A recent report published by eMarketer has estimated that booking trips via mobile device will be an increasingly popular method for US travellers. Specifically, the report predicts that of those that book online, 51.8% of individuals will do so on their phones, marking a 43.8% increase from this year, with 78.6% of mobile bookers doing so on a smartphone.
It seems quite an intuitive finding, as smartphones are capable of performing similar, practical functions as a computer, albeit on a slightly different interface. With everything being streamlined and synced across devices – from e-mail to Facebook and Instagram – smartphones often hold all the account information necessary to make online bookings seamless and efficient.
While the eMarketer report suggests that findings may reflect a growing pattern of people booking trips on ‘small screen’ devices (adjusting figures downward for bookings made on tablets), whether it is the size of the screen that is a critical variable (as it is suggested) remains to be debated.
TechCrunch’s Forrester Research report from earlier this year (July 2015) observed a decline in global tablet sales throughout 2014 as the gap between the functionality of a smartphone versus a tablet narrows. The reporter speculates that this may have been due to the rise of the ‘phablet’, but also the general increase of screen sizes across all smartphone models. The practical uses of a larger tablet, when a smaller (but still large-screened) device like a smartphone can do the exact same thing, renders it redundant.
From sending and receiving e-mails, downloading and editing documents, getting directions via Google Map to even taking a selfie, many of the actions that traditionally took place on a desktop or laptop computer (remember when in-built webcams were all the rage?) can now just as (if not, more) easily be done on your phone than on a computer.
Also, the perception of one’s phone as a secure device may lend itself to why individuals are shifting to mobile phone bookings. Verifying credit card information, detecting potential hackers and account authorisation is quite commonly done via a one-time password send via text message; the assumption being that people tend to have their mobile devices on them at all times. That, coupled with in-built anti-virus and malware protection, means that people’s confidence in using smartphones when making transactions will presumably increase over time.We seem to guard our phones more carefully than our wallets these days.
Unlocking your smartphone is perceptibly far easier (its probably closer to you than the laptop across the room) than waking your laptop or desktop from standby and logging in online. With stored credit card information, and apps and websites now optimised for online bookings, you could book a flight and accommodation in Mauritius in less than ten taps.
Take Uber as an example. While not a method of ‘trip booking’ in the grander sense of ‘travelling’, it takes literally three taps and a matter of minutes before a stranger in an unfamiliar car beckons you to get in. Why would the same degree of efficiency not be expected of holidays and business trips? After all, we’re only really debating about the method of transport and how long you will be away. Yet again, now that Uber helicopters exist in Indonesia, it’s only a matter of time before we can book Uber jets to take us to our private islands (we can dream, can’t we?).
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. According to eMarketer’s analysis, sales of travel bookings and services on mobile devices seem to directly impact desktop and laptop-based sales, as reflected in a decrease of annual sales by 1.8% between 2014 and 2015. Yet, according to their estimates, mobile and smartphone bookings have risen only by approximately 8% between those same two years. Is it slightly ambitious to speculate that mobile bookings will more than double by 2019 (to an estimated 68.5% from 30.5% in 2014)? Given the incremental decline in computer-based sales, it’s possible but not a certainty.
Nevertheless, the higher rates of Americans researching trips on their smartphones – a staggering increase of 25.9% from last year – seem to support the overtaking of computer-based sales by mobile-based travel sales. But perhaps this is simply because we have the means to access this information wherever we go.
We hook into WiFi whenever it is available. If we don’t have access to that, we use our mobile data to connect. Any questions we ponder when out and about (travel-related or not) can be answered through our phone’s Google search. The rise of travel research on our phones may simply be a reflection of us using our phone’s internet capabilities to “Google” anything and everything, whenever we want!
Finally, eMarketer’s analysis is situated in the USA, meaning this data may not hold true at all in the APAC region. Smartphone penetration may not be as high in remote parts of South-east Asia like remote areas of Indonesia for example, but even where there is high penetration i.e. Jakarta where people often have multiple devices, travel bookings, mobile banking and financial transactions online have yet to be a trusted mode of payment amongst the population, according to The Wall Street Journal (July 2015).
Should the study be conducted across various countries within the region, the results could be significantly different.
Clearly, the main issue for smartphone applications involving transactions is still a matter of trust for many people.