15 Jul 2011

What will be the ‘Next Big Thing’ in mobile for the travel industry?

What will be the ‘Next Big Thing’ in mobile for the travel industry? | By Ritesh Gupta
IN-DEPTH: Robert Dawson, VP, Internet Marketing & Web Development Services, Sabre Hospitality Solutions, says one of the next big innovations in the mobile space that will quickly impact the travel industry is the inclusion of the NFC (Near Field Communications) chipset in smartphones. This is also expected to change the way the industry sells travel in the future.
By Ritesh Gupta

M-commerce and Near Field Communications (NFC) are improving and enhancing the travel experience for travellers.

The ability of the mobile device to pay for goods and services, coupled with the seamless exchange of information electronically, enabling payments, check-in and personalised marketing messages with a simple swipe of the device against a reader, offers not only traveller efficiency but new opportunities for personalised interaction with the travel provider.

Overall, mobile is growing incredibly fast. Whether a company likes it or not, their customers are already going to their website using their phones. There are some countries around the world, especially in Asia, where mobile usage actually outnumbers desktop computer usage. Travel companies that do not invest in the mobile web may be left behind in the years to come as smartphones and tablets become even more ubiquitous.

Mobile delivers us on demand navigation, prices of the nearest hotels, and the highest rated restaurant nearby. Mobile is allowing us to maintain digital connectivity at all times. The mobile platform should be considered a connective tissue between the online and offline worlds and shouldn't be viewed as a stand-alone platform for delivering unique content. Rather, as Google says, the mobile platform is a way to draw together a brand experience overall, for continuity and consistency in the eyes of the consumer. This is certainly a huge perception shift, and it's transforming how we live our lives - how we shop, how we communicate, and ultimately, how we interact with businesses.
In order to know more about the utility of mobile sites as well as mobile apps in the travel sector and other technology-related issues, EyeforTravel's Ritesh Gupta spoke to Robert Dawson, VP, Internet Marketing & Web Development Services, Sabre Hospitality Solutions. Excerpts:

What will be the 'Next Big Thing' in mobile and how will this impact the way we engage, market and distribute and up-sell travel in the future?

Robert Dawson:
One of the next big innovations in the mobile space that will quickly impact the travel industry is the inclusion of the NFC chipset in smartphones. NFC technology could easily replace the need for hotel room keys and with this technology we could even see a fully self-serve hotel check-in process being done completely through a guests' mobile device. Additionally NFC-enabled phones have the ability to interact with everything from billboards to business cards. This technology could be leveraged to bring inanimate items throughout the hotel to life by providing real-time data and updates to a mobile device by simply swiping it passed the NFC embedded items.

What are the major challenges when it comes to increasing the utility of mobile sites as well as mobile apps in the travel sector?

Robert Dawson:
One of the biggest challenges when it comes to increasing the use and function of mobile sites and mobile apps is having to deal with the variations in each of the mobile OS's (operating systems). Though a standard is in place with HTML5, not every Mobile OS is following these standards 100%. The mobile development landscape is falling prey to the same thing that has happen with desktop browsers, in that Websites and mobile apps work differently on each device. As a result if a mobile app or website was developed without considering the unique factors needed for that device, users can find themselves frustrated and avoid using the mobile site all together.

How should travel companies go about budgeting and planning for mobile website enhancements and mobile marketing initiatives?

Robert Dawson:
In my opinion the strategic alignment of the company's website and mobile initiatives need to be tied together at the hip. As we strive for a Device Agnostic model for all things mobile, the strategic value of the mobile solutions should be driven from what is being developed for the Website. Budgets will need to increase and the marketing objectives altered to understand the needs of users on smaller devices, however, the core strategy for mobile needs to remain in line with the overall branding and marketing messages that has already been established for the brands DOT COM site.

The mobile device market is fairly fragmented at this time, with many platforms vying for market share. With that as the backdrop, travel companies should continue to innovate and offer travellers the ability to access their content across different mobile platforms, so they can reach the greatest number of travellers possible. How do you expect the whole segment to shape up?

Robert Dawson:
Overall, I feel that developers like us are going to have to take on this responsibility by making mobile solutions that are Device Agnostic. By developing a content delivery system that can easily adapt in real-time is no longer going to be a nice to have. Content is dynamic and diverse and the technology in the mobile space is actually stepping up to the challenge. With HTML5 and advances in CSS, a real-time dynamic content delivery system is actually achievable. The challenge for developers is how quickly this technology evolves and getting mobile device makers to agree on a set of standards.

It is being considered that HTML5, with its ability to provide geo-location, cleaner multimedia support, etc. is one technology that is going to revolutionise mobile devices, tablets in particular. It is being acknowledged that most of the platform vendors promise to support HTML5, but the concern is that - on the mobile side especially - HTML5 could be a lowest common denominator technology while the true innovation occurs (fragmented) platform-by-platform. What's your viewpoint regarding this?

Robert Dawson:
The great thing about HTML5 is that it is a support standard that is backed by The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). With their backing and support every browser worth installing, mobile or otherwise, understands the needs to comply with the W3C's standards. The challenge is that HTML5 standards can't carry the innovation needed for the future of mobile browsing on its back. It needs help from other technologies in the space. CSS, JavaScript and even Flash technologies all play an important role in defining the future of HTML5 and in particular its role in mobile. I do believe HTML5 is here to stay and it will be a critical part of our computing and mobile experience.

Standardisation versus innovation is one of the longest standing debates in the technology or product world. Today, there are many different approaches identified to provide an optimised way to device coverage, such as Hybrid, Interpreted, Mobile Web (utilise power of HTML5 and JavaScript to develop an appropriate solution), and "No platform" (where you code for each platform, but use optimised development techniques so that multiple platforms doesn't immediately translate to duplication of effort for each). What should one consider before going for a native application development or cross platform application development methodology?

Robert Dawson:
The key here is understanding how things will scale for the future. For example, our development team is charged with thinking of what the mobile web experience will be like in 3-5 years from now. Don't just develop solutions for today's technology. This is where innovation and out of the box thinking is required. However, there needs to be a balance to ensure your solution adheres to the predefined standards. Ultimately, I strongly believe both can be achieved with thoughtful planning, having properly funded initiatives, and having a keen eye to where the technology is headed.

How do you assess efforts related to an approach that integrates rich content, geo-location, social networks and features like Augmented Reality? How do you assess the current efforts to simplify the overall user experience in the overall planning and booking process?

Robert Dawson:
We strongly believe that the mobile browsing experience is still so unique that things like rich media content, and geo-location solutions etc, are only as good as they are useful to the user. Flashy cool features are tempting to consider, but we strongly urge hoteliers and travel companies to really know what their users are looking for. This is especially true for any type of booking process. For example, if you are a downtown hotel with a strong business clientele, things like Augmented Reality (AR) apps and social network hooks may not be that appealing to your user. Our recommendation is to know who your customer is and provide them the easiest and most efficient way to do business with you.

This article was originally published on Hospitalitynet

Travel Distribution Summit North America 2011
Robert Dawson is scheduled to speak at the forthcoming Travel Distribution Summit North America 2011, to be held in Las Vegas (19-20 September) this year.

For information, click here