Don’t be Beta Max in a VHS word. Get into voice activated search Now!

My teenage kids laugh at me, when I tell them that “Voice Search” is the future and in 10 years time typing into phones will be passie. Now that’s a Millenial view!!

For my generation, it was impossible to see beyond CD’s, to MP3 players, to streaming services like Spotify, so they be right, but I think they’re wrong and travel business’s should be putting resource into understanding how they can exploit the disruption that a shift to voice search may create.

The uptake on voice search is like to be very contextual to a users location and environment.

The home will be the first battle ground, as it provides a private environment reducing “Voice Embasement” (VE), with voice activation via simple commands like “lights on” or play Coldplay straight forward to deliver. Voice controlled TV’s will be next, with food shopping to follow shortly after once Tesco’s etc launch voice controlled shopping lists, linked to home delivery services.

The car provides private environment where typing is illegal but voice is not. Voice dialing, navigation or music selection are tools are uncorporated into most new models rolling of the production line.

Its inevitable that once people become used to the utility provided by these services that VE will decline and most interactions with mobile phones will become voice activated rather than typed. Just stop and think about it?

Its fine to talk to another person on your mobile walking down the street, but not to ask for directions or recommendations for a holiday?

Simple travel needs like booking hotels near X or flights to Y, will migrate to voice activation first, just as they where first to move from phone booking to online booking. The shorter and simpler the booking journey, the quicker it will migrate to full voice booking.

However, will booking a holiday be completed by full voice booking? Well in the 1990’s, did we think 60% of holidays would be booked online. The answer is a simple no, as its hard to see far ahead in a rapid evolving internet based world.

Although nobody can predict the future, here are three obvious things to consider.

  • Impact on search. Users have been trained to type as few words as possible to find companies that offer holidays that may meet their needs, as they know to then expect a “Search” box’s which harvests their key requirements, such as destination, departure airport, duration and party type. With voice activated search it will be much simpler to state all your requirements initially and get straight to results. So expect an explotion of long tail searchs with its knock on impact to PPC bidding and SEO optimisation.
  • Voice back to typing? Initially, voice is likely to be restricted to the “research” stage of booking e.g. “Find me cheap deals to majorca from Gatwick for 7 nights for a family of 4”. Results can then be returned, but what next? Will customers switch to typing and booking online or prefer to carry on talking to a call centre via their mobile.  I think the answer will be heavily dependent on their location. For example, yes if they are driving to work but no if they are on a train or in the office.
  • Pay more attention to Bing. Google is the dominant engine for typed search, but crucially Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Microsofts Cortana voice search results are all powered by Bing. It is going to a bit like the 1980’s battle between Beta Max and VHS!! For my money the Google voice recognitions software is much better than Bings current efforts, so Google may take the VHS slot.

Voice activation feels a bit like the Mobile debate 6 years ago. The experts all told us it was coming, but it was still hard to imagine the impact. Well start imaging guys, beause change often leads to disruption and disruption provides opportunities for first

BA CEO Alex Cruz’s, customer service is more Ryanair than British Airways.

I may be the only Silver Card holder who hates BA, but I sadly doubt it!

British Airways historically focused on servicing business class passengers focusing on service and flexibility, but seem to have completely lost their way under Alex Cruz’s guidance.

As a regular traveller on the BA shuttle between Manchester and Heathrow, I have learnt to my cost, that booking a return flight rather than two singles is a big mistake. Even though its exactly the same price either way, if you book a return and then your plans change and you don’t take the flight down, they automatically cancel your return and it simply disappears off the App without a word of explanation.

Having learnt this lesson, when my plans changed for a recent trip and I decided to stay south and fly directly from Heathrow to Los Angles, rather than from Manchester, I rang BA to notify them that I would not be catching the Manchester to Heathrow leg but would fly direct from Heathrow. A simple enough tweak for a business traveller I thought.

Oh, no. This is a major change requiring all four sectors to be re-ticketed or they cancel all my flights. The flight cost change was a reasonable £181 which I was willing to accept, until the agent then informed me I had to pay 4 X £60 change fees taking the total to a ridiculous £421.

