ASIA PACIFIC. The rise of mobile technology and the proliferation of mobile-enabled services is set to change the way people travel. That’s according to Asia Pacific’s leading travel facilitator, Abacus International, in its latest Insights Updates on the mobile travel trends to expect in 2011.

Taking the Next Leap in Mobile Technology

Mobile-enabled services are rapidly changing the way travellers purchase travel, according to Abacus International. Booking transactions in Asia finished at a record high in 2010, up +11% over the previous year, with a sharp increase in both smartphone usage (54% penetration by 2015) as well as mobile Internet (450 million subscribers in Asia Pacific).

Asia Pacific has the largest number of mobile subscribers in the world with over 2.1 billion phone subscriptions in 2010, coupled with a forecasted growth of +50% by 2020.

Mobile internet services are also expected to generate US$80 billion in Asia Pacific, with smartphone penetration at 40% across Southeast Asia in Q4 2009, led by Singapore at 77%.

With the proliferation of mobile e-mail and mobile browsing, the growth of multimedia messaging, mobile music, social networking, and even location-based services, mobile is “the next wave for travel-related services”, the company underlined.

There is “little doubt” that mobile will be the next platform for travel management, Abacus added. As part of Abacus International Insights Updates, dedicated to helping the travel industry better understand and be better equipped to the strategic business and technical implications of changes and trends within the industry, Abacus International Vice President Marketing & Vice President India Brett Henry shared his thoughts and trends for the year 2011 in the mobile travel space:

There is little doubt that mobile will be the next platform for travel management
Brett Henry
Vice President Marketing & Vice President India
Abacus International

The emergence of mobile Internet

By 2020, the more than 60 billion smart devices that are connected to the Internet today will have grown to several hundred billion devices. More than two-thirds of the world’s population will be talking on the web, and more than 50% will be using social media platforms.

In emerging markets such as India, where penetration of personal computers is low, mobile Internet on handsets will be a popular choice among consumers due to its affordability and portability, Henry said. This phenomenon will further drive the exponential growth of mobile usage and social networking tools in Asia. Henry said: “Just imagine the huge potential outreach and business opportunities made available to travel suppliers. The question to ask really is where is your business right now?”

67% of travellers and 77% of frequent business travellers with Internet-enabled mobile devices use the mobile Internet to find local services and attractions. 53% of leisure travellers indicated that real-time flight information is their top preferred mobile feature. To take it a step further, Virgin Atlantic created the first-of-a-kind Facebook application in the airliner world, allowing its Flying Club members to view flight information and their Flying Club account through their Facebook accounts.

Location-based services are also expanding in usage and popularity, with frequent business travellers expecting to receive services such as mapping, navigation services and city guides upon arrival at a destination.

Abacus has pioneered the development of mobile solution such as Abacus WebStart for mobile, Abacus Mobile, Abacus VirtuallyThere and TripCase to enable its travel partners to maximise the potential of mobile platform for their businesses. Launched on 1 December 2010, Abacus Mobile is a mobile solution developed to meet the rising demand from travel agencies to enhance customer experience during booking.

Mobile paves way for ‘planned spontaneity’

With increasingly fragmented lifestyles, the dense urban environments offer consumers any number of instantly available options. Mobile phone/smartphones created a generation who have little experience of making (or sticking to) rigid plans, Henry points out.

The year 2011 will see what calls full-on “planned spontaneity” – Travel suppliers can expect to see consumers rushing to sign up for services (the planned part) that allow for mass mingling with friends, family, colleagues or strangers (the spontaneous part). A key trend is the developing segment of consumers signing up for mobile services that passively and constantly broadcast their locations.

Apps for mobile-enabled services are expansive and increasingly rooted in everyday’s life and travel habits, according to Abacus International

Apps will change travel habits

Apps for mobile-enabled services are expansive and increasingly rooted in everyday’s life and travel habits, Henry noted.

For example, Lufthansa created a MySkyStatus application where travellers can stay connected to their social networks even while in the air. AirAsia uses promotional tools to drive sales via its mobile services; these deliver hundreds of thousands of Malaysian Ringgit booking revenue in just one day, even with a take-up rate of its flight booking, seat selection, check-in and flight status services at about 1-2%. AirAsia hopes to achieve a double-digit take-up rate by the year end, when iPhone, BlackBerry and Android apps will be added.

All Nippon Airways customers can use their mobiles to make domestic and international bookings, assign seats, change or cancel reservations, make hotel bookings and redeem award miles. They can also play games on their mobiles that allow them to accrue points, shop and access some specialised content. These services generate over ¥40 billion (US$486.9 million), which accounts for about 15% of its Internet sales, and the airline expects this to grow.

Early adopters such as Virgin Blue has launched a flight management system for bookings, flight changes, cancellations, check-in and 2D boarding passes by mobile. It has also unveiled a BlackBerry app aimed squarely at business travellers, which has already clocked up more than 6,000 downloads.

M-commerce is the new way to shop

M-commerce is a transformative new platform quickly changing the way consumers interact with travel brands, according to Henry.

Many people have already started to research and buy travel options and upgrades while on the go. Henry said that M-commerce will eventually become as common as online shopping, and that mobile devices such as smartphones offer an “enormous opportunity” to be leveraged as a mobile tool to manage customers’ post-booking activities.

The value of goods and services people will purchase through their mobile phones will reach US$200 billion globally by 2012. Much of this will be coming increasingly from mobile payments and the use of Near Field Communications (NFC). The number of these NFC-ready phones will rise from 700,000 in 2009 to 247 million in 2015.

As mobile-enabled NFC devices become more common and the reader infrastructure is installed at airports, hotels and merchants, the NFC process will become commonplace and change the travel experience at multiple customer touch points, Henry noted. Mobile boarding passes, payments, public transportation and social networking will allow travellers to be more connected as well as offer the convenience and speed that travellers often seek.

Corporate travellers will increasingly utilise mobile for trip planning

With seven in 10 frequent business travellers using smartphones, mobile is now an integral tool for the business travel marketplace, Henry said. The rapid integration of mobile capabilities to plan itineraries, track flights, receive travel alerts and approvals and serve as a boarding pass too, is making mobile devices “indispensible” to business travellers and their companies.

Mobile has its challenges too, noted Henry. Web platforms such as Android, iPhone, Symbian, BlackBerry and Windows Mobile have no commonality and each will require a dedicated app for airlines’ mobile services such as putting a flight itinerary into the phone calendar, to work natively on each of these devices. Leisure travellers have to contemplate between surcharges arising from roaming data across geographic boundaries and fulfilling the immediacy of their needs at that point.

The speed of mobile

The speed at how mobile grows puts intense pressure on travel suppliers in developing an integrated mobile strategy to drive revenue streams. The development of mobile user interface and integration of travel booking engines to facilitate air travel are some of the top priorities, Henry stressed.

Over time, the next-generation mobile technology will enable multimedia transmissions to facilitate informed decisions, enable self-service and paperless travel purchases, and provide for e-wallet payment capabilities and data capture for submission and reimbursement wherever a business traveller is located.

The convenience of mobile services will enable travellers to be more productive by having just-in-time data pushed to them based on situational circumstances and geographic location.

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