Consumer Trends 2013: Use of tablets, smartphones surges

 In Hospitality Trends, Technology

By Laura Del Rosso

Call it the dawn of a new travel age. Handy and powerful tablets and smartphones are becoming de rigueur for travelers, leading to dramatically different ways of researching, planning and actually taking a trip, as new travel apps and optimized websites spring to life on the small screens almost every day.

Travel Weekly’s 2013 Consumer Trends Survey underscores the surge in popularity of mobile devices: In 2012, 25% of respondents reported using a smartphone or tablet for purchasing travel and hotel rooms online at any point in the previous 12 months. That number grew to 30% in this year’s survey, representing a 20% increase.

Just as importantly, the survey revealed that the percentage of the population using mobile devices for buying travel has grown beyond typical early adopters. While mobile users last year were predominantly in the 21-to-34 age group, over the past 12 months, older travelers have caught on.

Among ages 35 to 54, use of mobile devices to make a travel purchase climbed from 23% to 33%. An even bigger growth was reported among the 55-and-over crowd, where use of tablets or smartphones for travel purchases jumped from 14% last year to 24% this year. What’s more, Henry Harteveldt, industry analyst for Hudson Crossing, predicts that those percentages will skyrocket in all demographic groups in the coming year.

A recently released Hudson Crossing study concluded that if prices remain “reasonable” and the devices become even more appealing, with speedier and more accessible data downloading, 59% of travelers will own a tablet by the end of 2014 and 89% by the end of 2018. It’s only a matter of time before mobile devices become the norm, Harteveldt said.

New apps by hotel companies and other travel firms are offering an array of products and services designed for travelers on the go, and they’re often easier to use for booking than websites.

Suppliers are also enabling customers to store booking information on mobile devices so that they don’t need WiFi or a data connection to access information.

“Smartphones, especially, are all about local search,” Rose said. “It’s about finding what’s around you now like a last-minute hotel room.”  The apps will probably be used for impulse travel and last-minute purchases rather than the kinds of complex travel arrangements and exotic trips.

Tiffany Glass, Vacation.com’s vice president of e-commerce, technology and member services, said travelers don’t want to be “overwhelmed with data.” Vacation.com stepped into the mobile field, offering GoSiteSee, a destination-guide app for travelers that stores info and thus doesn’t use roaming charges.

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