So to summarise to not take one flight would cost me more than a return flight from Manchester to Heathrow on exactly the same flights as originally booked. How can BA justify this rip off?

BA still refused to budge even when I escalated the issue to the Silver Card customer service team, making a mockery of loyalty cards.

This experience follows 12 months on from BA forcefully down grading me from business calls on a 12 hour flight to Hyderabad, which was handled appallingly. Having not been notified at check in, in the lounge or at the gate, I was left to find my seat was not in business, when I walked past business!

On querying this with the purser I was told that I had been downgraded, because business had been over booked and that I should write in to complain. When I then sat in an empty business class seat and refused to move until compensation had been agreed, I was immediately threatened with the police being called! Then having moved it took 6 months to get the difference in fair back because BA demanded a copy of the boarding pass showing I had been downgraded.

Working in the travel sector, I recognise that it’s a complex world and mistakes can be made. However, BA’s policies seem antiquated and there is clearly no longer a focus on customer retention and a customer service approach make Ryanair look a friendly airline in comparison.

I may have no choice but to continue to fly BA from Manchester to Heathrow, but please beware that this is one very angry and upset Silver card holder, who will never recommend flying with BA to anybody, until it reverts to its old customer centric self and unfortunately this may require a change of leadership.

Why OTAs need to get a grip of the back end to avoid waving their customers goodbye

Last week saw a war of words break out between the alternative accommodation giant Airbnb and its more mainstream competitor Booking.com.

A recent Morgan Stanley report highlighted Booking.com’s rapid growth in the ‘alternative’ accommodation sector, leading bookings owner’s Priceline to crow about how their growth would squeeze Airbnb’s market share.

Fascinatingly, Airbnb’s response was to trumpet their back office tools for owners as the key to its future success, criticising Booking.com’s lack of investment in its own tools and resulting inconsistency of customer experience.

Airbnb issued an open challenge, that unless the major OTA’s invested at least 5% of its marketing budget into these tools, the peer-to-peer giant would win this crucial battle.

From a consumer point of view, I personally think Airbnb’s back office experience is far superior to Booking’s, with customers being put into direct contact with owners by phone or chat tools within the Airbnb app.

This creates a much easier dialogue with owners than Booking’s more traditional email route.

I’ve never been left waiting outside an Airbnb property but have several times struggled to get access to properties booked via Booking.com.

Given the importance of customer retention in controlling ever escalating Google or aggregators’ marketing costs, the UK’s beach holiday OTA community may need to take note and look at its own back office tools as a means of delivering competitor advantage.

How long before we see OTA apps offering online check-in for all low cost carriers and tracking technology to show how far away a coach is from picking up customers from their hotel to take them back to the airport?

Customers may also want to use the same app to book in resort restaurants or attractions, using consolidated consumer reviews of other like-minded UK guests, who have stayed in the same hotel previously.

Why not combine the provision of a 24-hour duty office with tools to help customers access medical assistance via virtual doctors over skype and app tools to capture medical expenses and assist with insurance claims?

The options are many and the bottom line is that when you are operating in a commodity market place, where competitors can source the same hotels at the same costs, it’s going to be a race to the bottom in terms of margin, unless brand loyalty can be created.

Ironically, in its core city hotel market Booking.com is a market leader in this art, using its higher frequency of booking, to drive stickiness via its secure retention of credit card details and clever suggestive marketing. However, in the beach sector, like most UK OTAs, it is guilty of the so-called ‘Tarmac wave’.

This is where an OTA lavishes care and attention on the booking journey and pre-departure communication, but then waves goodbye at the airport and simply hopes that the most crucial part of the purchase – the holiday itself – goes well.

In-resort experience is crucial to holiday enjoyment and this is where traditional tour operators like Tui score massively over OTA’s, with their extensive in-resort infrastructure and customer care.

In the past, concerns about principal status and triggering higher VAT liabilities have caused OTA’s to steer well clear of operating in-resort structures and consolidated third party services like Destination Care, which I invested my own cash in before it failed and was written off as being ahead of its time.

