11/18/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Lost at the Intersection of Mobile and Travel? Read On for Directions

The mobile industry continues to speed along with smarter phones, faster networks and easier to use on-the-go applications delivering everything from top headlines and GPS-based restaurant recommendations to this week's weather forecast.

Eighty-six percent of the U.S. population owns at least one mobile phone, and more than half of mobile users use SMS as their primary communication channel. This is great news for an industry whose customers, by definition, are away from their homes and offices and rely on their mobile phones more than ever.

Companies in the travel and hospitality industries are starting to realize the benefits of using mobile marketing as a way to drive revenues, increase customer loyalty and reduce communication costs. Marriott International claimed $1.25 million in gross revenue in the first 100 days of its mobile Web booking service. But not everyone is getting it right. We've seen other hotels, casinos, airlines and car rental companies get lost while navigating the mobile communications space.

At 2ergo, we advise all our clients considering mobile initiatives to (1) focus on the consumer experience, (2) clearly define the end goal(s) and (3) embrace the concept that a proper mobile strategy goes beyond one marketing channel. Specifically for the travel sector, we expand on these ideas below.

Think Small

A recent dotMobi survey indicated consumer preference for no-nonsense mobile content on phones. Whereas ringtones and entertainment were top choices in the past, consumers now rank news, banking and travel as the most desired mobile-based activities.

The same study reported that 90 percent of respondents said they would be more likely to select an airline with mobile check-in over one that did not offer mobile services, while almost two-thirds of participants said they would consider purchasing theater tickets, take-out food and travel tickets on their mobile devices.

Basically everyone has had a tough travel experiences at some point. Put yourself in that position and think about how your company could make those experiences more manageable using the mobile phone. Mobile re-booking options, easy to find customer service phone numbers, and location-based services are just the beginning of the list. Don't forget all the great opportunities mobile affords brands looking to deliver increased value to their most valued travelers.

Despite the restrictions of small screens and limited space in text messages, the mobile phone provides unique and exciting opportunities for new direct response marketing techniques, personalization and tracking.

Keep It Simple

Accessibility and easy-to-use applications are keys to a successful play in the mobile space. The apps have the potential to solve your customers' problems and actually delight them in a time of crisis.

A few suggestions for keeping it simple on the small screen:

• Keep your mobile site design uncomplicated, with the fewest clicks possible to the most important activities.

• Create iPhone and BlackBerry versions of your site to take advantage of their unique features, then offer homescreen icons for BlackBerry and iPhone users for one-click access to your content.

• Make it easy for customers to sign up for text alerts. Promote the service on your website, as well as print and TV ads, and prompt users during the reservations process. Utilize web-to-SMS forms as well as keywords-to-shortcode.

• Make sure any mobile messages you send customers are timely, relevant and actionable.

Go Beyond the Reservation

Providing a mobile booking service is the first step in driving direct revenue from the mobile channel, but then what? Have you thought about what happens to the customer beyond the reservation? Now that you have their attention via their phones, you can continue the conversation. There are opportunities throughout the customer life cycle that should not be missed.

Companies in the travel industry have an advantage over others in that they know when their customers will be on the road, in the air or out to sea and can customize messages for each stage of the travel process.

Since most travelers pack their bags the night before a trip, an SMS alert with the weather forecast in their arrival city would likely be a welcome message. Also, restaurant recommendations, discounts at local museums and other travel-related activities are opportunities to provide added value to travelers.

Other mobile interaction examples that can be used before, during and after the trip, include:

• Loyalty program participants can receive exclusive promotions or instant notifications of upgrades through their mobile phones.

• Airlines can partner with hotels, hotels can partner with restaurants, and restaurants can partner with taxi companies to cross-sell consumers on related services and create a money-making partnership.

• iPhone applications that utilize the phone's GPS feature can serve targeted advertising to promote relevant offers.

• Click-to-call options included within SMS messages or mobile sites drive consumer calls directly to the appropriate department.

• Quick customer surveys via SMS provide instant feedback, are seen as less intrusive and are more likely to get responses.

Utilize your extensive customer database to provide timely and personalized mobile communications, and you'll see increased customer loyalty and repeat purchases.

An Ideal Travel Companion

There is no doubt that mobile applications are perfectly suited for the travel industry. The Marriott example and others like it prove that consumer demand is there. Now it's up to the companies in the travel and hospitality industries to fully explore and take advantage of the endless opportunities mobile marketing can provide.

What we expect to see in the near future are mobile applications that are a win-win solution, benefitting travel companies with increased customer loyalty and reduce costs, while making customers happier and more educated travelers. If you're still feeling a little lost, give us a call at 2ergo. We can be like the friendly, helpful voice in your GPS unit guiding you in the right direction.

Feel free to contact me directly to discuss further:

Chris Brassington
+44 (0)161 874 4222