Thursday, March 1, 2012

Travelbug Launch New Mobile Website

It's a gimmie that any significant online travel website needs to be easily accessible to mobile devices.

It seems that all research is pointing towards more and more travellers turning to their mobile devices to not only research accommodation and travel options, but to make bookings. While mobile devices are being used by upwardly mobile, on-the-go-travellers there is also a trend for these devices to be used by consumers using WiFi at home while lounging on the couch. The screens of smartphones and tablets are increasingly driving last-minute travel inspiration.

Overall mobile channel bookings have increased four-fold between 2008 and 2010 and it's likely that this phenomenal rate will continue. To support this theory, Google have predicted that mobile will overtake PCs as the most common web-access device by 2013. 

With a rapid increase of mobile browsing, are accommodation providers keeping pace at the same rate by ensuring that their online content is accessible to mobile users?  We say probably not.

While it is probably cost prohibitive for most accommodation providers to create, market and maintain their own mobile app, it's probably more cost effective for operators to consider optimizing their websites for mobile along with using booking engines that are mobile-enabled.

In order to expose inventory to the masses, accommodation providers are becoming more reliant upon third party providers with better economies of scale that are able to list bookable accommodation options on either mobile apps or mobile websites.

It is interesting to contemplate if travel information is better delivered via mobile apps or mobile websites (another option is to use both!). Apps only work on the phones they are designed for, while mobile websites can be designed to work on any device with a web browser. The iPhone, the Palm, the new BlackBerry, and Google's Android phones all support an open source framework used on mobile websites.

Mobile websites have a mass market appeal for content and can now be designed to look and feel like a native app. A mobile app can provide a more intuitive experience by utilizing many of the embedded features of the mobile device. An app's appeal is that it can become front-of-mind by living on the screen of a device and the functionality is familiar to the user. The main disadvantage is that an app is restricted by usage of a particular device and operating system.

It is interesting that Jasons and AA Travel websites/booking engines are currently not mobile enabled and they have gone down the track of appealing to mobile browsers by producing mobile apps for Apple device users (Android will follow soon).

Wotif have gone down a different pathway - they launched a mobile site some time ago and so far have neglected to launch a mobile app.

We see that TradeMe owned TravelBug have also bypassed producing a mobile app for now and have recently launched a mobile website. Our first impressions are that the site functions very well with a user experience similar to an app. Our friends at Travelbug have sent us some interesting facts to support their launch:
Traffic to is growing at over 50% in 2012 (vs a year ago) which is good, but visits from people using smartphones are up a whopping 466%

While it’s old news that mobile is “an opportunity” for travel websites, growth rates that large show this opportunity turning into reality, so that’s why we’ve moved quickly to take advantage

We can also see that bookings made on Travelbug by mobile users have a much shorter lead time: 50% of mobile bookings are for tonight/tomorrow night: travellers on the go needed (and deserved!) a better booking experience for last minute bookings

The mobile site allows travellers to search for accommodation near them utilising a nifty geo-location feature (or via standard region-based searches)

Of all mobile traffic to Travelbug, Apple iPads have the lion’s share with 53% of all mobile traffic coming via the iPad; iPhones are #2 with 22%

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