How Travel Agencies Can Benefit From the Mobile Revolution

If there’s one thing the travel industry has had to come to terms with in recent years, it’s the increasing influence of mobile platforms. Not only are smartphones and tablets dominating travel research, social media and bookings themselves, compatibility with these platforms has also become a vital factor in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). With that in mind, this week we’re going to look at how travel startups can harness the power of mobile platforms, cut through the noise and create long-lasting, profitable bonds with tech-savvy travellers.

Why does your travel platform need a mobile strategy?

Mobile devices are becoming more prevalent among travellers, ut it’s not only during trips that these come in handy. The majority of people now research trips from a mobile device, while the amount of people making bookings on these platforms is also on the rise.

Here are a couple of enlightening charts from our colleagues at Skift, one the few publications that keeps an even closer eye on the travel industry than we do.

mobile marketing for travel


Clearly, there is an upward trend for mobile bookings around some of the world’s most popular destinations. What also needs to be taken into account is the ability to make bookings while travelling that mobile platforms provide.

Below is another chart, which suggests that travellers are more comfortable using traditional purchasing methods when it comes to flights – although this number is also steadily rising.

Mobile marketing


So what does this data tell us? It’s obvious that having a smooth mobile platform that travellers can use for research and bookings is vital in this day and age. There’s plenty of room for more growth in mobile bookings, so travel agencies and marketplaces that fail to prepare will have prepared to fail.

First of all: Optimise for Mobile

The first step here is fundamental. If travellers can’t easily use your marketplace or booking system on a mobile device, you’re going to miss out on sales. It’s as simple as that. Your platform needs to be optimised for browsing from these devices. Compatibility and ease of use are doubly important when you consider that, as well as losing revenue, you will be punished in search engine rankings for having a poor mobile experience.

That’s right: Google will be less favourable to your platform is the mobile experience sucks. Take a look at these three facts, courtesy of Marcus Miller at Search Engine Land:

  1. Today, more people search on mobile phones than computers
  2. People are five times more likely to leave a site if it isn’t mobile-friendly
  3. Over half of mobile users will leave a website if it takes longer than three seconds to load

With these in mind, the first steps toward any mobile marketing strategy should be to:

  1. Concentrate on ease of use and mobile compatibility
  2. Ensure your website is responsive from mobile platforms
  3. Do everything you can to improve your page loadings speeds

These factors can be addressed in many different ways, from streamlining the process for filling in forms, to shortening menus and simplifying the search process.

Read this post on optimising sites for mobile for more information.

Use mobile to personalise the experience

Once your platform is optimised for mobile, the obvious advantage of being in your customers’ pockets is the ability to personalise their experience.

Here’s a great example of what we mean, from hotel giant Marriot.

Marriott personal service with app mobile

The Marriott App

The new Marriott Rewards app has been designed to give users a tailored experience. It adjusts depending on which point the traveller is at in their journey. The app will offer content and advice related to trip planning, the day of travel itself, transit and the hotel stay.

Smart devices are now everyone’s indispensable travel companion, as more and more travellers increasingly expect to have their needs satisfied using their mobile phone,” said Marriott International SVP digital George Corbin.

Marriott is using mobile to introduce and revolutionize the next generation of customer service to travelers worldwide, delivering a far more personalized and anticipatory stay experience.” – Marriott International SVP digital George Corbin

Marriott International vice president of loyalty, Thom Kozik, highlighted the connection between offering a personalised experience and the customer loyalty that ensues. “Many people have an emotional connection with their mobile devices and apps they’ve downloaded,” he said. “We know some of our most loyal guests stay with us upwards of 100 nights a year. For them, along with members who stay less frequently, we can become a valuable part of their travel experience on a device they engage with 365 days a year.”

Personalising a traveller’s experience via mobile can involve anything, from using their name and treating them as a genuine person, to tailoring offers and sending them promotions they have a track record of being interested in. A strong mobile experience gives a travel agency the opportunity the connect with customers directly and treat them as genuine people – there’s no better way to build a relationship.

