January 19, 2015

Mobile & Travel 2015

By Hisham Isa, Vice President (Marketing)

The number of travellers - both business and pleasure - who are depending on their mobiles to make travel decisions and purchases is rapidly on the rise, according to findings from BuzzCity's latest survey of mobile users from 25 benchmark countries.

Not only are consumers using their phones to purchase tickets and book accommodation, they're also increasingly relying on their mobile devices for information and entertainment while on the road.

Some astute travel industry brands are already capitalising on this shift, thinking beyond their websites and purchase apps to how they can really engage consumers and improve their travel experiences. If you're in the travel industry and not already doing this, take note or risk losing market share in the year ahead.

Key Findings

As we reviewed the data from Argentina to Vietnam, we were struck by the rapid increase of mobile consumers on the BuzzCity Network who traveling for business and leisure.

Travel Patterns
  • In 2014, 24% of mobile respondents replied that their work involves frequent travel of at least once a month. This is up nearly three-fold from a year earlier, when just 9% said that they were frequent business travelers.
  • Between business and vacations, 1/3 of our audience travels internationally.
  • The percentage of mobile users who travel overseas for holidays has more than doubled, up from 10% in 2013 to 29% in this survey.

    Information and Commerce
    • Online reviews and social media are key. 27% of our users say they "turn first to social media recommendations" when researching a trip.
    • 27% also use their phones to search for user reviews and ratings before making a hotel booking.
    • 30% say they use their phones to make last minute reservations. 

    Consumption Patterns while Traveling 
    • 1 in 4 travellers buy local SIM cards when overseas to avoid roaming charges.
    • Another 21% do not use their phones when overseas, except in an emergency.

          We also asked mobile users how they use their phones, when travelling for leisure:
    • 40% said they use their phones for entertainment: listening to music, watching videos, reading e-books and playing games.
    • Nearly 30% of people on holiday use their phones to stay in touch with others, by checking email and reading social media status updates and tweets.
    • 20 - 30% use their phones to check out local information: weather reports, public transport schedules, travel routes, places to eat, events, attractions and other destination details.

      Six Key Lessons

      1. The times, they are a-changing.

      This might seem obvious, but let's state it anyway: traveling abroad is no longer a luxury reserved for the wealthy. Thanks to low-cost airlines and mobile booking sites, overseas holidays are increasingly common. As AirAsia advertises, "Now Everyone Can Fly".

      2. No one likes paying for WiFi.

      Travellers are more and more likely to begin their journeys armed with an assortment of internet devices, including smartphones, tablets and laptops. They want to stay connected and are demanding free Wifi. Some airports and hotels are sticking to a paid model, but increasingly they could lose out if they don't respond to consumer demand. Even buses and other transport companies are finding wifi to be a business critical service.  As a follow-up question, we asked 200 business travellers which cities are best for free wi-fi.  Top of the list:  New York, Singapore and Bangalore.

      3. What's more unpopular than paying for Wifi? Exorbitant Roaming Charges!

      If there's one roadblock in the path of mobile travel growth, it could well be the stubbornly-high cost of data roaming. Cheap local SIM cards and free WiFi in hotels and cafes have fueled mobile growth among overseas travellers. In Cambodia, for example, a US$5 pre-paid card - available for purchase at the airport - provides about 2 hours of local calls . . . and more importantly 2GB of data. By contrast, my home mobile provider charges nearly US$15 per day for roaming data . . . and that's only if you SMS in for the plan; otherwise it's US$16 per MB! Nearly half of all travellers either buy a local SIM card or turn off their phones. Until this percentage rises even further, though, telecoms may not feel the push to lower charges.

      Visitors can pre-book attractions
      during peak periods at Ocean Park
      in Hong Kong using this mobile app.
      4. Mobile is part of the destination experience.

      Whether it's looking at maps, checking out the weather, searching for places to eat and things to do or downloading an app at a museum, theme park or other attraction, travelers are using mobile to look for tips and insights. With information comes opportunities for m-commerce. Keep in mind that variety is a bigger pull than price.

      5. Keep it simple.

      Travel commerce needs to be simple, clear and seamless. The booking experience needs to be smooth across devices and also between affiliates, taking into account consumer demand for comparison reviews and social networks.

      One company that appears to get this is Qunar, a travel commerce platform which means "Where to Go" in Mandarin and has been dubbed the Kayak.com of China. Just last month, in a letter to shareholders, Qunar announced that metasearch - directing leads to other sites - is "NOT a winning proposition in the mobile age". Instead, Qunar has developed a platform that enables traveler to complete their bookings within Qunar apps. The company found that directing consumers to hotel and other third-party sites caused it to lose bookings.

      6. Creativity drives engagement.

      We can't say this too many times. Be creative and keep it interesting. But remember, it takes more than a good hashtag to be successful Creativity only drives engagement if it responds to consumer interests.

      One travel operator that's getting it right is Turkish Airlines. Its cross-platform campaigns -- "Selfie Shoot-out" and "#EpicFood" -- are generating millions of YouTube hits. In one spot - which has more than 60 million views, footballers Lionel Messi and Didier Drogba chase each other across the globe in search of the best, most exotic cuisine.

      Viewers are also invited to upload their own epic travel photos to EpicFoodMap.com. Turkish Airlines ties the campaign to its brand with the tagline, "We Fly to More Flavours Than Any Other Airline".

      Looking Ahead

      A number of major brands are introducing or revamping their mobile travel offerings.  TripAdvisor has a new "Instant Booking" app.  Amazon is reportedly set to launch 'Amazon Travel' to compete with companies like Expedia and Priceline.  Marriott Hotels expects to roll out mobile check-in at all 500 of its hotels globally.

      New start-ups meanwhile are continually identifying niche areas that need service, like HalalTrip - an English and Arabic app that enables travellers to rate Halal food across the globe (and which will soon include a hotel-booking feature) and 'Booking Now' which uses GPS to offer users last-minute hotel deals at nearby locations.

      This all points to the same trend: mobile technology is upending the way people travel . . . and if your company is not on-board with it, you really need to adapt quickly.