18 May 2010
DataArt and TravelMole Host “Mobile in Travel” Round Table in London
DataArt hosted its third Travel Technology Executive Panel in London, to debate whether the travel industry is ready to transform a mobile phone into a booking tool and to discuss ways to monetize the platform.
Close to a hundred guests gathered in central London to hear the leaders of the travel technology industry discuss the mobile revolution. The debate, moderated by Graham McKenzie, Managing Director of TravelMole, revealed that there were still many bars to booking travel via smart phone and confusion about how to make it work.
Tony Grubb, CEO of digital media company Steely Eye, told the audience: “Mobiles are not going to go away. They are not a fad. These devices have as much computing power as the Apollo space craft. But we have to make sure what we are doing with mobiles is relevant to the market because relevance equals sustainability.” Fellow panelist Tim Russell, Managing Director of Amadeus UK, said that there was still a fuzziness about the business model when it came to customers booking travel on their phones. He explained: “My great concern is that a lot of the information comes from people like us. Ultimately with the new smart phones they are accessing information in live time and hitting our systems when right now there is no clear commercial model. Normally we get our money from airlines and hotels but now that people are accessing the information willy nilly what happens? Someone has to pay for that.”
Bobby Healy, CTO of CarTrawler, said the most obvious problem with getting people to book on a mobile was that most of the time there was simply no need. He said: “In travel, the average advance purchase time for a flight is 44 days. With a hotel it’s 30 and with a car it’s 19 days. You don’t need a mobile to book it because you’ve clearly got enough time to get to a PC to make your booking.”
However, emerging markets like India and China where internet booking patterns have yet to become entrenched tell a very different story. Soren Langelund, co-founder of cruise website Ewaterways, told the panel: “Uptake on mobile booking is slow here but it isn’t in places like Japan and China. It’s about time and adaptation. Offer the service and people will eventually get used to it and make bookings with it like they do there.”
Tony Grubb added: “Look at the online world in the UK some years ago. There was a real reluctance to make online purchases in comparison to the U.S., Japan and the Far East. But it’s a cultural thing and every day it changes. Now people are happy to book online. The same will happen with mobile.” He said mobile booking would also grow as the UK’s younger demographic did. He said: “Kids are using mobiles at a very early age and the moment they hit 18, or even earlier, they are going to be buying stuff on them. They are not afraid of the technology. With people over 45, however, the numbers who buy things on their phone drops off dramatically.”
One audience member cut through the technology soul searching, stating that the simple reason that people did not book via their mobiles was that they simply didn’t know how to, with poor instructions and complex, unintuitive processes.
Dmitry Bagrov, Senior VP of European Business at DataArt, noted that although the technology is ready to provide a foundation for new services, many travel companies are stuck debating whether a comprehensive approach to mobile solutions is necessary. He said, “The reason for the delay in taking active steps in the direction of mobile is that many companies still think of new services and technologies as something requiring a significant effort and upfront investment, while in fact many mobile solutions can be launched on a modest budget and without delay.”