Location is Key

Plenty of research and bookings occur during a trip, not before it. Sure, the big stuff (flights, transfers etc) will probably be arranged before departure, but on longer trips it’s highly likely that excursions, activities and maybe even accommodation will be booked while on the road. This highlights the need for our first point: Optimising for mobile. But it also raises the importance of localisation.

Localisation is something we’ve discussed before, in our piece entitled ‘Translation & Localisation; Travel Agents Must Adapt to the Global Marketplace‘. The idea is simple. Plenty of travel operators work in the shadow of huge, internet-dominating travel giants. We all know who they are. One key to getting the upper hand is focusing on localisation; becoming a trusted source of bookings and information in your chosen area.

An Ipsos study back in 2014 found that 88% of people make local searches on smartphones, while 61% want mobile search results optimised to their location. It’s clear that if you can localise your mobile offering with geographical offers, maps, driving directions and local search results, you’ll be giving travellers what they want.

Enable mobile transactions

It goes without saying that if you want to make the most of the mobile booking trend, you need to enable mobile transactions on your website. But this doesn’t only stand for transactions of money. Anything that stands to help travellers avoid queues or delays is a positive step. After all, nobody travels through a love of standing in line. Mobile integration of check-ins, room service and reviews can all help to make travelling a more seamless experience.

Moving services onto mobile platforms can boost customer satisfaction. A study by The Center for Generational Kinetics discovered that at 40 percent of millennials prefer customer service that’s totally online. Self-service and support via mobile ticks all the boxes of this growing trend.

Rewarding mobile users

Done right, enhancing your mobile offering comes with its own benefits that travellers will appreciate. But that doesn’t mean you should stop there. Mobile users taking advantage of self-service systems and following your advice on local activities should be rewarded in some manner. This might be by building a loyalty scheme that gives travellers discounts over time, or offering specific rewards for travellers who provide feedback or share their experience on social media.

Be the Concierge

We’ve written before on how many travel operators are beginning to use messaging platforms to offer a new type of customer service. The vast majority of mobile travellers will have access to instant messaging platforms such as Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger. As a travel operator, there’s a huge opportunity to harness these mediums and provide travellers with real-time customer service.

Smartphones and tablets are providing the capability. It’s up to your agency or marketplace to make the most of it.

Stay one step ahead

There are plenty challenges faced by travellers no matter what the destination or trip type. For example, how many travellers have difficulty explaining where their accommodation is to a local driver? How many travellers want to learn some basic phrases in the native language of their destination? How many travellers want easy access to city guides and local things to do? The answer, of course, is millions.

These are all small problems with simple solutions, but mobile offers the key: accessibility. If you can provide directions in the local language, a guide on local things to do, and general assistance in anticipation of a problem, travellers will thank you for it with loyalty.

Make the most of social media

We can’t speak about the importance of mobile without touching on social media. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter are primarily, or in some cases exclusively, accessed via mobile platforms. Because of this, a large part of any decent travel operator’s marketing plan will focus on these avenues. Travel is an industry driven by curiosity and aspiration, so if you can invoke these emotions through a strong social media strategy then you’ll be on to a winner.

social trends in the travel industry

No mobile strategy would be complete without a focus on social media.

Post pictures and inspirational videos from your locations or trips, and encourage your customers to share their experience on social media with their networks. Competitions are also likely to spread around platforms such as Facebook and Instagram like wildfire.

Travelshift can help you build a marketplace that’s optimised for mobile


Want to build a travel marketplace but intimidated by all the technical challenges? That’s where Travelshift software comes in. Our proven solution is fully optimised for mobile use, and comes with a range of features to help you compete with established giants in the travel industry.

Proprietary SEO technology and easy localisation help you use Travelshift to build a community-driven platform that puts content marketing at its core. Want to find out more about the explosive traffic and limitless sales that Travelshift can put at your disposal? Check out our case study for more information.

