Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Thinking about online travel and mobile technology

It is often a press release on a company activity that brings me to think about a market trend. In this case a press release from Australian owned hotel chain Rydges turned by thoughts towards mobile. In this release Rydges announced the launch of a WAP site for booking and searching at m.rydges.com.

Mobile has been a constant form of chatter and speculation since 2000. I was in the UK at the time and BT must have spent millions of pounds telling British consumers about how WAP would change their lives. They invested even more in launching new brands such as Genie (now defunkt and part of O2) to promote WAP and mobile services. Not to be left out of the "dotmobile" boom, Vodafone and Vivendi launched Vizzavi with an offline marketing campaign that would make even Pets.com's poor old shareholders shake their heads with despair (Vivendi eventually sold out to Vodafone). Lastminute.com rushed out a mobile booking and voice activated services - again with no result.

There was a sense of panic in the air - if you don't get into mobile the whole business will collapse. Now remember this was 2000 - mobile penetration was less than half what it is now and there was not even a hint of standards or platforms/operating system stability in mobile. Lots of money - near zero results.

Every year since we have had another round of buzz around mobile. PDAs hit the market, Blackberries spread like weeds, Nokia dropped the word "phone" form internal memos and language in favour of the word "device", Windows Mobile finally because somewhat usable and the iPhone became the number one product launch in living memory (in terms of buzz vs sales). At each stage mobile was hot again. Thankfully now the response is a little more measured. Now we know we have to develop mobile plans and products but it is not a panic.

Response to this buzz has to be managed because it is really difficult to build a mobile product. With a website there is a lot of platform standardisation a company can relay on. So long as you code your site to be viewed by IE and Firefox (and maybe Safari) then you enough of the market covered. However with mobile there is no platform standards. Palm, Blackberry, Nokia, Apple, Windows all have different ways to displaying/accessing web pages. In the case of WAP almost every second device requires a different layout mechanism. There is also the debate about whether or not you take a browser or downloaded application approach.

This brings us back to the Rydges announcement. They have gone for a non- application based WAP approach. The hook for consumers is that bookings through the site qualify for a priority rate (worth 10% off BAR). According to their eCommerce Manager Stefan Drury by 2010 they are aiming to do "at least the same number of room nights through mobile as the primary www.rydges.com website". I like the intention but think the real work should be done outside of WAP and targeted at the browser/application approach.

I am going to treat this post as an intro/part 1 post. In later posts I will take a look at some of the online mobile companies that have come across my radar taking different approaches to mobile booking on travel. What do you think about mobile. Is now the right time to panic and build and launch as much mobile as you can?

thanks to Gaetan Lee on Flickr for the photo

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