Travel tech buzzwords for 2011: Mobile, Local, Social

WORLDWIDE A flood of innovation involving smartphones, social media and local search will have a massive impact on what travelers do and how they spend their money while on vacation, according to a new PhoCusWright study.

“Mobile technologies, social networks and location-based search are already having a huge effect on consumers’ trip planning,” says Jon Schepke, president of SIM Partners, a Chicago-based interactive marketing agency and a sponsor of the PhoCusWright study. “But the impact is going to be even more profound going forward, as we reach a tipping point in the adoption of smartphones and tablet PCs.”

In 2012, shipments of smartphones are expected to exceed PC shipments for the first time. iPad sales could reach 43.7 million units in 2011 and 63.3 million in 2012, reinforcing the importance of being focused on mobile computing and application development.

“These trends offer travel marketers new and cost-efficient ways of connecting with consumers before, during and after their trips,” Schepke says. “Consumers will be able to access targeted information, promotions and offers when they need them most and are making decisions, so they are more likely to buy.”

Destinations, hotels and travel attractions should have a mobile marketing strategy in place now to adapt to the fast-changing digital landscape and ensure that they are well-positioned to take advantage of these opportunities. “Those who move quickly to develop engaging and consumer-friendly mobile applications will gain a significant advantage in a very competitive marketplace,” Schepke says.

The report cites mobile convergence—the proliferation of GPS-empowered applications, mapping, search, digital camera, MP3 player and other capabilities available on smartphones—as a key trend that will significantly influence consumers’ future choices of activities in their travel destinations. Social media will continue to grow in importance as travelers increasingly depend on reviews, videos and personal recommendations from friends in making vacation plans and selecting activities.

The PhoCusWright study, “When They Get There, and Why They Go,” is based on a survey of 1,283 consumers, 340 suppliers of events and activities and 45 industry executives about the U.S. travel activities marketplace.

Among the other findings in the report:

  • Three in four active travelers use a mobile device while traveling. Two-thirds say they are likely to research, shop and book travel activities via mobile devices.
  • More than three in four active travelers cite traveler reviews and photos as very or moderately influential in choosing what to do. Nearly six in 10 cite user-generated video as influential, and more than one in three cite content and promotions from companies.
  • Consumers who spend the most on travel activities are the most influenced by web content like interactive maps, blogs and social networks.
  • Half of active travelers are likely to post comments to their social network. Four in 10 are likely to solicit advice from their social network.

“This study reveals that consumers are ready to embrace the mobile-social-local digital revolution,” Schepke says. “The travel industry has just scratched the surface of the powerful marketing mojo being created by itinerary tools, location-based networking, interactive mapping and other technologies. The potential is massive for reaching the right travelers with personalized offers and incentives at just the right time and place.”

U.S. travelers last year spent US$26.8 billion on tours, skiing, sports events, amusement parks, spas, museums, zoos, concerts and other cultural and recreational activities. That’s more than twice the amount spent on cruises and package tours, and nearly twice the amount spent on car rentals.