This analysis appeared June 14, 2013 in Cornerstone Information System’s “Insight & Opinion” section.
By now you’ve been thoroughly exposed to the idea that mobile applications (affectionately termed “apps”) are an essential part of travel technology. There’s no denying that mobile applications are popular, but understanding why and to what extent is more difficult.
Equally challenging is interpreting the specific implications for your business.
Perhaps you’re as tired as I am of being told you “need” a mobile travel strategy, and it would be interesting to first understand what you could accomplish.
Proponents usually start building their case with surveys and research which suggest businesses without mobile capabilities risk being “overwhelmed” by competitors, as the number of people initiating travel transactions on mobile devices expands to eclipse all other methods.
This argument runs aground somewhat because almost all this research isn’t very good. Briefly, almost all popular industry researchers don’t disclose their financial backers and biases, or their research methods, and their products aren’t scientifically designed or operated.
We’re left to conclude that, from among the hundreds of millions of smartphones and tablets, consumers simply must be looking for travel products, even if specific numbers can’t be verified.
Competition among the literally millions of app developers is intense–for room on the device and consumer attention if nothing else. Of the dozens of apps on your device, how many do you really use?
Five or six is an oft-quoted number.
I’m not arguing against mobility or applications, just pointing out that the barriers to successful entry are significant, and assuming these are unimportant because the market must be huge doesn’t make it so, or drive travelers to use a mobile app simply because you offer it.
In the simplest terms, people probably use mobile applications for some of the following reasons:
- Having a computer with you everywhere you go is certainly handy.
- Most people didn’t do that much with their PCs anyway–the transition to mobile is fairly straightforward.
- The apps can look and behave better than on a PC, because building tools in a web browser was never a really great idea.
- Most travel vendors have made communicating with them so difficult and unpleasant that the simplest, handiest form of electronic access looks very attractive.
As you start thinking about a mobile strategy, consider carefully the real reasons you believe travelers will support it.
The Best Tool Is the One That Works
Corporate travel buyers are often presented a surprisingly sparse list of mobile application choices. Much of what is on offer doesn’t do much or work very well.
Consumers have always had a high tolerance for flawed travel technology–a frequent reaction being that, if it works at all, it works wonderfully. The basis for a successful mobile strategy might be to insist on delivering real value and performance to the customer.
Determine what the service and business needs of your travelers are, then look for products that can approximate those requirements with an acceptable level of change to your operation.
For example, if you’ve determined that travelers should be able to request, change, and reconcile their trips from a mobile device, be certain that the tools you select allow that to happen with very few failures, limited training, modest traveler effort, and acceptable recourse when things go wrong.
These sound like “everybody does that” goals, but in practice they are difficult. Don’t be coaxed into accepting marginal products simply because they’re mobile.
It appropriate to set more modest goals that support your overall service strategy and that you can successfully reach.
The Best Tool Is No Tool
The travel industry is often anxious to build solutions to problems that shouldn’t be solved. No tool, mobile or otherwise, can change the fact that most “technology problems” are really unresolved management problems.
Often your business goals are better supported by altering procedures and requirements to make problems go away, as opposed to looking for the latest apps that might solve them.
The distance between mobile applications and other computer-based tools isn’t very great, and no computer ever compensated for poor procedures and policies, unrealistic expectations, traveler misbehavior, or a failure to manage.
Mobility is best viewed not as the centerpiece, but rather as an intelligent and convenient enabler for your comprehensive product, service, and travel strategy.