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20 Nov, 2006

Weekend Bookings by Mobile Phone Debut at WTM 2006

LONDON: Stressed-out executives idling over lunch are becoming major customers of weekend travel breaks being made bookable through a rapidly-growing medium — mobile phones.

According to Gerry Samuels, Founder & Executive Director of Mobiletravel Technologies, for consumers with “time to kill”, mobile phones and devices like the Blackberry are quick and easy to use and provide a highly convenient means to make new reservations and self-manage existing reservations on-the-go.

For travel supplier & intermediaries, they offer an enhanced service delivery platform for personalised communications, a new channel for event notification and direct booking, and the possibility of higher response rates from ads and promotions when customers can respond immediately.

Speaking at a seminar at the World Travel Market organised by the Travel Technology Consultancy, Genesys, Mr Samuels said that allowing customers to self-manage their bookings “provides an innovative service edge over the competition” and help reduce the volume of call-centre traffic.

According to a list of mobile phone factoids he presented, there are now two billion mobile phones worldwide, of which 810 million mobile phones were shipped in 2005, (+14% vs 04).

“Close to a trillion GSM text messages are carried globally, of which an estimated 25% are forwarded. There are more mobile cameras sold than digital cameras, more music/video players in mobiles than iPods.”

Among the forces which he said are coming together to drive the adoption of mobile services, Mr Samuels pointed to the improved quality of handsets, Increased access speed, diversity and growth in available mobile content, simpler methods of mobile payment and greater clarity on the costs of accessing the mobile internet.

He demonstrated a promotion campaign for an Easter weekend break that had been launched in the U.K. media in cooperation between a boutique hotel group and a major British newspaper. Details of the break were outlined in a newspaper ad and made bookable simply by sending a text message to a number.

In response, prospective customers received a weblink from which they could access the type of room required, enter their personal details, receive a pre-confirmation and make the payment to confirm the booking.

He claimed the promotion had a conversion rate of “over 10%” with “lunchtime proving to be the most popular browsing time.”

Mr Samuels forecast that it will not be long before mobile travel will become “a must-have utility for today’s busy and stressed travellers” and a key component of a multi-channel distribution and service strategy for large/mid-sized travel suppliers & intermediaries as they stake a claim for their brand on the Mobile Internet.

Initial key services offered will be booking self-management, notifications, marketing and reservations. As patterns of consumer travel behaviour change accordingly, “mobile search engines will become the most popular way to find mobile travel services,” Mr Samuels said.

Another speaker, Ms Nishma Robb, Group Distribution Director, travelzest, noted that the travel industry has undergone significant structural changes over the past five years, due to the rise in Internet booking, low cost air travel, terrorism, the war in Iraq, natural disasters and volatility in fuel costs.

This, she said, has resulted in a market dominated by a small number of large players and a large number of smaller, fragmented niche operators, both of whom are demanding greater choice of destination / holiday components, price transparency and later bookings.

Said Ms Robb: “This is likely to result in continuing disruption to the traditional operator model and minimal customer loyalty in the high volume market.

“Those companies which are successful in this market must have: 1) Destination expertise or high service and product content; 2) Ready, profitable access to package elements; 3) Integrated and sophisticated on-line capabilities; and 4) a flexible operating model.”

As technology continues to progress, travel agents are coming under increasing pressure to also raise the level of their game.

Said John Donnelly, Managing Director, Harvey World Travel U.K., a major bricks-and-mortar tour operator, “To remain on the High Street and compete with the Internet, we need to offer our clients added value in booking their travel.

“They may book their £99 late deals themselves, but we can rely on the knowledge of the travel agent for clients to come to the High Street for their Australia, Dubai, South Africa, New Zealand and Cruise. This is where the High Street agent is paramount in booking this type of product and can lead the way over the internet.

He noted that the tour operators were well aware that a section of our market want to book their own travel plans. As a result, the company has set up a “new concept branch” in Leicestershire with two self surfing desks where the client can book their own holiday but with the comfort of an expert travel consultant right on hand to help if required.

“This technology will be available in all of our new branches from now,” he said.

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