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Just two weeks ago, Memorial Day kicked off the 2016 summer season, bringing with it the promise of sunshine, barbecues, outdoor activities and, of course, some much-needed vacation time.

As many Americans gear up for summer and begin taking the trips they’ve been thinking about all year, we wanted to dig deeper and find out more about how they use their mobile devices for researching and booking flights, accommodations and activities. So, we surveyed 1,000 mobile users in the U.S. across our mobile ad platform to find out. Here’s what we discovered:

The transition to mobile

Two years ago, eMarketer declared that “half of digital travel researchers will check out flights, hotels and more not only on a desktop or laptop PC but also (or only) via mobile.”

They also predicted that in 2016, 85% of Internet users will research travel online (with 62% of them doing so via mobile) and that 50% of users will book online, over two-fifths of them doing so via mobile.

Our survey findings confirm that projection, as we discovered that mobile is now #1 for travel research and booking among U.S. travelers.

We asked travelers whether they prefer to research on desktop or mobile, and 66% preferred mobile. Of this group, 70% of those that fell into the millennial demographic stated they preferred their smartphones for research over desktop.

And when we asked which digital platform they prefer to book on, 51% said they preferred mobile. Overall, 85% of travelers use a mobile device to book travel activities!

The mobile-first traveler

We took a look at the mobile-first habits and found that 45% rely on mobile apps when booking accommodations and activities; one in three travelers said that mobile apps like TripAdvisor and Yelp are their go-to resource when researching. This is definitely part of a deeper trend of consumers spending more time in high quality apps that add real value to their “everyday.” In fact, travel apps are among the top 5 categories of apps where mobile ad campaigns are seeing higher levels of engagement.

But what is the mobile traveler’s path to purchase? What gets them from researching to actually booking accommodations and activities? That is the key answer that we wanted to answer for mobile marketers. Here’s what we found:

  • One in four consumers that we surveyed said that an email announcement will initiate the booking process for them, and one in three say an ad with a special offer will initiate booking.
     
  • Another one in three said the existence of booking apps (Southwest, JetBlue, Orbitz) on their device makes them more likely to book on their mobile device.
     
  • Another third of travelers say that having research apps (TripAdvisor, Yelp, etc.) would make them more likely to engage in travel activities, such as eating at restaurants, going to museums, events and more.
     

The traveling mobile companion

There are still some U.S. travelers, however, who are slower to adopt mobile for travel purposes; we’ve called this group the “Mobile Hesitant”. Yet, interestingly enough, one in three travelers from this “Mobile Hesitant” group will sometimes defer to mobile for booking purposes; something our friends in the travel industry should definitely take note of.

Though this group still turns to desktop first for travel research and booking, they do rely heavily on their mobile devices while on their trip, as more than half of them research places to eat and use navigation apps (Waze, Google Maps). And 23% of this group uses a travel app while vacationing – perhaps utilizing a mobile check-in or booking their next trip? And, of course, one in three of these travelers will be sure to share their updates and pictures on social media.

The future of mobile travel: A mobile concierge app, perhaps?

As we see mobile users shifting to spending more time in app vs. mobile web, it will be interesting to see how travel and hospitality apps will compete for consumer attention. What will it take: seamless UI? Engaging content? Perhaps a new player will come into the picture: a mobile concierge app.

Similar to a real concierge, this hypothetical app would key into the traveler’s location, food preferences, interests, hobbies and more – essentially becoming the “one-stop shop” for all mobile travel activities. The app would provide suggestions for dining, entertainment and lodging, among other things. This could provide opportunities for other apps, such as Uber for example, to place an ad: “It’s almost time for dinner! Need an Uber?”

Yes, it seems like quite a stretch, but then again, we’re sure travel agents thought the same thing about online booking services. You never know what’s possible in the mobile world.

The mobile travel trend: What it means for brands and marketers 

From our survey, we saw a clear trend toward the mobile device as the primary source for travel research and booking among U.S. consumers. But what does this mean for brand marketers?

Top takeaways:

  • Many advertisers still believe the myth that consumers only turn to their mobile devices for research, searching for related terms (e.g., “whale watching san diego”) or browsing travel apps for ideas of where to go, where to stay and what to do when they get there. But when it comes to converting (i.e., booking flights, hotels) they are still hesitant. Our data completely turns this on its head, proving that mobile touch points like in-app ads and email can initiate the booking process and result in a full conversion. Travel-related brands must start taking advantage of this shift in mentality by focusing their KPIs more on conversion than awareness and engagement.  
     
  • Are you a business in a tourist destination? If so, it’s time to rethink your mobile presence. Mobile users are spending significant amount of time and have a high level of trust in apps like TripAdvisor and Yelp, so that’s where you should be. Beyond mere organic reach, a deeper marketing partnership with these types of publishers could mean the difference between 100 visitors and 1,000 (or 10,000!) this summer.
     

About the survey:
How do U.S. consumers use their devices when making travel plans? Opera Mediaworks surveyed 1,000 people to find out the role of smartphones and tablets for research and booking upcoming trips.

Contact: Alexis Gold

alexis@blastpr.com / 805.680.9395

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