Gap in the Market Volume 11 – Wedding Travel

It’s that time of year again. Plenty of sweeping romantic gestures have been made, relationships are starting up; bad boyfriends around the world are still regretting that last-minute hunt for flowers in the gas station. Even though Valentine’s Day has been and gone, love is in the air. With that in mind, there’s no better time to continue with our popular Gap in the Market series. It seems appropriate that we switch the focus this week to the blossoming world of wedding travel.

Why tie the knot abroad?

The wedding travel market has been steadily growing for at least the past decade, according to an industry report by Destination Weddings. There are several reasons for this. The first, perhaps surprisingly, is cost.

We’ve all heard stories of domestic weddings costing many tens of thousands of pounds/dollars. Last year, industry giant Hitched released report findings that suggest UK weddings are now costing on average £25,090 – that’s a 21 percent rise from the previous year according to a survey of more than 3,000 users.

Now, that might seem like an awful lot of money, but when you consider the average costs of venue hire (£3,738), honeymoons (£3,366) and food for wedding guests (£3,072), things begin to add up. While the price of having weddings close to home appears to be on the rise, Destination Weddings report that the average cost of weddings abroad for its customers has remained under $10,000 for over a decade. “When couples take their wedding on the road they can uncover savings throughout many points in the planning process,” says Richard Calvert, President and CEO of Destination Weddings Travel Group, which last year experienced its biggest ever year. “Even those who aren’t necessarily seeking to trim expenses will find that they have extra room in their budget for upgrades and add-ons to enhance their experience.”

wedding travel

Greek Island Weddings: Ionian Weddings

So there’s clearly a cost factor for the rise of wedding travel. But suggesting that money is the only motivation behind this travel sector’s rise would be untrue. There are larger themes at play here: escape being one of them. Hopping on a plane and getting married in an exotic location provides weddings with an extra layer of exclusivity, a feeling that this really is an incredibly special day, a once-in-a-lifetime occasion. Having a stunning backdrop for the ceremony is always a bonus, too.

The idyllic atmosphere and location make it very easy for travellers to be captured in a swirl of romance. Travelling abroad and to Fiji in particular for a wedding means for guests they are able to add on their honeymoon to their wedding, and the distance from Fiji to countries such as Australia and New Zealand, means it’s great for an extended vacation. The beautiful weather is of course a huge appeal!” – Jane West, Regional Director UK/Europe, Tourism Fiji.

There are also practical and romantic motivations behind the world of wedding travel. Weather, though it might sound trivial, seems to play a big role in decision making. It certainly goes a long way to explaining the trend for summer weddings. But a summer wedding can still be a gamble for many couples in western Europe and the USA. Tieing the knot in a place where there are bound to be blue skies is a safer option – a cheaper option too if it’s done out of season. And it doesn’t hurt to spend your big day on the white sands of a Greek island beach or the shores of Lake Garda.

And one last possible reason why couples are increasingly eager to get married abroad? The honeymoon. Wedding travel can be both more convenient for couples and less expensive, in that the honeymoon can begin literally as soon as the service is over. Honeymoon travel is a separate sector that we will be covering in the near future, but taking the whole wedding on the road negates the need for flights when you’re already at your chosen destination.

What sets wedding travel agencies apart from the rest?

Typically, wedding operators are a hybrid of wedding planners and travel agents.

For most couples, planning a wedding is a long-winded and stressful experience. Now take that experience and add to it the complication of a foreign language and an unfamiliar place. Quickly it becomes clear why wedding travel agencies with local knowledge and expertise are so vital to this growing market.

We got in touch with UK wedding travel operator Ionian Weddings, which caters for couples looking to get married in the Medditareanian. Ionian Weddings offers complete wedding packages in destinations including the Greek islands, Italy and Malta. Founder Jane Stuart-Palikira spoke to Travelshift about the current trends in wedding travel and the challenges Ionian Weddings faces.

What’s clear straight away is that an important part of Ionian Weddings’ success – or any decent operator in wedding travel for that matter – is flexibility. When tasked with arranging what will for many couples be the most important day of their lives, a certain amount of flexibility is needed. Wedding travellers want to find an agency that can handle the stressful details, while still feeling that their input is being taken into account. Every couple is different, which means that such a personal occasion demands a bespoke service. Agencies like Ionian Weddings need to communicate well with clients and find the right balance early on.

