How a mobile first transformation is shaping the future of the travel industry

By Jonathan Crowl

Woman in a hat sitting at a table in front of an open world map with her bag and smartphone around her representing the mobile first transformation of travel

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Mobile has already reshaped the travel industry when it comes to online bookings. According to eMarketer, 40 percent of last year’s nearly $190 billion in US travel sales came from mobile devices.

The competitive landscape for these bookings underscores the central role mobile plays in helping to connect consumers with the experiences they seek. But the mobile first transformation taking place across the travel and transportation industries is only just beginning. Travel brands are looking beyond mobile’s ability to drive sales and are examining other ways it can help shape the future of the travel industry, including its ability to revolutionize how travel is experienced.

From reducing consumer friction to helping travelers enhance their own experiences through the use of mobile technology, here’s how travel and transportation are setting the course for a bold new future.

Demands are increasing for efficiency in transportation

Brands like Uber and Lyft have already shaken up urban transportation, but plenty of mobile disruption is yet to come. Between ride-sharing services, the growing popularity of car-sharing and increasing interest in public transportation, consumers are eager for a transportation framework that doesn’t depend on owning a vehicle.

As Forbes notes, local transportation organizations around the world are using mobile technology and data analysis to identify inefficiencies in their public transportation routes, in the hopes of creating more efficient modes of transportation that better serve customers while also reducing redundancies. Inefficient transportation grids risk losing passengers who decide to drive themselves or use ride-sharing or car-sharing. The competition within the transportation market is forcing all brands to streamline their operations, minimize waste and improve their ability to meet customer expectations.

Mobile is increasingly ubiquitous in the travel experience

Mobile isn’t just a channel for closing deals. For many travelers, it’s a primary means of discovering new places and powering their tourism experience, especially when they’re in a new place away from their desktop and other comforts of home. Travel brands are recognizing the importance of providing wifi to travelers whether they’re in a hotel or on an airplane, train or tour bus.

As research from Skift points out, enabling mobile connectivity is a reliable strategy for improving communication and better serving all phases of the customer experience. This is especially true when it comes to engaging the silent traveler, who is less likely to approach an individual for person-to-person communication.

The airline industry is a great example of using mobile to better serve customers while also decreasing demands on employees, shortening long wait times and providing faster service. Many airlines now support mobile boarding passes, allow mobile seat changes and flight updates and maintain customer service channels as an alternative to depending on gate agents for all of these services.

Mobile first transformation means personalization for every consumer

Concierge services and personalized recommendations are a surefire way to elevate the customer experience, and some leading travel brands have made concerted efforts to provide these services via mobile technology.

According to the Guardian, the Starwood Hotels and Resorts organization, which owns well-known hotel chains like W Hotels and Aloft, launched a custom messaging service called Let’s Chat that facilitates message-based communication with the hotel’s front desk through a consumer’s iPhone, Blackberry messenger or WhatsApp. This convenient communication channel is available 24/7 to guests, who can use it to make special requests before or during their stay at any participating properties.

Meanwhile, Virgin Hotels has built a custom mobile platform to facilitate personalization and customized experiences for all of its guests. Dubbed Lucy, the mobile app can handle everything from managing the room’s air conditioner to making dining reservations, according to Econsultancy.

Machine learning helps anticipate traveler desires

Airlines, hotels and other travel brands lean heavily on upselling and add-ons to supplement their revenue streams. According to Mindtree, airline brands and airports are starting to embrace machine learning as a tool for understanding consumer preferences and uncovering opportunities to persuade travelers into a sale or booking. These brands leverage big data, machine learning and the individual consumer’s known preferences to present them with personalized offers and recommendations for everything from a useful travel accessory to a hotel room waiting for them at their destination.

This machine learning technology can also be instrumental in aiding consumers in the wake of a trip interruption. When flights must be rescheduled or itineraries are shuffled around, machine learning technology can combine current opportunities and offers with the customer’s known preferences to generate recommendations that assist in faster decision-making. This further entrenches the airline brand at the center of a traveler’s consumer decisions while also providing assistance in a high-stress moment — which can ultimately improve brand loyalty.

Mobile devices are already central to the consumer’s travel experience. But travel and transportation brands are investing in their own emerging technologies, pursuing a mobile-first transformation that puts them at the forefront of shaping the future of the travel industry.