However, has that time finally arrived? Possibly, but I think it will be a while before the back end, drives the OTA car.

Booking.com grabs the cash, but will it impact sales?

Booking.com, the world’s largest OTA in terms of hotel nights sold, recent accounts highlight a major pivot in strategy, in terms of the importance of cash.

Booking.com built its business based on the “Pay at Hotel” agency model, because it believed hotels would sign up faster and give better rates to an OTA who delivered payment on arrival, compared to payment many months after departure in the case of the leisure beach market. Analyst in part, credit this stance as one of the reasons they expanded globally faster than arch rival Expedia, who primarily operate a “Merchant model” where customers pay them directly.

However, Bookings latest accounts show a marked shift towards the Merchant model with revenue jumping 53.4 percent to nearly $1.05 billion, while its agency revenue grew less than one percent to $3.54 billion.

The obvious advantage of the shift is the cash flow gained. Unlike ATOL bonded holiday revenues,  the cash does not need to be held in trust accounts and can be invested into more acquisitions or higher levels of brand advertising, to drive a virtuous circle of increased sales and cash flows.

Ironically, there also appears to be a “commission” advantage in the Merchant model with average commission being 20% compared to 18.6% for the pay at hotel model, but this may be down to mix issues, as it’s hard to see why Hotels would pay more to receive cash later.

Hoteliers reaction to the shift will clearly depend on the payment terms being offered by Booking.com under the Merchant model, but there unlikely to be better than payment of arrival and a lot likelier to be worse.

Interestingly the major European bed banks like Hotel Beds operate a very different cash flow model to gain their commercial advantage.

Bedbank’s operate “B2B2C” models, where the hotels they offer are sold via third party OTA’s who act as merchants, retaining the customers cash and only pass it to the bed bank on customer departure. The bed banks then pay most hotels 60-90 days after departure, to create a cash pot that they use to “pre-pay” and give turnover guarantees to other hotels. These “Castles”, as they are known, in return give the bed banks “Exclusive Rates” that allow them to dominate the price driven beach sector, whilst still allowing them to make higher than average margins.

Historically, this practice allowed booking.com to gain rapid entry into the leisure beach sector, because their payment terms where so much better than either the major tour operators or the bed banks.

It would appear therefore that booking.com are switching from a hotel “land grab” mode, to a brand dominance mode, where they grow faster than competitors by simple out spending them on brand awareness and  relying on superior platform technology to keep customers brand loyal.

 At the end of the day cash will always be King, but it’s how that cash is used which seems to be evolving.

 

Meta on Meta. How can it make sense?

Initially, when Google launched its “Hotel Finder” product, it fan faired how the product would allow more hotels to advertise their own direct web sites, delivering providing lower prices to customers and lower commission payments for hotels as they cut out layers of the distribution chain.

Today however, Google hotel finder continues to be dominated not only by the big OTA’s, Booking.com and Expedia, but more surprisingly by other Meta price comparison sites such as Tripadvisor and Kayak.

 So what’s with the Meta on Meta game?

 Google initially resisted allowing other meta sites to advertise on its services, as it felt that the customer friction from a “Russian Doll” booking process, where customers clicked from one site to another to another, would be highly unsatisfactory. However, as deep linking of hotel and date details improved, this friction was reduced and the benefits of offering the lowest price outweighed these concerns.

 But what’s in it for the other meta’s? The simple answer is a combination of bid arbitrage and brand halo.

 The aim is obviously to charge the meta’s own advertiser more than the meta pays Google and amazingly at times this is clearly possible. However, the longer term game clearly revolves around “Brand Halo”.

 All hotel meta’s such as Tripadvisor, Trivago and Kayak are investing millions into “above the line” TV advertising. Within this media they are generally advertising to a relatively unqualified audience, who may or may not be looking to book hotels in the near future. However, it is done not for the immediate ROI, but to build brand awareness and to introduce new bookers to the brand that then can be retained to book time and again.

