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Three decades ago, planning one’s own travel was something done by only the most adventurous and/or clued-in amongst us. Planning a trip outside of your own country usually meant going to a local travel agent’s office to have the agent organise flights and hotels for you. If you still wanted to go it alone, you’d often use travel guidebooks to call multiple numbers in far-flung countries in order to book a hotel stay. Travel booking was an industry ripe for disintermediation, and in short order, it soon was.

In 1996, as the internet began its first steps toward mass global adoption, both Expedia and Travelocity were founded as online travel booking clearinghouses. These were quickly followed by Priceline, TravelZoo, Hotwire, TripAdvisor and countless others, and the democratisation of travel booking had begun.

We are now at what might be the near-zenith of the global smartphone revolution, and the travel democratisation that began online, on desktop computers, is rapidly migrating to the phone in your pocket. Initially, booking or researching travel on a mobile device meant using the mobile websites provided by our favourite online resources, to the extent that they were mobile-optimised and usable.

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Yet around 2013 a mass shift began taking place in which travel, broadly defined, became mobile-app-driven, to the point where we have passed the 50 per cent threshold of people who say they’ll use mobile apps this year to book travel —let alone the far higher total who are already using apps to research travel or facilitate activities once they are on the ground in a new location.

The mobile-app-driven travel ecosystem

In 2016, the travel industry has continued its relentless and ongoing trajectory of innovation and disruption. High-valuation startups such as Airbnb and Uber have upended existing hotel and in-city transport ecosystems that were taken for granted only a couple of years ago. Spontaneous travellers now have a wide array of “last-minute” booking apps such as MakeMyTrip, HotelTonight and dozens of others to call up on their smartphone when whimsy strikes. And both airlines and hotels have made a recent and fairly intense push to try and direct travellers to their own branded apps, rather than having them book through aggregators such as Trivago, Agoda, Skyscanner and Booking.com (and not incidentally, having to then pay the aforementioned aggregators for the referral).

Moreover, after a period in which usage of the mobile web —as defined by mobile browsers such as Chrome, Opera, Safari and the like— more or less kept pace with usage of mobile apps, the latest figures show that apps have definitively established a commanding dominance for “share of smartphone”. Flurry now says that 90 per cent of the minutes spent on a smartphone are within apps, as opposed to surfing on mobile browsers. The battle is effectively over, and we’re now in a mobile landscape in which mobile web is used primarily for search, and apps are used for everything else – including booking travel.

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What do consumers think about mobile travel apps?

We at Neumob wanted to know more about what consumers in this brave new world of mobile app-driven travel actually thought about the apps on their devices. So we asked them.

Our August 2016 consumer survey looked into how travel apps are being used, as well as what some of users’ frustrations were with regard to app performance. Here’s what we found:

  1. 82 per cent of respondents had, in fact, booked an airline ticket, train ticket or hotel using a mobile app over the past 12 months.

Contrary to pre-survey assumptions, these weren’t primarily small-dollar train tickets. Fifty-three per cent of respondents had used mobile apps to book hotels, and another 53 per cent had used apps to book plane tickets. Only 18 per cent of survey respondents hadn’t used a mobile app to book travel in the past year.

  1. Consumers need those travel apps to load quickly.

With increased reliance on mobile travel apps, however, comes heightened expectations for travel app performance. We found that 84 per cent of respondents expected a travel app to load on their smartphone in three seconds or less, with 51 per cent (over half) expecting two seconds or less.

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These findings are unfortunately at odds with what mobile app analytics leader Apteligentfound in a recent paper, which was that 46 per cent of iOS apps and 53 per cent of Android apps globally — across all categories — took more than two seconds to load.

So if half of an app’s users are expecting load times of two seconds or less, and roughly half of all apps are taking longer than this, an app owner had better hope that their mobile app’s load time is — for better or for worse — in the right half.

  1. Slow-loading travel apps often lead to frustration and lost revenues.

When travel app consumers were asked, “When a travel app on your smartphone doesn’t load quickly, or if it is slow and not performing well, what do you MOST OFTEN do?”, 37 per cent of people said they’d close the app and launch something else instead. Fourteen per cent of people said they’d actually complete the transaction on a different app.

For over one in three travel app consumers, moving on to a different app is the norm when confronted with slow load times. This is concerning for an app owner, because it means that a hotel booking or a car rental might end up taking place in a competitor’s app instead, which is an unfortunate (and ultimately avoidable) loss of revenue and brand loyalty.

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  1. Travel app users are quick to delete a poor-performing app.

Travel apps survey results

Finally, when we asked travel app users, “Have you ever deleted a travel app from your smartphone because of poor performance (slow load times, app crashing, slow in-app performance)?”, nearly 63 per cent of respondents said they had. Our survey didn’t ask for consumers to call out the specific apps they’d deleted, and yet even if it had, it likely wouldn’t have mattered. Once a consumer deletes an app from their smartphone, that customer is gone forever, and on to an app that will allow them to complete the booking or research transaction they’re looking to have fulfilled.

The next battleground for mobile travel apps

Mobile travel app developers have come too far in recent years to see their hard-won gains and soaring user bases lost due to sub-standard speed and performance issues. The next battleground within the mobile travel app ecosystem won’t be app versus app, although there’s no question competition for share of wallet will certainly remain fierce.

Rather, app owners and developers will be looking to back-end solutions, from analytics to video tools to mobile app acceleration tools, as they seek to differentiate from their growing number of competitors.

All numbers point to mobile app-driven travel being a healthy and robust sector of the global economy for years to come, and the winners will clearly be those who anticipate rising consumer expectations for speed and performance, and then deliver to those expectations accordingly.

The views expressed here are of the author’s, and e27 may not necessarily subscribe to them. e27 invites members from Asia’s tech industry and startup community to share their honest opinions and expert knowledge with our readers. If you are interested in sharing your point of view, submit your article here.