We've Got an App for That

Regular readers of this column may have noticed that I have a weakness for cool apps for smartphones. It never ceases to amaze me what inventive minds can come up with...the smartphone and other mobile devices are a blank canvas for a whole generation of people with ideas. It’s a brand-new industry begging for concepts and tools and content.

In 2010, comScore estimated that, out of more than 234 million mobile device subscribers, more than 45.5 million Americans owned a smartphone. That number has since grown—to 65.8 million people as of January 2011. More significantly, those smartphone owners are using their mobile devices to shop—some 48 percent of them, according to a recent comScore mobile commerce survey. And that’s not including the estimated 3 million-plus people who browse and shop online using an iPad or Android-based tablet.

Are you ready to go mobile? Just over a year ago, I addressed that question in this space but it was almost hypothetical like, maybe someday, way, way in the future home-based travel agents would be doing business on their websites on the phone. Of course, now that TravelAgentCentral has launched its mobile version, I feel more justified throwing the question out there. A year ago you could have responded, “No I’m not ready to go mobile, are you?” And I would have to sheepishly admit that no, we were not in fact “mobilized.” Now I can confidently say, “Yes—and you should be, too.”

Many of our heads are still spinning from the lightning-fast way that online and social media have thrown the marketing world upside down. You don’t have time to blink, and now here’s this other huge channel to use for your brand message. Just take a deep breath, and start from the very beginning. Here are some basic guidelines to bring your  travel business into the mobile arena:

Reinvent your website for the mobile platform. Right now, you may have a really amazing website with a lot of interactive features and destination videos that looks terrific on a desktop computer. But that’s not going to work correctly on most mobile phones. Each different mobile platform offers tools to help optimize sites for the web. It’s worth it to work with a professional who is knowledgeable about making your website ready for mobile devices.

Use video advertising. This is an important marketing tool in today’s online world. More and more phones are capable of playing videos through sites like YouTube. If you have a strong video presence online—destinations, cruise tours, etc.—then you will naturally do well as the mobile web develops as well.

Stay on top of social media. You need to be using social media today to market your business. Social media is often accessed via the mobile web so the more effort you put into social media, the better you’re going to do in terms of going mobile.

Begin offering mobile payment solutions. People want to be able to easily transfer money using their mobile phones. If you offer a mobile payment option for transactions on your site, then you’ll be on the cutting edge of what’s happening right now in the mobile world.

Ask your customers to review your business. Word-of-mouth is still a home-based travel agent’s best marketing bet, but the form that word-of-mouth is taking has changed dramatically. Customers who spread the word about your business through review sites like Yelp and tools like FourSquare are very useful to you. These sites are often accessed by people using mobile search tools.

If you can take your website mobile successfully, then there’ll be all sorts of rewards. Mobile shopping is still quite new, and there are lots of people trying it out for the first time and starting to build loyalty—you may get a lot of long-term clients if you get into it now. People are also far more likely to pay for small pieces of information or downloads, since they can pay quickly and easily using their phone instead of a credit card.

But even if it’s not actually built to perform transactions, a mobile website can still be a good promotion or call to action. Mobile users are especially likely to use your website to try to get your phone number, or directions to where you are—can you afford to let these people down? Anyone who’s taking the time, trouble and expense to look up your site on their phone is likely a loyal (or potentially loyal) customer, and you want to make things easy for them.











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