Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Are OTAs Starting To Own The Mobile Space?

Traditional sources of business for motels are changing rapidly.

In our Predictions For 2013, we earmarked the mobile channel as the most potential for growth:
"The mobile channel will continue to grow as a viable new source of business. Apps will continue to generate leads and moteliers will mostly rely on OTAs to be part of this space. The mobile web is where the growth will occur in 2013 and moteliers need to look at their own web investment to catch this wave."
The mobile channel is an important part of consumers' journey from inspiration to finally committing to an accommodation choice. This journey can involve a complex chain of different media from word-of-mouth, print, customer review sites to an array of bookable desktop websites etc. Mobile is increasingly being added to the chain of mediums that consumers regularly visit to research accommodation options.

For accommodation providers, having a professional presence across all mediums regularly visited by consumers is critical. Those accommodation providers that aren't serving up their own dedicated mobile option, can easily break the chain of a consumer's decision making journey.

From my own market observations, the impact of mobile channel is not immediately obvious, as the consumer tends to use other mediums to make the final booking. At the moment, the benefits of having a mobile presence is caught-up in the murky science of The Billboard Effect - ie the benefits that accommodation providers gain from marketing their property across many mediums that generates reservations through other channels, such as the accommodation provider's own desktop website, OTA, telephone, off-road etc.

As the majority of consumers are currently not using mobile websites or apps to book online, accommodation providers that faithfully record sources of business are only aware of the last medium the consumer visited before they committed to a decision. The influence of other mediums along the consumer decision making chain such as mobile are still hugely important, but harder to measure.

There appears to be an emerging game-changing trend where consumers are beginning to have the confidence to use their mobile devices to make an online reservation. As smartphones and tablets are now commonplace consumer items, the use of these devices as a one-stop research AND booking tool appears to be increasing.

As consumers become more comfortable getting instant gratification with a hand-held device, Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) are benefiting from their trusted brands and investment in intuitive mobile websites and apps to capture the change in consumer behavior.

Interestingly, the fortunes of the mobile channel for the most successful OTAs that operate in the New Zealand market have been mentioned in the media recently:
"More than 20% of all bookings made on leading travel website Wotif.com are now processed through mobile devices, an increase of more than 100% in 12 months.
Wotif.com has seen a steady surge in bookings across mobile platforms since launching a mobile site in 2009 and apps for iPhone and Android last year."
"Mobile devices are taking the online accommodation market by storm with a spectacular increase in the number of customers using mobile devices to book accommodations. Booking.com has seen its total transaction value of mobile hotel bookings rise from $1 billion in 2011 to over $3 billion in 2012."
While OTAs appear to be hitting the ground running, many individual accommodation providers may have been caught napping.

As the accommodation industry focuses on wrestling back consumers from OTAs by relying upon their desktop websites, professional mobile website development along with mobilised booking engines doesn't seem to be a high priority.

Is there a risk that the emerging mobile channel will soon be owned by OTAs?

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