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The need for ‘seamless’ searches

April 9, 2012

(Published in TTG 15.03.12)


Ebookers’ Rob Define tells Matthew Parsons how the company is striving for a ‘seamless experience’ to boost sales from on-the-go customers

It seems there is still much more work to be done in cracking the mobile market. The travel industry’s major online players have successfully migrated onto a range of mobile devices, but for ebookers, part of the Orbitz group, something is still lacking. In the eyes of Rob Define, ebookers’ director of product, the holy grail is the “seamless experience”.

Social success
When he joined the firm at the end of 2010, Define was surprised to find few people looking at the iPad and quickly set about building an app in collaboration with digital agency Fortune Cookie. The Explorer app generates guides for a destination by pulling in various content from social media, to see what people “are really saying”.

Its launch in May 2011 coincided with the hype surrounding the launch of Apple’s iPad 2. But now is the time to focus on the transactional side, says Define.

“The Explorer app is good at bringing in social media, but now we are focusing on the seamless experiences across all devices,” he explains.

“For example, it’s natural to do a bit of holiday research on your PC at work, then during the commute on your mobile phone, and then when you’re at home.”

Offering this continuity is “the next area” because speed is crucial to conversion, he adds. Users on any device must be able to have the chance to purchase a holiday in just three taps (excluding credit card entry).

On-the-go bookings
Last year, the percentage of ebookers’ transactions conducted via mobile devices doubled, echoing Google’s recent UK-based analysis showing 300% growth year-on-year of people searching “travel” from mobile platforms.

“We’re really looking at last-minute, whether that’s hotel, car or air,” Define says.“We’re meeting a whole new set of customer needs with the mobile platform. And we’ll double mobile transactions again in 2012 for hotels.”

Ebookers also offers “mobile-exclusive” deals, which he says are performing well.

“Hotels are coming to us more to sell their last-minute inventory. There’s a high uptake of offers, and for all types of hotels.”

Ebookers does not sell other agents’ deals but does offer “ebookers for agents” (ebookersforagents.com), a commission-based affiliate scheme, allowing other online travel agents to sell its product. Launched in the UK at the end of 2010, the scheme incorporates 100,000 hotels worldwide and commission rates of up to 12%.

First foray
With a strong ecommerce background (previous employers include Europcar, Expedia and johnlewis.com), Define is sure mobile is the way forward.

“Any travel company must launch a mobile website first; it has the widest reach, as it can be accessed from any phone. It really is good as the first foray into mobile booking.”

Apps, meanwhile, come later and are essential for building loyalty, says Define, adding that a larger percentage of repeat bookings come from apps.

He says it isn’t all about Apple either – with Google’s Android platform taking a greater share of bookings – although Apple users appear to be the bigger spenders.

In all, Apple’s iOS platform and Android provide 96% of visitors to the ebookers mobile website.

Simple strategy
When building an app, Define says it is crucial it is “the highest quality you can afford” and achieves five-star ratings in the reviews section of Apple’s app store. His other tips include using “lazy load” images – where images only load when you scroll to their location rather than sapping the bandwidth – and, of course, easy three-step booking.

As well as setting his sights on the seamless experience, Define has been tasked with developing Orbitz Worldwide’s HotelClub brand in the Asia-Pacific region, with a mobile platform launching soon. He also plans to work more on the Android platform. “We’re a multi-product OTA, so our goal is to have all our product on all of our platforms.”

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