The future of travel: the real impact of mobile and social media

Even with social media and mobile technology showing incredible rates of adoption, skeptics remain. Everyone has a friend or family member who “doesn’t do” Facebook or thinks Twitter is somewhere between worthless and moronic. That said, marketing teams in the travel industry are watching these trends closely. In fact, the intersection of mobile device and app adoption with slowing social media market penetration could lead to interesting developments for the travel industry … and thus for you.

Okay, let’s start with social media take-up in the United States. Right now, 63 percent of online Americans use social media. This is only expected to hit 67.5 percent by 2013. What does this mean? The marketing folks who use social media need to do a better job of mining the online communities they already have. As you probably know, hotels, airlines and such are all over Facebook and Twitter, so they definitely fall into this trend.

Mobile device and app adoption by the travel industry’s target market is what makes this even more interesting. eMarketer reports that “nearly 25 million US mobile users will research travel information on their mobile devices before making a trip this year.” And, close to 12 million will use mobile to actually pull the trigger and book their trips.

This is just the beginning.
eMarketer forecasts that, by next year, 34 percent of smartphone users and 31 percent of mobile internet users in the United States will exploit these channels to research travel. This will extend to bookings, too, which will be made by 18 percent of smartphone users and 16 percent of mobile internet users.

“Mobile has dramatically altered the travel experience,” according to Noah Elkin, eMarketer principal analyst and author of the new report, “Mobile Travel Takes Off: Emerging Trends and Best Practices for Marketers.” Elkin said, “From pre-trip planning to in-flight and on-property services to context- and location-aware destination information, mobile devices promise to transform every phase in the travel process, putting vital information-and new marketing opportunities-within hand’s reach.”

Travelers – people like you and me – are making a profound statement through our behavior. We use social media, and travel companies need to figure out how to engage us there more effectively. We use mobile devices, and they are stuck with the same challenge. We’re seeing these two trends converge, which poses an interesting problem for the travel industry. It needs to find ways to engage with us where we are most comfortable in order to get in front of emerging trends.

This is clear from Elkin’s further observations on eMarketer’s blog:

“An integrated, comprehensive approach will serve brands best,” said Elkin. “The more flexibly brands can offer to help their customers manage their travel-using a mobile-optimized website, apps and integration between mobile, online and offline channels-the more effective they will be. Mobile travelers, especially those carrying smartphones, are demanding, and expect suppliers to get it right the first time.”

On the surface, this may look like just another business trend in the travel industry, but what’s beneath it is far more important. How we travel – and plan for it – is changing. It’s nice to hear the platitudes about mobile and social media bandied about, but all that is meaningless until money changes hands. Talk is cheap, as they say, and it’s consumer behavior that provides the best indicator of what the future will look like.