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Travel Industry Grapples With Mobile App Challenges

Travel Industry Grapples With Mobile App Challenges

Whatever you're selling, you've got to have an app for that, but for some industries, that can be a daunting challenge. The travel industry, in particular, has a lot of balls to keep in the air. Southwest scored high on a survey of travelers' satisfaction with their mobile experience. However, Southwest has an advantage: It doesn't need a complicated seat assignment feature, because it doesn't assign seats.

By Erika Morphy
03/26/13 5:00 AM PT

Consumers give hotels, airlines and car rental companies high marks in customer satisfaction for the mobile experience they provide, according to the "ForeSee Mobile Satisfaction Index: Travel Edition." Online travel agencies, however -- not so much.

Specifically, of the measured travel categories, hotel mobile sites and apps had an average score of 78. Airlines and car rental companies tied at 77, and online travel agencies scored lowest with 76.

A Simple Reason

In large part, that could be due to consumers' overriding demand for a travel mobile experience -- any mobile experience for that matter -- in a word, "simplicity."

"In mobile, the simpler the platform, the more satisfying the site tends to be," Eric Feinberg, senior director for mobile, media and entertainment at ForeSee, told CRM Buyer.

Simplicity is one of the drivers behind Southwest's high score in the study, he continued.

Southwest Airlines scored an 82 in a category that had an average score of 77. Southwest's closest competitors were American Airlines and Delta Airlines, both of which had a score of 77.

Southwest came out ahead because it isn't competing on a level playing field -- that is, it doesn't have to offer a seating map as part of the mobile app because Southwest doesn't have assigned seats, Feinberg said.

The seating map functionality apparently is complex to offer in a mobile format, and "Southwest doesn't have to contend with that," he observed.

Hotels also grapple with the simplicity issue.

"The challenge for hotels is being able to take a wide variety of different options and whittling them down that funnel of decision-making quickly," Feinberg said. "That is why Choice Hotels was rewarded with the highest score in this category -- it does search functionality extremely well, with minimal clicks and drop-down functionality."

In the hotel category, Choice Hotels International scored an 80, while the category itself garnered a 78. The next-highest providers were Marriott International at 79 and Hyatt Corp. at 78.

Home Use

Perhaps the most interesting finding from the study is that most users log onto these sites from their mobile devices -- but while they are at home, not on the road. The survey found that more than 70 percent of mobile users visit various travel sites while at home, while only 12 percent access them on the go.

That is not the usage pattern developers envisioned, Feinberg said. "They imagined users on the go, rushing to catch a flight and so on. But in reality, it appears users like to grab the nearest available screen to do their travel due diligence, and oftentimes that is a mobile device."

The survey also found that more people access mobile travel sites for research, at 43 percent, than to book a service or flight, which accounted for 23 percent of mobile activity on those sites.

A Companion Product

Ultimately, the mobile user appears to view travel sites as companion channels and not a single or sole channel, said Feinberg.

"A mobile user will use the loyalty program, will call a call center, will log onto a website from a laptop -- and use the mobile site as well," he pointed out.

Mobile sites are informing the decision-making, Feinberg said -- but not necessarily driving actual transactions. "That is something mobile travel site developers should keep in mind as they build the next generation of sites."


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