“We offer sample packages for all of our venues, but they can be totally tailored to suit the requirements of our wedding couples,” says Stuart-Palikira. “We tailor all our weddings to the needs of the couple, it’s down to them on how much they want to be involved.”

Offering bespoke weddings in different locations around the Med wouldn’t be possible without plenty of local knowledge and contacts, and Stuart-Palikira highlights in the video above that all of her staff are well-trained and each one of their destinations has been visited and understood in full.

Where do Wedding Travellers like to go?

As far as the Meditareanian goes, Stuart-Palikira suggests that the Greek islands are especially popular. “Santorini”, she says, is always in demand because “couples see photos of this beautiful island with the volcanic rocks, whitewashed buildings and spectacular views – and fall in love with it.”

In preparing for this piece we also spoke with Tourism Fiji. As potential wedding destinations go, Fiji is right up there with the most exotic, and weddings there continues the trend of tieing the knot with waves and sand forming the backdrop.

“Young couples often choose Fiji as their wedding destination and continue on for their honeymoon, but we also find older couples renewing vows on the island. Fiji is the perfect destination for all…a great place to celebrate special anniversaries,” said Jane West, Regional Director UK/Europe, Tourism Fiji. 

“There are 333 islands to choose from, stunning beaches, pristine water, but also so much to do, from diving to visiting the island where Tom Hanks’ “Cast Away” was filmed. The tranquil beauty of the Fijian islands provides the perfect backdrop for a romantic getaway.”

“From the UK the Mamanuca Islands are the most popular [Fiji destination] because they have fine white sand and a good choice of boutique resorts which are more easily accessible from the international gateway of Nadi. Nadi Bay is also very popular due to its beautiful backdrops of hidden beach coves, turquoise waters and coconut trees.”

Challenges and Changes in Wedding Travel

(Hopefully) a lack of repeat business

One thing many travel agencies can rely on is loyalty. If they provide a good service for a good price, they can build long-term relationships with clients and expect their repeat business year after year. However, in the world of wedding travel things are different. If all goes well then you hope never to see your clients again!

We don’t have any repeat clients!” – Jane Stuart-Palikira, founder, Ionian Weddings.

Because of this, the focus is on making the big day as special and memorable as possible. The couple’s close friends and family are then much more likely to spread the word about the wedding travel agency in question. “A large number of our bookings are through recommendations from previous weddings we have organised,” says Ionian Weddings’ Jane Stuart-Palikira.

While this lack of easy repeat business might seem like a major challenge to those working in the wedding travel industry, they have the opportunity to harness something much more powerful. As we’ve discussed, a huge amount of trust is placed with wedding travel operators, and they tend to form stronger bonds with clients than your average tourism supplier. This creates the opportunity to provide a bespoke, truly personal service and leave clients feeling so thrilled that they absolutely have to share their experience with friends, family and on social media.

This is content marketing in its simplest form; there’s nothing more appealing for prospective couples than seeing public feedback from a long list of delighted clients.

Changing Trends

In recent years wedding travel has started to shift. Tourism Fiji is discovering that many couples are moving away from traditional weddings and looking for something a bit different.

“A traditional wedding is not so heavily in demand nowadays, and couples are looking for something that will wow their guests and create memories for forever. A lot of the wedding packages we offer now have experiences included, such as diving at Dolphin Bay, jet boating adventures, or for those seeking purely romance and relaxation, a visit to one of Fiji’s many spas,” said Tourism Fiji’s Jane West.

Ionian Weddings have also seen a shift, but in terms of the size of events they are helping to plan. “We’ve been organising weddings abroad for 10 years and have noticed that guests are more willing to travel abroad for a wedding; overall the wedding parties are getting bigger”, said Stuart-Palikira.

Wedding travel

Ionian Weddings

Is there room for a marketplace in the world of Wedding Travel?

