For years, mobile has been on the move as consumers’ preferred platform for looking up and reserving hotel rooms and flights. According to new data from Expedia Media Solutions, mobile travel booking has already arrived — at least in the United States.
Expedia published at the end of 2016 its fourth edition of the “Traveler’s Path to Purchase” report, expanding it to cover all online-booking behaviors of nearly 2,500 travel consumers in the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada. The data revealed several important trends in hotel distribution, chief among them that mobile is growing in popularity for engaging with travel content among those three countries’ already huge and expanding bases of digital users.
The report found that since September 2015, more total minutes of U.S. consumers’ engagement with online travel content occurred on smartphones and tablets than on desktop computers. Mobile has not yet overtaken desktop in Canada or the United Kingdom, but Expedia expects that crossover to occur some time in the next six to nine months.
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“We think these are very durable trends; they won’t revert any time soon,” Matthew Reichek, global VP of product and analytics for Expedia Media Solutions, said during a webinar hosted by Tnooz. “We think it’s important for the audience to have a heavy, heavy focus on mobile, because in two of the three geographies mobile is clearly in the driver’s seat.”
Mobile Travel Booking Keeps Moving On Up
Expedia found in its report that the mobile audience for looking up and booking travel arrangements is big and growing across all three markets studied.
In April 2016, the percentage of unique visitors accessing online travel content from mobile devices grew to 75% in the United States, up from 72% in the same month a year earlier. Mobile’s reach for engaging with travel content in Canada in April 2016 was 64%, up from 54% a year earlier.
Consumers in the United Kingdom showed the biggest jump and largest penetration for mobile as a means of accessing travel content, data from a different month showed. In February 2016, mobile’s reach was 82%, and 15-point increase from 67% in February 2015.
“People find a lot of value in this content,” Reichek said, “and they’re hungry for it and want more of it.”
In all three countries, desktop’s share of total digital travel users decreased from a year earlier, as fewer consumers took a desktop-only approach in favor of mobile-only or multiple-device (meaning both desktop and mobile) methods. According to data from April 2016, at 45%, the United States had the biggest percentage of mobile-only share. Desktop still had 25% of the U.S. share of total digital users, and the remaining 30% came from users who used multiple devices. In that same period, in the United Kingdom, multiple-device users accounted for 54% of digital travel users, and the market also showed the lowest percentages of mobile-only and desktop-only users, at 26% and 20%, respectively.
Mobile Browsers Still Dominate, But Apps Looking Up
When travel information is accessed on a mobile device, the mobile browser is typically still the preferred method, especially in Canada and the United Kingdom, Expedia found.
Mobile-browser share of total minutes spent accessing travel content reached 74% in Canada and 64% in the United Kingdom in 2016. Conversely, in the United States, nearly two-thirds (63%) of total minutes spent with mobile travel content were accessed via an app, while only 37% of total minutes were pulled up on mobile browsers.
The type of device used influenced which side consumers in all three markets chose in the browser-vs.-app question. Regardless of country, 90% or more of tablet users opted to use a mobile browser rather than an app. Smartphone users were more likely to use apps, especially in the United States.
“What will be interesting to see over the years is how these numbers change,” Reichek said. “On the one hand you could say as phones get larger and their capabilities increase and wireless networks get faster, perhaps the U.S. will look more like U.K. and Canada, with respect to the browser being the dominant access method on the phone.”
Conversely, he said, if more hoteliers, OTAs and travel brands improve their apps and roll them out globally, perhaps the United Kingdom and Canada would migrate toward the United States’ app-heavy environment.
Social Media’s Influence Falls Short of Mobile’s in Travel Research, Booking
One surprising finding in Expedia’s data was the relatively small influence social media had on consumers looking for and booking travel online, Reichek said. According to the report, only 11% of online travel bookers across all three markets used social media — to look at photos or videos, look for deals, or cast about for destination ideas — in their travel research process.
Social-media use was highest at the start of the research process for most consumers, but it dropped off as those digital users narrowed their travel options and finally went to book their arrangements.
“Based on this data and some of the earlier data around mobile,” Reichek said, “if you are spending almost as much time thinking about social as you are about mobile, you’re probably over-investing in social and under-investing in mobile.”