 Advertising on another Meta such as Google Hotel finder, delivers 100% qualified audience of potential bookers and even if the arbitrage is negative and the initial booking is acquired at a loss, it is often a less expensive acquisition tool than above the line advertising.

 Hence, the key is customer retention and what drives this.

 For hotel meta’s its clearly the utility delivered by price comparison and the belief that one visit to the site delivers the best price for a hotel. 

 They also have the advantage over Hotel direct sites, of offering a massive range of both beach and city hotels, increasing the likelihood of a repeat purchase, which in turn gives it deeper advertising pockets, with an initially negative ROI’s being acceptable when hotel direct sites will rarely advertise this aggressively.

 The intersecting question however is which Meta site does the customer go to next year? Google hotel finder or the end Meta?

 The same dilemma applies to all Hotel OTA’s advertising on Meta’s and hence the push from beach hotel OTA’s to add extra utility by offering flights, transfers and holiday insurance during the hotel booking process. The more of these products customers buy from OTA’s, the greater the chance of building “Utility” and stickiness, over pure Meta sites that just provide hotel only price comparison.

 So at the end of the day Google is likely to be dominated by those with the highest customer retentions levels and subsequently deepest advertising pockets as it’s a deeply capitalist bidding market place.

 However, the depth of the pockets depends on both customer retention and potential upsell revenues, so don’t expect the same results across beach and city destinations as the specialist beach OTA’s have a number of advantages over their more generic hotel competitors.

 I think it will remain a fascinating battle ground over the next few years!

 

Are On the Beach creating the next Evolution of Dynamic Packaging?

On the Beach’s move into B2B distribution via independent travel agents, is a highly logical move for the UK’s leading OTA and reflects the changing regulatory environment.

 

Prior to June’s role out of the new European Package Directive, OTA’s operated under the much lighter touch “Flight Plus ATOL” arrangements and therefore avoided B2B trade distribution, because selling via third parties was not possible under flight plus and required a full ATOL licence. This required principal status and incurred higher operating costs in the form of higher Public liability insurance, duty office and compensatory framework.

 

However, under the new regulation Flight Plus has effectively been scrapped and full ATOL licence are required for both B2C and B2B distribution, so why not exploit high street distribution?

 

From OTB’s point of view, high street agents provide risk free distribution, with commission only being paid on booking, creating a known cost of customer acquisition (CPA). Contrast this with the greater risk from an ever increasing cost per click (CPC) Google advertising model and you can see the attraction, particularly when there is a clear argument that the high street attracts a different customer sector to those who book online.

 

Significantly, OTB has one of the highest online margins per booking, created by a slick booking process where customers are initially hooked by ultra-low flight prices, derived by mix and matching different low cost carrier flight option, before booking directly contracted “Recommended” hotels and integrated holiday extras such as transfers.

 

These high margins will allow OTB to pay attractive commission to the trade, whilst retaining a small element of profit to cover their administration and bonding costs. Trade distribution will never be a massive profit driver for OTB, but it could easily add a third more volume, boosting its buying power with hoteliers and potentially making it a more attractive channel for airline partners to reach high street agents.

 

From a agents perspective the key question is “Why would high street agents book OTB’s Classic Online packages, rather than packaging the same elements themselves?”

 

The answer probalby boils down to speed and risk. OTB’s booking interface is better than any B2B booking tool I have seen and is provided free of charge. It will also come with full financial protection and public liability insurance, so as long as commission are competitive, it provides a simple and fast booking platform with much reduced risk to the travel agent.

 

I am sure some travel agents will be worried about supporting a “Competitor”, but holidays will be sold via a separate B2B brand and I’m sure OTB will be providing guarantees about not using email address or mobile numbers, to remarket to these customers in the future.

 

Interestingly, it may be the low cost carriers themselves who object to OTB’s move. It is expected that Easyjet Holidays will be following Jet2 Holidays lead and launching their own trade tour operation for Summer 2019. How will they feel about competing with OTB for trade distribution, when OTB are often under cutting their prices by combing outbound Easyjet Flights with inbound Ryanair flights?

