinding, enabling real-time journey planning, location based service and sales offers and expectation management on how to behave for the best possible experience. Airports become smarter with predictive waiting times, mobility advise and personal digital propositions. The available data from points of interests, flights, airport assets and processes drive valuable features that overcome the lack of customer insights. Airlines and airports jointly will radically improve the passengers' airport experience in 2018, especially in times of service disruptions.”
Viewed together, there is some agreement and commonality among the expert responses to the question, what will be the most important trends in mobile travel for 2018?
Here are 3 key takeaways:
1) The need for a clear-cut strategy around customer loyalty and adding value to the travel journey has emerged as something that needs to happen if travel brands are to remain competitive.
2) Increasing efficiency, particularly around payments and booking, will continue to be a challenge in 2018 - with some experts wishing to scrap plastic altogether and move entirely to a virtual system of taking payment.
3) While tech giants will continue to lead the way in terms of innovation, airlines may find they lose ground and secede customers to intermediaries and aggregators. However, as the way data is handled and shared changes, airlines could win big by taking better control of the custome journey.
Download our Mobile Travel Trends 2018 report to discover the key trends that will help travel brands gain competitive advantage into 2018 and beyond.