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Come on travel companies – why are you not investing in tablet applications?

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Travel companies are forever claiming how app-savvy they are  - and now independent research tells us all that tablets are grabbing a significant share of hotel website traffic.

An eMarketer report referenced Adobe’s Hotel Benchmarking Metrics study which found that tablets have overtaken smartphones for mobile browsing share.

The study analyzed more than 300 million visits to 31 hotel websites worldwide in Q4 2012 (80% of which were for US properties), finding that nearly one-sixth of traffic to those sites came from mobile devices.

Further, the study showed that visitors have a higher level of engagement on tablets than with smartphones, which tracks with other studies and anecdotal evidence.

Tablets even garnered more page views per session than desktop browser visitors.

So given this high level of usage and engagement, and the more immersive experience that an app provides — that recent research has shown people’s preference for apps over web is increasing — you’d think that hoteliers and travel companies in general would be racing to invest in tablet apps.

Well, you’d be wrong. In a recent PhoCusWright report, analyst Norm Rose surveyed a broad cross-section of the travel industry to see where travel companies are investing in technology. Let’s take a look at some of the key findings:

Travel companies invested the most funds in online services and distribution [Totally makes sense} Technology investment continues to grow, despite a challenging economic environment [Glad to see it; technology is ever increasing in importance] Smartphone investment is significant, illustrating the industry’s awareness of the importance of mobile in the travel process [Yup] Few companies show major investment in tablet specific applications; most view their web investment as covering tablets [Wait, what?]

Now I understand some of the reasons why people would put forth: I have limited budget, most of my traffic comes through search, etc. Hogwash.

Now I do submit that for smaller players and boutique hotels that perhaps the budget and payoff is not there. But the big brands, the ones making the investments in all that other tech, don’t have that excuse.

Let’s look at Marriott for a quick second. I don’t mean to single them out, but they just launched a fabulous brand-makeover under the Travel Brilliantly moniker. So, just for kicks, I took out my iPad, opened Safari and went to Marriott.

First of all, I don’t even get a mobile-optimized site. Just the standard desktop web page. And when I go to the Marriott Hotels site — the core of the new brand positioning — still no mobile optimized page.

All of the emotion of the videos announcing the Travel Brilliantly campaign is missing. The opportunity to really capture my imagination and booking, lost.

Am I really supposed to believe that Marriott doesn’t have the wherewithal to build a tablet app? Especially after it put all the money and effort into the re-branding?

One last comment on mobile search traffic

To say that the traffic is coming primarily from search seems an admission that you are just trawling for traffic, that you haven’t built the loyalty in your customers that you say you have.

If you did, they might be more than willing to download your app and make that their first place to search, especially if this is where they will get all those personalized offers that the travel industry keeps talking about.

But let’s just keep thinking that the mobile web investment will cover it all. After all, it’s the same line of reasoning that made us think that the RoomKey pop-under strategy would work.


NB: Blank screen iPad image via Shutterstock.

Original author: Glenn Gruber
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