 

You can certainly imagine some friction occurring here, but conversely Easyjet may be perfectly happy to take the extra £30 a booking they earn from flight API fees on these trade sales without having any of the hassle of actually selling a holiday!

 

Adding Trade distribution is a logical step for On the Beach and could easily be a win:win for both them and trade partners, however I would not be surprised to hear some trade consortia saying “Not on my Watch”.

Will the escalating fuel cost drive capacity cuts for Summer 2019?

Fuel prices have risen by 50% since June 2017 and as airlines fuel hedges unwind, they will need to pass as much of this increased cost on to customers in the form of higher prices as possible.  However, to do this they will need to reduce supply relative  to demand, which will inevitably lead to capacity cuts.

 

As UK holiday makers know, airlines don’t price their product like most companies.

Rather than pricing each ticket based on how much it costs to fly to Majorca, with perhaps a built-in profit margin, airlines set fares based on supply and demand. It’s why a Saturday day flight is more expensive than on a Wednesday 6am departure, even though the operating cost is the same. It’s just a matter of increasing demand for less popular slots by reducing price, as long as the net result at least covers the operating cost.

Therefore, when fuel prices are low as they were in 2017, airlines look to drive the utilisation of their fixed aircraft assets by introducing more mid-week and early morning flights boosting capacity. Also, aggressively expanding airlines like Jet2 massively increased capacity with the introduction of new bases such as Stanstead.

However, when fuel prices reverse its obviously harder to remove this capacity, but if it’s not removed then its impossible for airlines to match supply and demand in order to pass on the cost increase on to a customers in the form of higher prices.

This is doubly true in a UK market place facing demand damping factors such as good UK weather, a weak pound and fears of political and business disruption because of Brexit.

The easiest solution is obviously for one or more airlines to be forced out of the market, but with the benefit of the removal of Monarch already banked, who is realistically at threat of collapse?

 

Ryanair are openly talking up the prospects of Norwegian Airways and Alitalia failing this winter, but neither of these would remove much short haul capacity from the UK market, although players like Rynair might switch capacity out of the UK to the Nordics to fill the massive gap created in the market there.

 

The logical step for UK low cost airlines is therefore to reduce capacity by scraping marginal routes or moving aircraft from short flight duration routes like Mainland Spain, to longer flight sectors such as Turkey and the Canaries. Adding one Turkey flight will utilise an aircraft for the same time as two Alicante flights, in effect halving the number of seats to be sold, assuming of course they can get enough yield from the Turkey flight to balance the books.

 

There is also an argument that airlines like Jet2 are effectively reducing the amount of flights seats in the market by selling more as package holidays. I’m not however convinced that this hold much water, as in my opinion Jet2 are just swapping capacity out of the OTA dynamic packaging market into their inhouse tour operation.

 

Ironically, the simplest route to boost demand may be for the low cost airlines to finally recognise the volume of seats filled on aircraft by the UK OTA’s and do deals to reduce their high API fees (£30 per booking) in exchange for preferential promotion within the OTA’s sites.

 

But I would suggest that wouldn’t I !!!

 

Pre-booked Sunbeds – Creative commerciality or a step to far?

I personally applaud Thomas Cooks creative commercial thinking behind identifying sun beds as another chargeable optional extra in a package holiday.

Low cost airlines first brought this phycology to the market place, by first making luggage a chargeable extra and then pre-booked flight seats. They rightly pointed out that this allows them to charge a lower price for the basic flight seat and leaves customers to choose what they want to pay for.

For example, why should a customer who takes fewer clothes via hand luggage pay the same as a customer taking a 22kg suitcase, which requires airline staff to check it in, transport it to the plane and then load/unload it. In this case there is a clear cost saving that the airline can pass on to reward hand luggage only customers.

Pre-booked seats, when it was first introduced, was more controversial as there is minimal extra cost to implement this and most airlines already offered the service free of charge to its customers, who expected to be able to pre-book seats next to each other. Supposed “Full Service” airlines such as British Airways initially resisted such innovations, preferring to sell on the basis of “Differentiated Service”, but after a number of years of losing ground eventually followed suit.

