A group of travel industry experts highlighted the booming mobile internet market as the most significant factor affecting the future of travel businesses in a round table debate held by hosting specialists UKFast.
John Greenway, press office manager for Manchester Airport Group (MAG), told the panel that mobile will dominate its communications strategy over the next five years.
“Mobile is huge for us,” he said. “In the airport, everyone has their mobile phone with them. You can already book something and access maps but our dream is that everything you can possibly want, you can get through your phone at the push of a button.
“Passengers to Manchester Airport will be able to go through security, park their car and get on a flight with just a mobile phone – is that possible? We are going to delve into it in the next year and find out.
“People want to access things easily so we will allow them to do that through the medium they prefer – in most cases that will be the mobile phone with tablets becoming increasingly prevalent, especially amongst our business passengers.”
Bob Atkinson, travel expert at comparison site Travelsupermarket.com, emphasised the cyclical nature of the travel industry and how this affects the impact of various communication techniques.
“For the travel industry it’s about reaching the consumer at different points in the process. Mobile devices are superb for consumers to navigate form A to B and for ticketless travel and mobile boarding.
“Tablets will become much more important in the research cycle – when people are browsing with friends, checking out recommendations on the hoof or booking bigger trips. Mobile phone screens are too small for a lot of that.”
Steve Downes, managing director of Juice Digital, said the “game changer” for the travel industry – and for much of the business community – will be social commerce.
“With social commerce, the worlds of social networking and community and engagement have come together with e-commerce. You can embed your e-commerce platform into your social network – which all of the world’s biggest brand are doing – and inextricably link the gains of community with sales.”
Citing figures that show the social commerce market growing at 80 per cent annually, Downes said: “It is bringing together the fluffy social media stuff and all the hard-nose sales and e-commerce stuff and people are getting those two things to work well together.”
However, Jenni Lloyd, strategy director for Nixon McInnes suggested travel companies should think less about the transaction and more about the customer experience.
“By doing that you will move away from the short term hit but develop valuable relationships with clients and potential clients. The consumer goes through stages when it comes to travel. If they are dreaming about something, you should provide some inspiration, if they are planning something, give them information. If they are going somewhere, give them more detailed information and if they are remembering, allow them to share the photos or give them the opportunity to complain.
“Also, with travel, there are so many real-life assets for people to share their experiences. If they are enjoying a hotel they might take a photo and, if that hotel has wifi, they can upload it to Facebook.
“Why isn’t there something to interact with on the aeroplane or location-based technology in the airport to capitalise on that?”