Monday, February 13, 2012

Smartphones: A Perfect Way to Reach Stranded Travelers

IHG's Holiday Inn Express iPhone App
Mobile is a booming channel for travel companies. For my company, Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG), annual gross mobile booking revenue has risen from $2.5 million in 2009 to over $130 million in 2011. Most importantly, it is letting travel companies reach a new segment of customers: same-day bookers, those that are buying transportation and travel lodging the same day that they are going to use it.

Same day bookings account for nearly 65% of the bookings that are made on the InterContinental Hotels Group mobile apps and mobile websites and other travel companies are reporting similar numbers through their mobile products. In contrast, same-day customers only account for a small percentage of bookings made on desktop websites. A large portion of these same-day customers are likely stranded travelers. Travel companies can now reach these stranded travelers through their smartphones using mobile apps and mobile websites in order to turn the anxiety of being stranded in an unfamiliar location into a positive experience, resulting in revenue and great impression of the travel company.

IHG has developed some best practices for how we approach crafting apps and mobile websites that willl meet the needs of stranded travelers:

  •           Focus on 2 to 3 Core Tasks
    Smartphones dont have the large amounts of screenspace that a desktop computer has, travel companies must decide on the 2 to 3 most important tasks for the stranded traveler and focus on delivering those.

  • Empathize With the Stranded Traveler
    The best way to decide what those 2 to 3 tasks are is to walk in the shoes of a stranded traveler. On your next trip (if you're brave enough), wait until you land at the airport to make a hotel reservation. What information do you need to make the booking and what are the pain points?

  • Make the Purchase Path FAST and EASY
    Travelers will have their hands full of luggage and tired children. They will be rushing to find a hotel room before the last shuttle leaves the airport. They may be in foreign territory with spotty or expensive data connectivity. The purchase process must be highly streamlined or customers will abandon the purchase. IHG's mobile apps open directly to a map of nearby hotels with prices for that night.

  • Don't Forget the Post-Purchase Experience
    The strength of the smartphone is it goes with the traveler once the booking is made. How can it assist in not only booking, but every aspect of the travel experience. For example, provide real-time driving directions from the user's current location to the hotel.

The opportunities for travel companies to reach stranded travelers is growing fast and the risk of frustrating an already frustrated user is high, but if travel companies start with these basic guidelines to drive their mobile apps and websites then the end result should be positive travel experiences for their customers.

Darin Wonn is Product Manager for Mobile Apps at InterContinental Hotels Group. Follow him on twitter @darinwonn.

To hear more about IHG's work in the mobile marketing space, join us this March at The Mobile Marketing Conference. Darin will be speaking on The Mobile Traveler on Tuesday, March 20th, 2012. Download the brochure here to learn more.

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