Therefore, you can only applaud Thomas Cook for becoming the “Easyjet” of the package holiday world and evolving its product offering to give customers the option of paying to pre-book the best sun beds. Just like Easyjet’s “Speedy boarding” service, this not only is a valuable service to some customers, it also provides a degree of “show off ability” that they are smart enough to pre-book and can afford to do so. A few seasons of “sun bed” envy will soon see the uptake of this service soar.

The subtle down side of Thomas Cook launching this policy, is that it does allow its major competitor Tui to take the moral high ground over its “differentiated” holiday products, where I am sure it will claim sun beds are so plentiful that there is no need to pay extra to pre-book. However, for me this has echoes of British Airways stance and is unlikely to have any real impact in a world where customer choice, is just as “Customer Centric” as full service options that cost more.

This year, Turkey is not just for Christmas.

As we sit recovering from one to many Christmas turkey dinners, it may be time to look at the year ahead and assess the role that Turkey as a destination is likely to play in the success of the UK Travel Industry this year.

The collapse of Monarch airlines gave a stark warning as to how nasty the “Spanish route” price war had got, with average yields having dropped by 30% over a 2-year period for most airlines.

As we all know, terrorism and political unrest has seen a massive concentration of demand into Spanish destinations, resulting in scarce last-minute hotel availability and large price hikes. Fortunately, for OTA’s whose flexible model allows them to be “parasites living off the misery of others”, these hotel price increases were offset by reduced last minute flight prices, as airlines struggled with excess last-minute capacity to fill their aircraft.

For virtually the first time, we saw how disastrous the low-cost model of discounting early can be, if high hotel price’s mean they cannot fill the last-minute seats and have to “double discount”.

The failed Turkish coup in July 2016 ensured that not only late demand for Turkey in 2016 was dramatically reduced, but also led to large swaths of capacity being redirected to Spain in 2017. Therefore, even though Turkey remained stable in 2017 and late demand surged back, there were few seats left to match with the plentiful and cheap hotel availability.

However, some airlines desperate to remove capacity from the Spanish blood bath, are flooding capacity back into Turkey for 2018.

Ironically, in these situations a high degree of “Exclusive”, but committed hotel product is working against TUI, who have increased capacity by 100k passengers, compared to the massive hike in capacity that Thomas Cook have put back into Turkey, with a virtual doubling of capacity to 600k passengers. Although, exclusive product is highly profitable, it cannot be moved around and does expose the owners to big swings in destination demand.

Also, the successful short duration, high frequency flying model of Ryanair combined with 5th freedom flight permissions issues, resulting from being an Irish rather than UK carrier, has kept them out of this potentially lucrative Turkey alternative. Easyjet on the other hand have no such limitations and having acquired profitable routes from GB Airways many years ago, know Turkey’s yield potential.

Easyjet’s biggest UK competition is likely to come from Thomas Cook being nervous of their large capacity increase and reducing perceived risk, by dumping flight only seats at low prices early to boost load factors.

A more left field threat is Turkey’s own low cost airlines like Turkish Airways, which have the benefit of being based downstream and so are able to move capacity around

Europe to exploit regional peaks in demand e.g. both Scottish and English school holidays with one flying program.

Turkey is one of the UK’s few major beach destinations outside of the Euro and with the pound having strengthened markedly against the Turkish Lira over the last 12 months (+20%), the price benefit of an All-Inclusive holiday to Turkey over its Spanish compatriots has never been higher.

Unfortunately, the same price advantage also applies to Germany, the other European beach power house, and capacity is also piling back in from that source market, so 2018 may be the one and only year for the British travel trade to gobble up as much Turkey as possible.

Mobile is fragmenting the OTA booking process and re-shaping their basic infrastructure.

