Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Mobile travel - public says aye; industry says, er, not sure

Guest blog post from Michael Lacy, boss of Handy Group:

The chap next to me in the queue outside the O2 store at 7.30 on Friday morning had sold his ‘old’ iPhone on ebay for £180 the evening before.

Ahead of us the sales director of the local Ford Dealership had taken the morning off so he could be one of the first with the new phone, and so it went on.

I probably didn’t need to be there but I wanted to know who these people were, prepared to stand in line from midnight for ‘just’ another phone.

There were fifteen people ahead of me and I turned up at 7.00am. At 8.02am, when the store opened, there were another thirty-five behind me.

At 8.05am O2’s computer systems crashed (again) so it took more than an hour to process just one customer.

And it was the same story at the other 399 O2 stores around the country.

About a third of the queue I was in gave up when it was announced they only had four 16GB versions in stock and others went when they realised they probably wouldn’t see their families over the weekend at they rate they were processing customers.

Yet very few in these lines were ‘geeks’, early adopters for sure, but an eclectic mix of ages, men, women and children (Mum’s were there, armed with ID), previous ‘iPhoner’s’ and those new to iPhone.

This readily available user group opportunity was too good to miss so an impromptu survey was taken – albeit from a ‘sold’ audience; internet access on the move was most important to 40%, internet access and voice was most important to 36%. Internet access was least important to 0%; 40% said they would likely buy travel products from their phone.

After demonstrating - on our own system - how easy it is to buy a week at a hotel in Paphos from Hotels4U or to book a car from Hertz, or a flight on Easyjet – this increased to over 90%.

To someone working in the mobile ‘space’ these figures probably aren’t surprising. But what surprised me was the amazement and acceptance of internet applications built just for mobile.

Most were willing to live with the limitations of viewing a fixed line site in miniature but when shown applications, freely available, with no download from iTunes, no pre-registration – and in full screen, adoption levels more than doubled.

Would any online travel company imagine that producing a website the size of a billboard would be effective? Yet in a recent travel industry telemarketing survey by Handy Group 50% had no mobile strategy.

Michael Lacy, chief executive, Handy Group

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