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Thursday, 31 December, 2015, 16 : 00 PM [IST]

How to attract The Connected Traveller?

Deepesh SexenaSmartphones are not only the go-to device for communication and entertainment; they are also fast becoming an integral part of the traveller journey.

When you look at planning and booking trends, it is clear that mobile usage is on the rise and a new segment of traveller is emerging – the Connected Traveller. The Connected Traveller presents a tremendous opportunity for the hotel sector, but first, owners need to know a bit more about the particular habits and needs of this growing segment of potential guests.

The latest TripBarometer report from TripAdvisor delves into the behaviour of travellers who have used a smartphone to plan or book travel, representing 42% of the total TripBarometer respondents. The report reveals how these Connected Travellers use their smartphones before and during a trip, provides insight into the types of amenities and services this segment of travellers expects their accommodation of choice to offer, and shows how the hotel industry is responding.

Introducing the Connected Traveller
Connected Travellers, defined as those who use their smartphone to plan or book travel, are found around the world but are more prominent in certain regions.  South America has the highest proportion of Connected Travellers with 57% of TripBarometer respondents from the region falling into the Connected Traveller segment. The Middle East (55%) and Asia (49%) follow close behind. However, looking at individual countries, Thailand and China lead the trend, with 65% of Thai and Chinese TripBarometer respondents identified as Connected Travellers. While European and North American countries lag slightly behind, a large proportion of the TripBarometer respondent base from these countries are Connected Travellers – for example in, South America 57%, The Middle East 55%, Asia 49% in and in India 47% of travellers fall into the Connected Traveller group.

Connected Travellers are twice as likely as global travellers to make travel related bookings via a mobile device. And user-generated content plays an important role in making those booking decisions. Connected Travellers are more likely than the average traveller to be influenced by ‘recommendation power’, with sites like TripAdvisor, word-of-mouth and content posted online by friends and family all cited as influential factors when deciding where to book.

Disrupting the traditional booking patterns
According to TripBarometer research, more than two thirds of bookings (67%) are made online, while a quarter (25%) of global travellers still choose offline methods to make their bookings, such as traditional travel agents or calling their accommodation directly.

But the patterns are changing – alongside online travel agents, hotel websites and other travel sites, mobile apps are becoming increasingly popular as a booking channel, with the amount of people using a mobile app to book their accommodation doubling year over year. In 2014, 4% of TripBarometer respondents booked the accommodation for their last trip using a mobile app – that proportion has risen to 8% this year. For Connected Travellers, this increases to 11%. Perhaps more importantly, the report reveals that those who booked via a mobile appare habitual users, with one in four (24%) saying they usually book via this channel.

Looking strictly at the device used to make a booking, Connected Travellers are twice as likely as global travellers to make travel related bookings via a mobile device. Laptops and PCs are still the most commonly used devices for hotel bookings, but what’s interesting is that 12% of Connected Travellers booked their accommodation via a smartphone, compared to 6% of global TripBarometer respondents.

The trend toward mobile platforms for bookings is even more apparent when it comes to travel activities, where the smartphone becomes the second most popular booking device after laptops – 45% of Connected Travellers say they use their smartphone to book activities for their trip, while 55% say they use a laptop. This is where Connected Travellers really start to differentiate themselves, as only 28% of global travellers use their smartphone to book things to do before a trip.

Smartphone: the essential trip companion
The way Connected Travellers use their smartphones while on their trip is what really sets Connected Travellers apart. The smartphone becomes their essential travel companion – they bring their smartphone with them in order to organise their trip more efficiently (44%) and even to book accommodation on the go (37%). According to the report, 72% of Connected Travellers use their mobile to look for restaurants, 67% use it to find things to do and 64% use it to read reviews.

The opportunities for the hospitality industry are clear – Connected Travellers are still looking for inspiration and information even once they are already in their destination, thanks to their smartphone. Whether it’s to choose where they will eat that evening or what activity they might want to do in the afternoon, local hospitality businesses should be finding ways to make themselves as attractive as possible to the Connected Traveller audience.

What the Connected Traveller wants – and what are hotels offering?

It’s no secret that all travellers find it useful for their hotel to offer power adaptors or converters to save them from having to bring their own. Two thirds (64%) of Connected Travellers would welcome this type of offering and almost half of the surveyed hoteliers already offer some form of the service. This is a relatively simple way for smaller accommodation providers especially to show their guests they are thinking of their needs and catering to their requirements, without having to make a huge investment.

The requirements for Connected Travellers start to differ however when it comes to services more closely related to smartphone connectivity. Nearly half (45%) of all Connected Travellers would enjoy an app to book things through while on their trip, and yet only 1 in 6 hoteliers (16%) globally currently offer this option.s

Over a third of Connected Travellers say they would like for a hotel to make SIM cards or temporary mobile phones available for its guests, but only 7% of hotels currently offer this service. This would be an easy win for smaller properties, not only catering to the needs of Connected Travellers but also giving more of their guests the opportunity to use a mobile device as an in-destination travel companion.

Ready for the Connected Traveller – how well is India prepared?
Globally, hoteliers have become far more accessible via a number of different platforms with 73% of hotels worldwide taking online bookings and 55% accepting bookings via a mobile device. So far, just 11% offer mobile check-in.
According to the businesses surveyed in the TripBarometer study, Indian hoteliers are quickly catching up to the global average in terms of making themselves accessible to Connected Travellers, with 69% of properties accepting online bookings, falling short of the global average by just 4%. India is also prioritising its technical capabilities in terms of offering a mobile app for booking, with 19% of properties offering this service, trialling the global average by a mere 1%.

The hospitality sector has a huge opportunity ahead of them to attract a growing segment of Connected Travellers, for whom smartphones are fast becoming their go-to planning and booking device. Hotels should be identifying the best ways to make themselves visible and accessible on mobile platforms in order to appeal to this highly engaged segment of travellers. And it needn’t require a huge investment: for independent or smaller properties who may not have the budget or resources to optimise their website for mobile, one solution could be to leverage the new instant booking capability on TripAdvisor. This service makes hotels, bed & breakfasts and inns instantly bookable on TripAdvisor without needing to develop their own mobile booking solution.
However, hospitality businesses choose to act on findings from the Connected Traveller report, one thing is certain – more and more travellers are looking to their smartphones as they make their travel decisions. And businesses that find the best ways to attract and engage with them will have the advantage.

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