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Published on Monday, September 29, 2008

TravelMole eWire Q&A: Mobile Travel Technologies

Gerry Samuels is the founder executive director at Mobile Travel Technologies Ltd (MTT). MTT has just developed mobile travel web capabilities for hundreds of Utell hotels and has just launched mobile internet services for Australia and Asia Pacific low-cost carrier Qantas Jetstar.

Q: What are the latest projection rates for mobile internet users globally?

A: It is predicted the number of mobile internet users worldwide will grow from over 500 million currently, to top 1.7bn by 2013.

Q: Do you think certain nationalities are more likely to embrace m-commerce than others? If so who and why?

A: In markets where there is a low cost to access the mobile internet, for example the UK (1p per mobile screen accessed), there is high mobile internet access. A recent study by Vodafone found that more than 45% of UK mobile users accessed the mobile. In other markets, where access costs can be 3-4 times that cost, access is lower.

In developing markets such as India and China, where mobile internet is the internet, penetration is also high - in India penetration rates are almost 40%.

In Japan, the number of people accessing the web through mobile phones almost equals the number of PC based internet users and has done for some time.

Q: Is the use of mobile to access the internet a generational thing (youth being more accepting of this new access point to the web)?

A: Use of the mobile internet appears to be popular across the age groups, with a roughly 50/50 split between under 35s and over 35s.

Q: In the UK, those who don’t use the web on their phone yet are still rather circumspect about costs and useability. Why is this and what should travel companies do with their mobile websites to correct this? Or is it technology providers who need to address this?

A: Awareness of the relatively low costs (in the UK) of accessing the internet on mobile is growing and operators are increasingly offering data inclusive mobile packages. In the meantime, there are certain steps travel companies can take, see top tips below.

Q: What is your advice to a travel company thinking about developing a mobile website?

A: MTT’s top tips are:

1.     If your company hasn’t got a mobile web site, start with a simple holding page on mobile, otherwise devices will aim to download your PC website which will not render well and be time consuming and potentially expensive.

2.     Use and promote a dedicated mobile URL to ensure users enter the mobile site and not the PC web site.

3.     Introduce services on your mobile website which are most pertinent to customers when they are on-the-move eg access booking information, local information, directions, rather than simply a mobile version of PC web site functionality.

4.     Recognise the limitations of mobile screen size and navigation and limit the collection of information. For example, collect email address and follow up to obtain more user information.

5.     Link online and mobile to drive awareness and encourage customers to access the mobile web site. For example, consider providing a link to the mobile URL via SMS following online booking or use mobile as a response mechanic to advertising/promotions to drive awareness and test response.

Q: What is the different between what customers want to access on their PCs and what they want to access on their mobiles?

A: Despite the quality of phones improving, with the iPhone setting a new benchmark, what people want to access on a mobile is different to what they want to access on the web so heavy travel site browsing on mobiles is not something we predict. Mobile travel services are more about accessing services whilst travellers are on the go.

There has been a fixation with mobiles as a reservations distribution channel, however we believe the current primary role mobile plays is as a service tool, to enhance the customer experience whilst they are on the move or don’t have access to their PC, thus reducing the potential stress. For example, where a traveller needs to switch to an earlier flight, book a hotel for that night at short notice, or access hotels directions and maps. 

When travel suppliers and intermediaries embrace this, they have found mobile to be an ideal means to deliver certain services that fit the context and provide a layer of differentiation over their competitors.

Q: How can having a mobile website reduce costs for your business?

A: Whilst mobile services are currently being used by our clients mainly as a positive customer innovation, they also offer the potential to reduce costs – for example where a traveller can self-modify a booking rather than having to contact a call centre, and also have the potential to deliver incremental ancillary revenues, such as pay for additional luggage, and provide an important service delivery channel.

Q: What moment in m-commerce history would you say was the turning point in take-up rates?

A: There is really fast growth in mobile travel services being made available combined with a critical mass of good quality mobile devices connected to the mobile internet at decent speeds to support the use of mobile travel services.

In addition, mobile search engines such as Google Mobile are becoming incredibly popular.

For mobile travel services we have implemented for clients, we are already seeing 10% of the number of unique users on the regular web site accessing the site on mobile. In the US, large carriers have over 100,000 unique accesses per month, which is growing by up to 20% per month.

by Dinah Hatch 

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