For most online player’s, mobile represents more than 50% of their traffic, but has a much lower conversion than its desktop cousin. It’s no surprise therefore, that a “Mobile First” approach has become the key focus for most OTA’s with literally 1,000’s of A/B tests constantly being applied to try to find the ultimate “User Interface” (UX) for mobile sites.

The original focus of the industry was on “Responsive” sites, that optimised the desktop journey to represent it better on mobile devices. Quickly, the UX guys realised that the “Friction points” on a hand-held device from “big finger “clumsiness issues, required different solutions to mouse driven desktop interfaces. However, the “Real Mobile” difference, is the very limited time customers view their mobile devices at one time and the development of what the marketers call “Mobile Moments”. This means that the mobile journey must be much faster and to achieve this simpler.

The latest movement in UX is focusing on “Removing friction” in the booking journey. In laymen’s terms, this means understanding the users’ intent and ensuring that the experience provided is exactly what the user wants providing clear actions, in some respect this could be perceived as “dumbing” down the booking journey by removing any possible distractions. Just have a look at how different the “Booking.com” desktop and mobile sites are. On the mobile site, filters are hidden and once a customer is in the booking funnel, any distraction from the key goal e.g. book a hotel, has been removed.

The result is that ancillary sales such as car hire, transfers and insurance, are being shunted to a post booking pitches via email or clever “Remarketing”, using cookies that allow highly targeted “post booking” advertising of ancillaries. This “two stage” approach is facilitated by getting customers to downloading the “mobile App”, as even though many customers forget they have the app on the phone, it allows much more effective push marketing and links to content rich post sale processes. What is dressed up as customer service by companies like booking.com and Airbnb, is highly profitable in-resort revenue, relating to local excursions, transport options or dinning out. These allow them to maximize revenues once a customer has been acquired, but in a two-stage booking process. They would never interrupt their mobile booking flows with these options, but once they have the app downloaded they can easily become the customers “pocket passport” and sale a whole range of “ancillary” products by using both geo location and time sensitive metrics.

Other companies have adopted similar processes, but may become unstuck due to their dependency on email as the secondary customer contract strategy. As GDPR comes into effect next

year, travel companies will be able to email customers about their booking as part of legitimate interests, however it’s still unclear whether these emails can provide a marketing up-sell message in addition. The line between allowable customer service follow up and the sale of new products, looks blurred and grey to me. For example, is it customer service to offer a transfer to customers who have brought a flight or hotel from you or a new sale they have not opted into? I would argue it’s fine, but I’m sure somebody may soon object.

Speed is also a key in a factor in a “mobile moments” environment and multiple layers of “caching” are a fundamental requirement of a mobile site. Slimed down content pages driven by AMP or price caching to drive the speed of results pages are now common. Again, compromise is required and here it is the absorption of price increases during the jump from cache to live, as not absorbing reduces conversion by up to 60%.

The ease of linking between mobile and desktop to allow a booking to be started in a “moment”, but to be completed at leisure on a desktop is key. Currently the only realistic method of doing this is to get the customer to login, which is tough in the travel environment where customers are promiscuous and on average visit 23 sites before booking. Easy login tools using Facebook etc. have helped, as do high levels of repeat booking customers, but this is a hard one to crack and will be a massive advantage to the travel company that gets this right.

OTA’s are also taking a good look at payment options and how these can be simplified, whilst at the same time pushing customers to the cheapest merchant clearing option. From January 2018, the industry will no longer be able to charge the global 2% surcharge for booking with a credit card, compared to a debit card. Logically, most customer will opt for the greater protection and better payment terms offered by booking via their credit cards. Many OTA’s already have plans centering around flexible deposits and payment terms only available for customers paying via debit card, but these tend to be complex and conflict with the requirement to simplify the mobile booking journey. Again, I think we may see a two-stage process with deposits being taken in the simplest way possible and any complexities being aimed at the balance payment process.

The key conclusion from this article is that Mobile is forcing not only a shift in booking flow but also a fundament review of booking process and the infrastructure supporting OTA’s, with caching and two staged booking process soon to become the norm. Well it would be boring if the rules didn’t keep changing in my view!