There is a perfect storm brewing. The use of mobile in emerging markets has changed everything. Last year it was reported that mobile was used to make more than 50% of internet visits worldwide. With an increase in internet usage in places like Indonesia, India and China - mobile is starting to dominate across the globe.
To really understand the challenges and opportunities this presents for us in the travel industry, we need to step back in time. If people wanted to access the internet 15 years ago, users would have to invest in a desktop PC - it was an expensive device - and you would have to pay for connectivity, which was typically slow. Your country also had to have the infrastructure in place, so this meant lots of physical material, which was also costly.
Devices like the iPhone have as much computing power as we used to send the first challenger to the moon
Fast forward 15 years and with mobile technology and 4G networks, the landscape has changed dramatically. Devices like the iPhone have as much computing power as we used to send the first challenger to the moon - just think about that for a second. It means we’ve got this super computer in our hands that can do so many things.
New middle class
Now in developing countries, governments don’t need to invest heavily in material infrastructure - they can just build a layer of mobile communications capability over the country. Companies like Huawei and Lenovo have completely tilted the production of mobile phones and made it cheaper to produce and distribute devices. For as little as $50 you can have a super computer in your hands with connectivity that’s already there. That in itself is a huge moment for mobile that’s only happened in the past three or four years.
When we look at this fast growing new middle class across any developing Asia-Pacific market out there, for example, there are hundreds of millions of people. They almost outnumber customers that are online in the Western part of the world. And here’s the interesting thing, they didn’t grow up with a desktop. The first dominant entry point to the web traditionally has been ‘search’ and that is high intent behaviour - it’s about getting the job done. We search for ‘hotels in Paris’, or ‘how to fill in my partner hotel ID.'
But when we look at this second wave of people coming online, their dominant entry point is not search, it’s ‘entertain me and connect with people in my network and beyond.’ There’s a revolution going on in their brains, their brains are on fire! They’re connecting with free university content and entrepreneurs from all over the world, at a communication cost of almost zero.
Engaging with consumers
In the Western world we also see that the norm is fast becoming going online first via social - feed content and messaging (something I go to my phone for hundreds of times a day).
So the question for marketeers, and hotels and accommodations of all types globally is, ‘how do you engage with your consumers in this shifting landscape?’
How do you build a conversation in a low intent environment when increasingly people just go online to be entertained, they’re not necessarily looking to get a specific job done? Here’s the tough part. You can’t necessarily create an experience that answers all of a person’s questions about hotels in Paris, including everything that’s relevant.
The question could be, ‘will Google still be relevant in 20 years from now?’
This puts pressure on every marketeer and business out there, particularly as low intent buying will become bigger in the future. Not only do you have to convert high intent into booking for your property, but you also need to convert low intent into high intent, so our job is getting harder.
This means that at Booking.com there is a lot of innovation going on. We are testing and exploring other avenues around low intent consumption. We’re working with referral programmes on how we can make the current travel experience people have on the platform something that is worth sharing in their social environments. Content marketing has become a small, but crucial, part of the overall marketing mix.
Now I don’t know if this second wave of behaviour will be the norm 20 years from now, but everything seems to be moving that way.
The question could be, ‘will Google still be relevant in 20 years from now?’ Will people really stop searching with that high intent, ‘get the job done’ attitude or will they only access the web through this ‘entertain me via social’ way. What I do know for sure is that ignoring this mobile revolution could be costly for us all.
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- Last year it was reported that mobile was used to make more than 50% of internet visits worldwide
- Businesses need to find a way to build conversations in a low intent environment when increasingly people just go online to be entertained, not necessarily to get a specific job done
- Companies like Huawei and Lenovo have completely tilted the production of mobile phones and made it cheaper to produce and distribute devices