Ready for Takeoff: Mobile Apps for Travel

Article by:

Alyson Barger, Client Services Director at Sociomantic Labs


Think back to your last vacation. The exciting research phase, the non-so-exciting sticker shock, the outbound journey and, of course, the getaway.

Now think about how many times you used your smartphone or tablet during those moments. Perhaps it was to browse car rental prices on an online travel agency, see if your favorite hotel chain had special room rates, or to try and nab some window seats on your flight. Chances are, you’ve turned to mobile more often than you realize.

In fact, eMarketer finds that 73 percent of Americans will use a mobile device to research a trip this year, and over half of those that book travel online will do so from their tablet or smartphone.
I suppose this shouldn’t come as much of a shock. The number of U.S. adults traveling both domestically and internationally has been on the rise, as has the number of mobile users. Smartphone screens are getting larger, and the user experiences on mobile websites and apps are continuously improving.

But what is often overlooked is the growth potential of mobile — particularly mobile apps — in this industry. Fortune writes that over half of U.S. travelers have at least one airline app installed on their mobile device. Yes, desktop is the option most people use to book travel, especially when it relates to big-ticket items like flights and lengthy accommodations, but apps are now starting to share the runway.

Time spent on mobile apps is increasing

The 2015 U.S. Mobile App Report by comScore found that while it’s more difficult to build audiences in-app than on mobile web, people are spending 18x more time on mobile apps and brands are cultivating more customer loyalty there. Focusing on the travel industry, a Nielsen survey found that Americans spent 40 percent more time year-over-year on travel apps, clocking in an average of two hours per month last year.

As a result, while desktop travel sales have been pretty stagnant, mobile travel sales continue to climb. Mobile will make up over one-third of digital travel sales this year, totaling $65 billion. eMarketer estimates this number to increase to 48 percent by 2020, in part due to increased sales from mobile apps.

How travelers are interacting with apps

The 2016 Airlines IT Trends Survey by technology solutions firm SITA found that two out of three airlines globally are offering the option to book flights through their apps. App bookings currently make up only 4 percent of an airline’s total revenue, but this is predicted to triple in the next few years. The same trend follows for ancillary items as well, with more passengers purchasing things like Wi-Fi and priority seating through apps, and airlines are even starting to offer non-flight related options (such as car rentals) to boost sales.

In addition to travel bookings, business and leisure travelers alike prefer the convenience of checking in and accessing boarding passes at a click or swipe’s notice. SITA calls mobile “the fastest growing check-in channel” as the number of passengers that check-in from mobile devices — both in-app and on mobile web — have almost doubled year-over-year. While only 12 percent of passengers checked in using a mobile app this year, an estimated 31 percent will be doing so by 2019.

Lastly, airlines are starting to use mobile apps as more of a customer service platform, with about one-third of airlines enabling customers to get in touch with them about missed flights and other issues directly through their apps. In fact, 72 percent of airlines plan to communicate missing baggage updates through app notifications by 2019, a huge boost over the current 12 percent that offer it today.

Mobile app commerce is on the rise

The growth of mobile app commerce in the travel industry is accelerating. App customers tend to convert more since they are already brand-loyal, and so big names in the industry are already making strides to improve the app experience. Delta Airlines, for example, offers in-flight streaming entertainment for passengers with its Fly Delta app, and Hilton’s HHonors App even offers a digital room key and lets its guests choose the specific room and view they want upon booking.

Digital marketers who recognize this and invest in apps now will find themselves at a serious advantage as consumers’ need for more accessible travel information and booking options grows.


Alyson BargerAlyson Barger is the client services director at Sociomantic Labs and has over seven years of experience in digital marketing. A Dallas native currently living in Fort Worth (go TCU Frogs!), Barger oversees Sociomantic North America’s valuable agency relationships with iProspect and PMG. Prior to Sociomantic, Barger was a client services manager at iProspect where she managed a team responsible for the digital marketing strategy of various global clients, including leading hotel portfolio Hilton Hotels & Resorts. She brings over five years of travel industry expertise to the company and is pivotal in building Sociomantic North America’s strategy for its travel clients.

About Sociomantic Labs

Sociomantic Labs, a dunnhumby company, provides personalized display advertising solutions to reach people online, on mobile web and in-app. The company’s proprietary platform enables the world’s leading advertisers to harness the value of CRM and other first-party data assets to deliver individually personalized, dynamic ads for every stage of the customer lifecycle. This results in broader reach, more new customers and increased loyalty of existing customers.

Sociomantic was founded in Berlin in 2009 and has grown organically to more than 300 employees serving over 70 countries across six continents today.