In recent years, any projection of the future of travel technology usually revolved around one word: mobile. Well, when it comes to the estimated $318 billion that will be spent in the U.S. on travel in 2014, the future apparently has arrived.
U.S. mobile bookings will almost double next year, to $24.3 billion, from $12.3 billion in 2013. As a result, mobile bookings -- inclusive of both smartphone and tablets but not reservations made under the "click-to-call" function -- will account for 18% of the online travel market, up from 10% this year, PhoCusWright said in a November report.
In all, about $1 out of every $12 worth of travel bookings will be generated via mobile, PhoCusWright predicted.
"Every serious player in the online travel agent space is prioritizing mobile technology development and pushing hard for travelers' attention in the form of traffic, transactions and app downloads," PhoCusWright wrote. "The rapid proliferation of tablets, with bigger screens more suitable for comparing offers and building trips, is also helping to increase mobile's profile in online travel."
Not surprisingly, hotels will continue to be the most penetrated travel sector when it comes to mobile bookings, with almost a quarter of all online hotel bookings being made via smartphone or tablet. (Orbitz CEO Barney Harford, speaking at the annual PhoCusWright conference last month, pegged that figure at 27%.)
What's interesting, though, is that air will overtake car rental as the second-most penetrated sector when it comes to mobile, as global carriers rapidly embrace mobile-booking technologies amid a consolidating airline market.
What still remains to be seen is how quickly suppliers will be able to expend the resources to bifurcate their mobile efforts into the smartphone and tablet-computer applications.
Indeed, some of the projections of rapid booking growth within the airline industry are based on the carriers' ability to roll out tablet apps, since making a reservation on a tablet is far closer to the desktop or laptop experience than it is to smartphone functionality.
Regardless, smartphones appear to be the faster-growing booking channel. In the third quarter, U.S. hotel bookings on smartphones jumped 86% from a year earlier, whereas tablet bookings were up 57%, according to HEbS Digital, while desktop bookings fell 6%.
Meanwhile, GDS operators are moving rapidly into the mobile space, as well. Sabre in the fall debuted its Sabre Red Mobile for iPads for agents using Sabre Red Workspace and said at the time that it would develop applications for other mobile devices. The app is cloud-based, enabling it to automatically synchronize with agents' Sabre Red workspace, meaning that any shortcuts agents have created will be available on their mobile version.
Additionally, Travelport, which launched its mobile agent overseas in 2011, did the same in the U.S. this past summer for agents using the Apollo or Worldspan GDS platforms. Agents can download Mobile Agent to access and modify bookings via their iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch or Android devices.
And Amadeus, which debuted its Amadeus Selling Platform Connect last year, continues to streamline mobile accessibility by recently making that point-of-sale feature available on Chrome and Safari (it was already available via Internet Explorer and Firefox).
Also in the year ahead, expect further momentum among mobile apps that conduct travel search via so-called "inspirational" results, including images of various excursions.
Priceline recently started beta-testing such a function, which the online travel agency (OTA) calls Explore, while Travelport said members of the Travelport Developer Network can build a similar app via its universal application programming interface.
"There is a vast amount of mobile innovation in hospitality," said Alex Alt, president of Sabre Hospitality Solutions, speaking at the PhoCusWright conference. He added that, whereas mobile until now has primarily been centered on reservations procurement, future apps will target the entire guest experience.
Also, expect a growing legion of hoteliers to give prospective guests the chance to book rooms via social media sites. Loews Hotels & Resorts just started allowing guests to book reservations at 16 of its hotels via "conversations" on Twitter, and other hoteliers are likely to follow.
Finally, OTAs and suppliers will continue to battle for market share of online reservations. With OTA domestic gross bookings projected to increase 5%, to $47.3 billion, next year, U.S. leader Expedia and global leader Priceline will continue to ratchet up their competition with both each other and with suppliers who are looking to cut distribution costs by directing reservations to their own websites.
Priceline made what was likely the biggest splash in 2013 with its acquisition of metasearch leader Kayak last spring. Next year, it's Expedia's turn, as the OTA will officially start providing all content and technology for Sabre's Travelocity division. That gives Expedia control, in some way, shape or form, over about 58% of all OTA reservations booked by Americans.
Follow Danny King on Twitter @dktravelweekly.