As readers of our travel industry analysis will know, here at Travelshift we provide ambitious travel startups with the tools they need to build world-leading marketplaces. So is there any potential for a marketplace in the world of wedding travel? Could one platform aggregate together different operators and give prospective couples a wider choice of destinations and packages?

Read more: Choosing a travel marketplace niche

It’s hard to give a definitive answer because this sector is unique. But we think the answer is yes.

On the plus side, the wedding travel market is highly fragmented. By nature, wedding travel operators have to operate within themselves. The more expansion there is in potential destinations and the more customers they take on, the higher the risk that the service provided won’t have the personal touch that’s so vital. It’s better to keep things relatively small and have a 100% satisfaction rate, than grow too quickly, compromise on the service and lose credibility.

Another challenge is that any marketplace would have to be international in scale. Many individual countries and regions are already covered, so startups would have to think bigger, and put together a global platform that can inspire, inform and ultimately guide couples to the right wedding travel operator.

The role of any marketplace in wedding travel would have to be as a complete intermediary. The focus would be on inspiring wedding travellers through community driven content and facilitating transactions. Although bringing together enough operators across potential destinations would be a challenge, it’s far from impossible. Get in touch with us today if you think you have what it takes!

Trump’s Travel Ban Hits USA Tourism Industry Hard

When we speculated about all the possible ways in which Donald Trump could impact upon the travel industry, we didn’t really expect his actions to be so direct. Or so fast. On January 27th the new President of the United States signed an executive order halting all refugee admissions and banning people from seven Muslim countries:

  • Syria
  • Iran
  • Sudan
  • Libya
  • Somalia
  • Yemen
  • Iraq

In one swoosh of a signature, the President’s travel ban brought chaos to airports and travellers’ itineraries around the world.

Whether or not you agree that this kind of ‘Extreme Vetting’ is called for or not, there’s absolutely no doubt that since Trump’s order was put in place the US travel industry has shifted. Although the ban has been temporarily overturned by a federal judge in Seattle, Trump is still fighting hard to see it reinstated. Figures released by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) suggest that the executive order has already hit corporate travel hard.

The Law

Somewhat inconveniently for Donald Trump, back in 1965 the US Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act. This law stated that no longer could a person be “discriminated against in the issuance of an immigrant visa because of the person’s race, sex, nationality, place of birth or place of residence”. Legislation like this has seen his travel ban quickly overturned.

A Timeline of Trump’s Travel Ban

3rd of February 2017: A Seattle federal judge suspends the order nationwide, in response to a challenge by the Washington State attorney general, who argued that the executive order violated a clause in the US constitution that prohibits the favouring of one religion over another.

5th of February 2017: A request by Mr Trump’s administration for an immediate reinstatement of the order is rejected by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

9th of February 2017: A three-judge panel in the same court rules unanimously against reinstating the ban, after hearing arguments from lawyers from the Department of Justice and Washington State.

As you can imagine, Trump didn’t like these decisions one bit. He has criticised America’s independent judiciary in a series of angry tweets since the Seattle ruling. He said the ruling came from a “so-called judge”, and that the courts were “making the job very difficult!”, and later said the courts were “so political”. After the San Francisco appeals court decision, he tweeted “SEE YOU IN COURT”.

The implications for American business travel

In a blog post released after Trump’s travel ban had been overturned, the GBTA estimated the impact the executive order had already had on business travel to the USA:

  • USA system-wide business travel transaction levels month-over-month (January 2017 vs. December 2016) decreased by up to 8 percent depending on industry and sector
  • USA system-wide business travel transaction levels were increasing by +1.2 percent the week before the travel ban but decreased by -2.2 percent the week after the travel ban for a net negative industry impact of -3.4 percent in one week
  • In that week, approximately $185 million in business travel bookings were lost as the uncertainty surrounding travel in general had a rippling effect on traveler confidence
  • In 2016, 87.3 percent of USA business travel was domestic travel, 12.7 percent was international travel. This action had a significantly disproportionate impact on international travel
  • For every 1 percent impact on business travel spending annually, the United States gains or loses 71,000 jobs, nearly $5 billion in GDP, $3 billion in wages and $1.2 billion in tax collections

The headline from that data is probably the $185 million lost in business travel bookings due to uncertainty and a loss of traveller confidence.

