Consumers increasingly use mobile sites to buy travel

U.S. online customers are rapidly migrating toward shopping and buying their travel via mobile devices and moving slowly away from desktops and laptops, according to a report released last month by Phocuswright and Millward Brown Digital.

Traditional (i.e. desktop) websites for airlines saw a 13% average drop in monthly unique visitors last year, while OTA website traffic was down 8%. Hotel website traffic was up 3%, which still lagged the 4.6% increase in U.S. rooms sold last year, according to STR.

While some of these results may be attributed to a shift toward metasearch and websites for alternative accommodations such as Airbnb, much of the pattern can be attributed to a shift toward the mobile Web. The percentage of U.S. online travelers who used a mobile device to book travel increased to almost 30% last year from almost 20% in 2013, the report said, citing a poll of almost 2,700 Americans. While the shop-to-book conversion rate on mobile devices remains lower than on desktops and laptops, the sheer increase in the number of people using mobile during the travel-shopping process is driving up mobile-booking numbers. The percentage of U.S. online travelers who used a desktop or laptop to select their destination, shop and buy fell slightly last year, to almost 80%.

Breaking out air travelers, more people are already using mobile devices for post-booking services. The percentage of online U.S. travelers who used their smartphones to check in for their flights jumped to 40% last year from 24% in 2013.

"There's been a significant move to mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets," Phocuswright Vice President of Research Douglas Quinby said.

The results are consistent with Phocuswright's Mobile Travel Landscape report released in May. It stated that mobile transactions made up 5% of the online U.S. travel market in 2012. That figure is projected to rise to 15% this year and 18% in 2016, when about $30 billion worth of travel will be booked via mobile devices.

"It is just going to get more and more comfortable, and travel companies are making it easier for people to book on mobile," said Cathy Schetzina Walsh, Phocuswright senior research analyst, who authored that report.

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