Mobile First ! Not convinced

At the recent WTM round table on Mobile, the latest buss word was “Mobile First”. This is where companies put mobile at the heart of their development program by developing for Mobile First, rather than retro fitting development on to mobile platforms.
Soon 75% of the UK population will own a Smart phone and the 20% growth Google has seen in search volumes in 2013, has all come from mobile. So how could you possible ignore this?

Simplistically, mobile just makes the internet much more accessible to customers, allowing them to fill “Dead time” interacting with their phones 150 times a day or sitting on the couch at home using tablets.

However, the advent of mobile presents travel companies with masses of complexity and problems beyond even the non-trivial requirement to introduce web sites that scale depending on screen size, offer different search process based on device recognition and move to a “Recommendation basis” offering 2-3 offers rather than hundreds of search results.

Online search has always been a highly track-able advertising method, using “Cookies” or “Mookies” (Mobile version of Cookies). These allow attribution so that advertisers can track customer’s through the entire booking process, giving credit to early stage search’s that do not result in a booking, but crucially introduce customers to advertisers brand in the first place. But mobile breaks this flow, because it has introduced multiple platforms.

Customers often complete complex holiday bookings on the desktop which is a lean forward technology suited to data input, that may have originated on a phone or more likely in my opinion tablets, which I regard as a lean back technology more suited to researching holidays whilst sitting on the couch. So unless you’re a major brand who can afford to take the gamble that mobile phone advertising builds brand awareness and early stage interaction, its very hard to justify it. At the moment Mobile does not deliver an effective return on investment (ROI) and I hence am not convinced OTA’s should adopt a Mobile Phone first approach.

Tablets are a completely different story. Their simplicity of use and always-open mode has lead a surge in house wives and silver surfers bypassing desktop and using these as their platform of choice to access the Internet. Unlike phones, the screen real estate makes it relatively simple to adapt existing travel sites, with a few minor tweaks to get over “clumsy finger” syndrome and gives direct access to the core holiday decision makers in the family e.g. women.

Currently high roaming charges mean that 60% of customers travelling on holiday turn off data roaming and the ability to access the Internet. However, the massive increase in WIFI access in hotels, restaurants and coffee shops, along with impending European legislation aimed at reducing roaming charges should soon remove this barrier.

Once the issue of roaming charges have been solved, mobile provides a great opportunity for OTA’s to extend their holiday offering with in-resort services via the phone. At the moment OTA’s suffer from the “Tarmac wave” where they send customers on holiday and just have to hope that they have a good time. They have no real ability to interact customers while they are on holiday, unlike the traditional tour operators who have in-resort infra structures and Reps. Moving forward OTA’s will be able to offer phone based support tools. These may be as simple as restaurant recommendations, local taxi numbers or maps marking all local attractions, delivered on their phones either on a cached basis or via live streaming.

So in summary I believe mobile represents another major evolutions of how people access and use the Internet. But in terms of driving holiday bookings I do not see the ROI on mobile phone advertising at present and will be avoiding it.
In many ways Mobile reminds me of the explosion of Social media. We all know it’s an opportunity, but so far nobody has found a way to commercially use it to sell holidays, irrespective of the marketing hype it receives.

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