Mobile Monday DC: Destination: Mobile

We had an excellent Mobile Monday DC meeting yesterday, all about mobile applications and services for the travel industry. Our panel included representatives from big players in the travel business (Marriott, Amtrak, Travel Channel) and from smaller startups in the field (PocketGuide, Taxi Magic, TravelZoo). It’s a natural subject for Mobile Monday; as Robert Spier from the Travel Channel noted, travelers are mobile by nature.

There was plenty to take in from the panel discussion, ably moderated by Stephanie Joyce from Arent Fox, who co-sponsored the event and provides the venue in their offices. Here are some highlights:

Travel is big business: President Obama mentioned in a speech on Jan. 19 that “Tourism is the number-one service that [the US exports]”. The panelists made it clear just how big a business it is. George Corbin described how Marriott discovered that its web site was the number 3 mobile commerce site, following Apple and Amazon. Another statistic from the evening: 1/3 of every dollar spent on the Internet goes to travel.

Mobile is a good investment: The panelists from Marriott and Amtrak both mentioned how mobile channels save costs, by reducing the number of calls to customer service. Amtrak is finding mobile to be the fastest growing channel, for information and ticket sales. TaxiMagic, by contrast, is a pure mobile service, which makes money directly from radically improving the ease of finding a cab in its target markets. (by the way, they’re hiring, as are the folks at Travel Channel/Scripps Media).

We’re just getting started: There are always new platforms to support and new markets to reach. Amtrak has a mobile app for only one platform (iOS) at present, and the Travel Channel is working on how to capture to experience of travel TV shows in mobile and digital form. The challenge for the smaller companies (Taxi Magic, PocketGuide) is expanding their reach to all of the markets they would like to serve. For companies with more established mobile solutions, like Marriott, there are always more ways to use mobile tech to improve the business. Marriott is exploring how to use mobile devices and services to improve the speed and efficiency of its “back of house” operations, such as housekeeping, to improve the customer experience while saving money.

Mobile is not easy (or cheap): The panelists, echoing what I’ve heard from many other companies dealing with developing mobile solutions, find that they never have enough money or people to do everything they want to do. It’s also hard to know what to do first, as customers don’t necessarily know what they “want” from new technologies and new delivery and business models. There’s an old joke in the advertising business that 50% of ad spending is wasted, but you don’t know which 50%. George Corbin from Marriott took that further. In mobile, he said, you can do 500 things, but only 10 matter. That requires (my favorite quote of the night) “ruthless prioritization“, and a clear focus on what the customer is trying to do with the apps and services.

Were you at the event? Please chime in with your thoughts and conclusions. I’ll try to add links to other reviews as I find them.

Our next Mobile Monday event is on February 6, this time covering mobile solutions for sports. Please sign up for Touchscreens & Touchdowns, and hope to see you there!

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