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Rule of thumb: Interview with Travelzoo’s David Ambrose

December 10, 2011

(Published in TTG 08.12.11)

Travelzoo’s app has been downloaded by 200,000 people in just four months. David Ambrose tells Matthew Parsons how it was devised, and why it can help agents improve their own mobile websites

I  know an ungodly amount about thumbs,” admits David Ambrose. Travelzoo’s new business development director describes at length the “one-thumb” aspect of the company’s new iPhone app.

The average pixel size of a thumb (44 if you’re interested) is just one gem he shares about mobile technology, and he says there’s much agents can learn from how Travelzoo’s app was developed.

But he also warns business-owners they must be careful of getting caught up in app-mania.

There’s little point in designing an app for the sake of it – and it’s important to remember that smartphones, well, they can still actually be used to talk to people.

Travelzoo discovered this, among other key findings, when developing its own app – launched in the  US only at the end of July, and internationally at the end of September.

So far, there have been 200,000 downloads.

Some might regard Travelzoo as a bit of a latecomer to the app party, but Ambrose says now is exactly the right time to get onboard.

Citing new results from Google that show a staggering 300% growth year-on-year of people searching “travel” from mobile devices in the UK (more than in the US), he says there is a “new wave”.

“It feels like when the first website was published. It feels like a green field in front of you,” he adds.

Building blocks
When developing its new iPhone app, Ambrose says it was key to strip out a lot of content, look at design, and focus on location.

For an app, or any mobile website, he says content is king, and simplicity is always key.

“If your mobile website has 20 pictures, what am I supposed to be looking at?” Ambrose says. “There’s a lot of people trying to book on a mobile site nowadays, and they don’t want to wait.”

“At Travelzoo, we’ve removed a lot of the content. We asked ourselves, what’s useful when you’re travelling?”

As a result, the app has a complete cycle, available in five sections, ranging from planning a trip to when you land – the app automatically detects which country you are in.

When it comes to design, Ambrose says the customer needs to be able to buy with just one push of the thumb: “The mouse no longer exist. It’s about digits.”

He says the Travelzoo app also makes it easy to book on the partner’s website, or call the travel agent directly, as it taps into the phone function. This ability to call is also paramount to any mobile website, and phone numbers must be visible.

Location, meanwhile, is key because “people are also spontaneous”.

“About 10% of traffic to Travelzoo comes from mobile devices. The idea of the ‘on the go’ traveller is really interesting,” he says, with the app now tapping into Travelzoo advertisers that are geographically close to the user.

The location feature comes as little surprise, as Ambrose was the founder of Scoop St – a Groupon-style website aimed at restaurants in New York, which he sold to Groupon-rival Buywithme.com in the summer for $5 million.

Where agents fit in
The model is performance driven, and right now, Ambrose says travel is “powerful for us”.

He urges agents to get in touch, as Travelzoo’s new Getaways feature, could be a win-win situation, with Travelzoo able to drive customers to agents.

While Travelzoo is not a design helpline, Ambrose says the company does look at its travel agent partners’ websites, as he wants to ensure advertisers’ mobile websites are “a delightful consumer experience”.

The company emphasises contact numbers, encouraging subscribers to call agents, as well as soon being able to offer the chance to make a booking direct with the app with one push of the thumb.

Whatever the approach to mobile, Ambrose says agents should now think of a strategy.

“The UK travel industry must understand that the online storefront analogy is here to stay.

“This is a reality check,” he adds.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. December 13, 2011 3:52 am

    Thanks for the chat Matt – enjoyed the conversation a lot! Look forward to syncing up next time in the UK.

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