Asia-Pacific firms have "traditionally" lagged behind other regions in the adoption of travel technology but the situation is changing as the region leads in mobile subscribers, says industry observer.
Greg O’Neil, Asia-Pacific region president for BCD Travel, cited an example in how a survey by the Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE) conducted in July 2010 pointed out that the Asia-Pacific only had about 45 percent of companies using an online booking tool. This was in contrast with Australia, where the average adoption rate was about 60 percent which BCD noted was "still very good".
However, the trend seems to be changing as Asia leads the world in mobile subscribers, he noted. Quoting studies, he added that the number of mobile subscribers worldwide has exceeded 5.9 billion with China and India accounting for over 30 percent.
Bruno des Fontaines, vice president for business solutions at Amadeus Asia-Pacific, agreed. He noted that Asia-Pacific-based airlines were among the first to embrace mobile functionality. To complement the high number of mobile subscribers in the region, these airlines also offer the most mobile services, he said, adding that both full-service and low-cost carriers in the region offer services such as mobile check-in and mobile boarding passes.
With 75 percent of frequent travelers owning a smartphone, O'Neil said mobile devices represent the future of business travel. "There are mobile apps available to business travelers at about every stage of the journey with most apps providing information, such as e-boarding passes, itinerary management and expense management, rather than performing transactions such as booking", he said.
Travel companies adapting to mobility
To ride on the mobility trend, travel companies have released mobile apps for its customers.
John Brown, vice president of product development at Agoda.com, shared that the company has customized its Web site to be mobile-friendly and also has a mobile app for the Apple iOS, Google Android and Microsoft Windows mobile platforms.
He noted that more than 50 percent of its app users were making same-day or next-day bookings. "Customers have told us they are booking on the road more and using local research in their booking decisions. With tablets and mobile, we see more users making bookings at home in the evening or during weekends which illustrates that users are spending more social time engaged in the Internet, but love the freedom of not being tethered to a desktop," he said
Similarly travel Web site TripAdvisor has smartphone apps for iOS, Android, Microsoft Windows Phone 7, Nokia and Palm as well as a mobile Web site for major mobile devices, said company spokesperson Jean Ow-Yeong.
Des Fontaines noted that mobile has increasingly impacted each stage of the travel lifecycle. Thus these companies can now continuously interact with their customers throughout the travel life cycle to alleviate travel pain points for their customers quickly and seamlessly.
"Queues can be avoided and flight cancellations quickly managed, and these go a long way toward reducing stress for the traveler. In the long run, travel companies that can deliver a better experience for their customers are rewarded with customer loyalty," he said.
Mobile fragmentation, security major challenges for m-travel
However, with the variety of mobile devices available, travel companies also face the challenge of mobile fragmentation, said des Fontaines. "The challenge for the industry is to deliver an intuitive and compelling mobile user experience and services that help travelers get the information they want and buy the things they need," he said.
Besides mobile fragmentation, Ow-Yeong added that markets such as the Asia-Pacific region has highly fragmented differences in Internet infrastructure and consumer travel patterns. "For instance, mobile ownership is high in countries like India and Indonesia. However the usage of smartphones and desktops for Internet access in these markets will be very low since much of the population will not have the means to get Internet access," she said, noting that this means mobile Web site access is more relevant for these customers than an iPhone app.
Brown also noted mobile fragmentation as a challenge for the company. "The challenging aspect for Agoda.com is maintaining all the platforms--we don't just have a Web site anymore, we have a multitude of ways that people can use Agoda. Supporting different devices and customer objectives does increase the complexity of what we do," he said.
To ensure the security of its bookings, Brown said the company uses encryption technology in its booking process and has a dedicated security team which keeps informed of all the latest security trends as well as threats.