Exactly How Important Are Mobile Bookings For Vacation Rentals?

We all know that mobile bookings are important for vacation rentals & hotels. But just how important are they and how does this affect you?

Enterprise software used to be about making existing work more efficient. Now, the opportunity for software is to transform the work itself.” – Aaron Levie

Our browsing habits are informed and shaped by the devices we use. And in turn, these habits inform and shape the holiday letting business. Year on year, we continue to see exponential growth in the use of mobile devices to inspire, research, make mobile bookings and market your own properties – and the industry continues to evolve to meet changing demands.

Peer-to-peer apartment rental platforms are a direct result of the sharing economy and the move towards the semantic web. But as booking agents and property managers adjust to a changing marketplace, it’s worth considering how the current status quo has developed in response to changing mobile browsing habits.

This raises many questions. Just how many bookings do mobile users account for? Exactly how fast is that number growing? What differences are there between the browsing behaviour patterned by mobile devices and tablets? What role do apps play in the e-booking market? And how many bookings begun on mobile devices are completed via another means?


Mobile Booking Trends

According to the findings of the Internet Trends Code Conference convened on May 27th by Mary Meeker (Conducted by KCPB), as of 2014 there were 2.8 billion internet users.

  • This is a population penetration of 39%
  • The USA accounted for 10% of this total
  • Europe accounted for 19% of this total

The same study found that there were approximately 5.2 billion mobile phone users worldwide (a population penetration of 73%). Furthermore, roughly 40% of this total were smartphone users.

This should give you some indication of the vast numbers you’re dealing with.

Mobile Data Use

Booking a Holiday?

The 2015 ITCC found that the average American adult spent 5.6 hours a day using some form of digital media. This information was broken down as follows:

  • 51% of this total accounted for use of a mobile device
  • 42% of this total accounted for use of a desktop or laptop
  • 7% of this total accounted for other methods (tablets, etc.)

It’s worth bearing in mind that this data reflects the browsing habits of adult individuals in a country where the population penetration of both internet access and mobile data usage across rural areas is relatively low when compared to other Western countries. Furthermore, research suggests that the desktop culture prevalent in predominantly English-speaking countries may account for an apparent comparative resistance to the transition towards mobile-based browsing habits. For example, a 2015 study shows that mobile usage accounts for a total of 23% of total UK traffic – far lower than other European countries.

Millennial smartphone behaviour in the USA better reflects changing global trends. The 2015 ITCC found that when surveyed, 87% of millennial respondents agreed that their smartphone never leaves their side, and 80% agreed that when they woke up the first thing they did was reach for their smartphone.

These changing trends are moulding new behaviours – which in turn are changing the face of the holiday property marketing industry.

Interaction Design

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses

  • Henry Ford

As Hu Xiachen opened in their study ‘Society, Art and Technology – Innovation Origin of Interaction Design’, interaction design is human-centered design. Current marketplace trends have conditioned an atmosphere in which the process of design thinking shapes the product of design thinking.

What this means for the holiday lettings industry is that products and services need to be tailored to better suit increasingly mobile-based consumer habits. This is evidenced by the marketplace domination of OTAs with slick, intuitive mobile sites and apps.

Mobile Bookings

Are OTAs taking a bite out of your business?

A 2014 study by Criteo found that during that year, bookings from a laptop or desktop grew by 2%. The same study found that mobile bookings in the same period grew by 20%. Regardless of the number of bookings for each method in 2013, this enormous disparity in growth rates has not gone unnoticed by the industry’s major players – and as their attention shifts towards a mobile-oriented interface, the browsing habits and content expectations of web users will begin to align themselves with these new mobile-driven standards.

This migration is already in full-force, although its effects aren’t quite as straightforward as you might think. The 2014 Expedia/Egencia Global Mobile Index’s sample of 8856 employed adults across 25 countries found that 25% of participants who owned a mobile device had used it to book a flight or hotel, and that 18% of mobile owners had used it to do so in the last year.

