Many travel tech predictions are made at the close of one year and beginning of another. I find it interesting and useful to look at trends a couple of months into a new year to see how things are taking shape. Here is the first of five travel technology trends that I believe will cause real transformation in the travel industry in 2014.
While the iPhone has been around for seven years now, 2013 was the year that mobile matured and really took off. As late as April 2013 some travel brands were still questioning the value of investing in mobile, recognizing the significant cost and challenges in updating websites to be mobile-friendly, building mobile apps for a multitude of devices, and converting mobile users into bookings. Mobile was often enough still viewed as a user acquisition and branding cost. But the handwriting was certainly on the wall. Converting a legacy web business to be well-positioned in a mobile world is a monumental task. But the risks of falling behind are far more hazardous.
Fast forward to November, and desktop was arguably still dominating, but after another Christmas season of frenzied smartphone and tablet purchases and the resulting mobile traffic spike, it was clear that a tipping point had been reached.
As we hurtle into 2014, with both mobile web traffic and mobile app usage skyrocketing and the debate about mobile web vs mobile apps raging on, it’s clear that mobile is undisputedly the future. It appears that mobile apps will beat mobile web purely because of superior user experience, but that could change as HTML5 matures and as mobile computing follows desktop into the cloud. The window of opportunity for mobile apps in the travel industry is as wide open as it will likely ever be, with new industry categories opening up and first-movers establishing significant leads.
Mobile-first and mobile-only companies are becoming de facto, as mobile provides the next wave of massive opportunities for travel companies large and small. Mobile will continue to shake up every area of travel, from the rise of travel planning on tablets, to shortening the booking window, to affecting the in-destination experience, to sharing every aspect our trips. The smartphone enables an “always-connected traveler” to access information and share their travels in real-time, providing opportunities for brands to interact with them in exciting new ways.
An interesting dichotomy to watch is Google’s continued evolution towards transactions and personalization in travel contrasted with the idea that consumers will increasingly start the travel planning process in apps as opposed to a Google search box. Controlling Android (Google Now) and Glass certainly keeps Google’s position strong.
As smartphone and even tablet growth begins to approach adulthood, the next hardware frontier in mobile is likely wearables. Google Glass or Galaxy Gear may be the breakout success but have faced slow adoption in part because of privacy concerns. As with the smartphone and tablet, Apple was the one to show the world how to do it right. It will be interesting to see if they can do it again without Steve Jobs or if Google, Samsung or someone else will lead the next phase of the mobile technology revolution.