Read more: Gap in the Market: Corporate Travel

Upholding the lower court’s ruling is also a losing situation for the business travel industry. The initial impact has already been felt and the uncertainty it will create as we await an appeal to the Supreme Court will continue to make its mark. Advanced bookings will likely slow as travel professionals cannot be sure if and when the ban will be reinstated. Meetings and events may be cancelled altogether. The cloud of uncertainty could leave a lasting economic impact. Large corporations and small businesses alike will suffer. The biggest driver of our economic recovery of the past seven years from the most recent downturn was international outbound travel. U.S. businesses found top line growth and business opportunity from new markets all over the world.” – Michael McCormick, GBTA executive director and COO

Read more: How Will President Trump Affect Travel Industry?

The consequences for American tourism go further than business travel

We all heard the protectionist and nationalist rhetoric from Trump during the election campaign. But many onlookers expected the controversy and extreme views to die down after he took office. Now, though, it’s become clear that he intends to act upon his promises. If nothing else, this is a man who keeps his word.

What will this do to incoming tourism to America?

Trump travel ban usa tourism

Speaking with The Telegraph, Patrick Surry, chief data scientist at travel analysis firm Hopper, argued that a reinstatement of the ban will lead to a “Trump slump” for the entire US travel industry.

“If travel restrictions are reinstated it may send the message that visitors are no longer welcome in America and we could be seeing the start of a significant downturn for the travel and tourism industry,” he said.

And that makes a lot of sense. Many prospective travellers from all over the world would have rolled their eyes at Trump’s pre-election rhetoric, without really taking it seriously. But now many Muslims and liberally-minded people are reevaluating trips to the States for the foreseeable future. A country divided, led by a president that is wholly unwelcoming to visitors, doesn’t make for the most appealing destination.

The Telegraph also spoke with Suzanne Perry from travel marketplace Kayak. Their data suggests that Trump’s isolationist stance is already having an impact on those thinking of visiting the US. It reported a 14% decrease in the number of EU citizens searching for flights to the US in January compared with the same month in 2016.

“With 1.5 billion searches conducted on Kayak websites every year, these percentage changes are really significant,” said Perry. “The data strongly indicates that there has been a substantial decline in searches and interest for travel to the US since the start of Donald Trump’s campaign.”

Interestingly, not everyone has been put off by America’s new stance towards the wider world. Travel analysts Hopper noticed that there is an exception to the trend: In Russia searches for US-bound flights have increased by 88%. Really.

Will Canada offer what America can’t?

Despite the diplomatic joint press conference between Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump (above), the two men couldn’t be any more different. One is a proud feminist who has welcomed over 40,000 Syrian refugees to his country. The other is a president caught on tape bragging about sexually assaulting women with a tough stance on immigration.

With that in mind, it’s no surprise that liberal travellers seeking a trip to North America might now be considering Canada instead. After all, Canada offers a similar culture, plenty of stunning scenery and is generally regarded as being a little bit more laid back.

Nikki Davies, marketing director of Trailfinders, said “It’s too early to what know effect Trump has had on the US, but Canada has in all honestly been selling unbelievably well for the last eight or nine months. The figures are huge, up 50 per cent, year on year, while the US has been tracking the same as last year.”

We can only speculate how the US travel industry will be affected in the months and years to come by the new president. Perhaps things will settle down, or perhaps this is simply the start of a tumultuous presidency that has no interest in encouraging tourism. Our view? Focusing on issues closer to home is no bad thing, but doing so at the expense of relationships with the wider world and prospective travellers is something to be avoided. At a time when the world has never been more connected, and when the problems travellers and citizens alike face are global in nature, divisive politics isn’t going to do anyone any good.

We’ll be keeping up with Trump’s travel ban as he works through the courts to try and get it reinstated. We will also be monitoring the wider impact of his actions, on the travel industry at home and abroad. Stay tuned.