Disparity between MOBILE bookings for hotels & vacation rentals

What this doesn’t reflect is the disparity between bookings for hotels and self-catered holiday rentals. The Criteo study conducted in the same year found that 21% of hotel bookings were initiated on a mobile device – whilst the figures for peer-to-peer apartment rental platforms (such as Airbnb) were much higher, with 34% of total bookings being initiated on a mobile device.

A DMR report published just this month (October 2016) found that Airbnb bookings accounted for 23% of total stays in the UK, with that figure rising to 26% in the USA. This indicates growth correlated to that indicated by increased mobile usage – suggesting that Airbnb has been wildly successful in their implementation of interaction design and increased focus on mobile-oriented services.

This correlation is no coincidence – Airbnb’s unprecedented marketplace domination is intrinsically linked to the rise of the sharing economy and the move towards the semantic web: and the shift towards mobile data usage as a primary means of browsing is one of the central tenets of the new web model.

Mobile Booking Completion

Mobile Booking Completion

But are all these bookings being completed on a mobile device?

Well, there’s plenty of data to suggest this isn’t the case at all. A 2014 study of consumer-driven e-commerce found that growth in shopping-to-booking completion for OTAs was down by 7% from the previous year.

This supports the growing acceptance from major players that many UK and USA-based consumers booking online travel are researching options online before moving over to a computer to complete booking with OTAs. Phocuswright’s VP of research Douglas Quinby made a statement last year that suggested travellers were migrating to laptops or desktops to complete bookings, saying:

‘All this planning that’s taking place on other devices is going to mean that travellers are a little bit more qualified and have honed in on what they want when it comes time to actually make that purchase.’

Mobile Apps

How do apps increase mobile bookings?

This is reflected in the way OTAs mobile apps work. Criteo’s 2014 mobile booking study found that only 12% of mobile bookings occurred within mobile apps, which suggests such apps are playing a longer game – aspirational rather than inspirational.

[I covered the basics of aspirational and inspirational marketing campaigns in a previous post about Lifestyle Brand Marketing, which you can read here.]

Mobile apps such as Airbnb condition traveller behaviour via two primary functions – one inspirational, and one aspirational:

  • Aspirational – Airbnb’s mobile app projects a strong brand identity, which it aligns with a commodifiable high-end lifestyle. This creates long-term, low-pressure engagement with the brand. Airbnb’s app achieves this by providing desirable properties to absent-mindedly browse – creating a ‘teaser’ scenario and implanting the suggestion of travel planning, whilst aligning the brand with an aspirational lifestyle model.
  • Inspirational – By filtering by location, Airbnb’s app allows users to make last-minute mobile bookings. This appeals to the more impulsive side of the consumer’s mind, and is more likely to result in more frequent, much smaller transactions.

Mobiles v Tablets

Different States of Mind

So if the behaviours induced by the shift to mobile browsing are commodifiable, then what about their tablet-derived counterparts? Kayak CEO Steve Hafner suggests they might not be so easy to capitalise on:

‘Tablets are for consuming content. People are in very couch potato mode on tablets. They are not on e-commerce mode. Whereas on the smartphone, from what we see, they are in e-commerce mode. They are ready to look and buy.’

But Does Any Of This Help Me?

It can do.

The important things to take away are as follows:

  • Mobile booking is every bit as important as you might suspect.
  • The shift towards mobile-based browsing is only becoming more pronounced.
  • It will soon no longer be enough to have mobile-optimised sites. Sites will need to be mobile-oriented. The shift towards mobile browsing is doing more than just changing our behaviour – it’s changing the way we think about the internet. Sites that don’t feel right to mobile users are going to be left behind.
  • It’s still important to maintain computer-oriented aspects of your sites. Criteo and Phocuswright’s research suggests that plenty of mobile users are not yet comfortable with making major transactions using mobile devices.
  • However, bear in mind that this is an age-based concern. The ITCC’s data suggest that millennials are far more comfortable with mobile booking – and in the next few years they will drive bookings to an increasing degree.