Last-minute booking apps will need to evolve to survive
As the number of last-minute booking applications grows, travel marketers will need to adopt newer technologies such as Apple Pay and Touch ID to offer streamlined in-app payment options and remain competitive.
Last week, Booking.com announced a new mobile app solely for last-minute hotel options, joining ranks with apps such as HotelTonight and AirBnb as they provide on-the-go consumers with a variety of travel accommodations worldwide. Expedia’s recent purchase of booking site Travelocity also points to the brand’s desire to permeate the mobile booking app space, which may be helped along by integrations with payment and log-in technologies Apple Pay and Touch ID.
“New technology will make it easier to book on mobile in 2015,” said Josh Martin, director of analytics research services at Strategy Analytics, Ashburn, VA. “Apple Pay and Touch ID are two critical elements that companies must consider integrating in their apps.
“Android Wear and Apple Watch support are secondary but should also be considered,” he said. “It is important to remember that mobile matters.
“One important element in 2015 will be meaningful partnerships to improve branding and awareness. Knowing the apps your target audience is using will be critical to building sustainable branding exercises.”
Travel marketers are becoming more savvy to the fact that mobile users, especially millennials, are increasingly using their devices to browse destination options while on-the-go, making them a primary demographic to target.
If more booking apps begin to integrate with Apple Pay and Touch ID, it will likely help drive impulse purchases but will also make the space tighter for any lesser-known marketers seeking to break through.
“These companies are mobile first and their value positioning appeals to millennials who are more likely to book on a mobile device,” Mr. Martin said.
“Many of the last-minute booking sites have a huge advantage as many are mobile-first. This isn’t always the case but with a keen focus on absolutely perfecting the mobile experience above all else they often provide the easiest way to book on mobile. The buzz they have earned in the press also hasn’t hurt.”
Expedia purchased Travelocity for a lump cash sum of $280 million, adding the booking site to its portfolio of travel marketers, including Hotels.com and Hotwire. Expedia has already been powering Travelocity’s North American Web sites, therefore allowing the company to focus more heavily on the back-end of the booking system, which offers deals for car rentals, airline tickets and hotel stays.
Browsing on tablets and mobile devices is a consumer behavior that is significantly benefitting companies such as Booking.com and Expedia.
“Consumers are generally gravitating towards mobile in general, and last minute is just a part of it all,” said Marcello Gasdia, senior analyst of consumer research at PhoCusWright, New York. “Yes, there is growth in the number of travelers who are booking hotels same day on smartphones.
“But there is also growth in the number of travelers using smartphones to research hotel stays weeks, or even months in advance too,” he said.
The only way that booking apps will able to differentiate themselves from their competition, in addition to leveraging technologies that streamline the payment process, is building loyalty with their target demographic.
“This generation may not be the most well-traveled today but they will be a critical demographic group in the future,” Mr. Martin said. “One missing element is loyalty, and it is for this reason companies are investing heavily to reach them.
“Hotels are building millennial focused brands. Airlines are launching more tech-heavy lounges. It will be hard to reach these consumers through all the noise, so integrating meaningful relationships now is important.
“Here is a small example – iBeacons. A great tool to market to those in airports. Millennials are the most likely to experiment with this which begs the question of who controls the experience and ultimately benefits from the advertising dollars,” he said.
“Is it airline apps? Airport apps? Third-party apps? There is significant opportunity beyond just travel that will be critical to win to grow revenue in the future while creating loyal customers.”
This will certainly be an important year for last-minute booking apps as consumers decide which travel brands are worthy to lead the mobile space. Offering easy payment solutions via integrations with mobile wallets and quick log-in with fingerprint identification may make traveling even less stressful.
“Mobile will grow in importance and OTAs need to think mobile first and not be beholden to existing Web paradigms that are not suitable for the small screen,” Mr. Martin said. “Integrating new payment options like Apple Pay, Touch ID, Android Wear, et cetera will all be important.”
Alex Samuely is an editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York