Travel & Hospitality

Today’s (and tomorrow’s) ever-connected travellers are increasingly mobile and experience-seeking animals. The travel industry’s big winners are those that can offer unique, authentic experiences to on-the-go travelers.

Close to two decades ago, the travel industry was upended. The Internet had given rise to a new breed of travel agency, such as the bidding site Priceline (1998) and the comparison/booking tools like Travelocity (1999), empowering consumers to research and book their own vacations from the comfort of their own home — no travel agent required.

The requisite rash of competitors soon followed and it seemed for a long time that this new incarnation of the industry might be it in terms of true industry disruption. And why not? Booking a vacation, including flight, hotel, and any attending activities has never been easier … from a home desktop.

Mobile adoption has been considerably slower. While there are plenty of traveller’s tools like currency converters, maps, and translators, available in app form, travel booking sites including those of airlines and hotels themselves have been left in the dust. There are exceptions (Kayak’s recently launched app comes to mind), but even this much ballyhooed video of the “future of the airline website”1 neglects to address the mobile experience.

This is a missed opportunity, when “smartphones and tablets are on track to capture nearly one in five online travel dollars…” (Phocus Wright Research, 2013). Consider these recent stats from JWire’s “Mobile Audience Insights Report”2:

  • Nearly 50% of active mobile consumers use their smartphone and tablet for travel research
  • 52% of consumers used a mobile device when booking travel in the last 90 days
  • 44% of consumers are comfortable spending over $500 when booking travel from a mobile device
  • Smartphone & tablet usage of public Wi-Fi increased to 60% of all public Wi-Fi connections

Travellers will soon not just expect but demand holistic mobile experiences that meet all their needs, not just those of utility (booking, price comparison, reviews, etc.), but also the more aspirational aspects of travel planning (high-quality images, exploration, discovery). Current tools, mobile and web, often offer one but not the other or, if they do have both, offer them in a lopsided fashion.

If mobile is the platform, then what is the content? Increasingly it’s organic, user-generated, and inspirational. As anyone who has recently planned a trip can attest to, curation, local, and personalization have a strong hold on the imaginations of travellers everywhere. There’s an emphasis on the “insider knowledge” that sites like TripAdvisor and Atlas Obscura trade in, and the friendly localization that Not for Tourists and Airbnb offer. But for every TripAdvisor, the most highly trafficked travel site in North America (ezimba) and Airbnb with over 4 million guests and counting, there are, as Skift points out in their report3, plenty of “substandard travel startups,” wryly noting that “Pinterest is already the Pinterest of travel.”

Today’s Traveller

According to an Expedia survey4, more than half of North Americans are leaving their allotted vacation time unused, which coincides with TripAdvisor’s TripBarometer5 stating that short trips are up 22% from 2012.

This could be an indicator of the rise of “bleisure”6 traveller–those business travellers, often Millennials (those born between 1980 – 2000), who append vacations to their business trips. Unlike previous generations of business travellers, the Millennial is comfortable with fuzzier lines between work and play, showing willingness to work wherever, whenever in exchange for increased flexibility. Because of this, they expect constant connectivity and value experiences over the prestige of, say, a 5-star hotel. According to an E&Y’s Insights report on the Hospitality Industry, as travellers Millennials generally exhibit the following characteristics:

The need for speed – The Millennial is looking for anything that helps them cut through administrative clutter while travelling, such as online/kiosk flight/hotel check in, mobile boarding passes, and one-click purchasing.

Persistent autobiographer– Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, Facebook, Tumblr, etc. provide Millennials with the tools they need to record and share their lives.

Undercover critic – Millennials use Sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor to let businesses know when something is right or wrong.

Cause activist – Millennials see causes as badges of their social identity. They leverage social networks to openly discuss those businesses and brands that share these values and make it known to their social networks those that do not.

Social being – Social networking platforms create a tethered experience that has one foot in the virtual world and one in the real world.

Curious explorer – Getting off the beaten track, straying from the landmarks and activities traditionally considered “must see.” This is a traveller who prefers to stay in a unique spot rather than a cookie cutter hotel room.

Spontaneous decision-maker – This is a traveller who doesn’t hesitate to pick up that last-minute vacation on TravelZoo or a suite on Hotel Tonight.

Smart spender – Not to be mistaken for cheap. Careful not to spend more than they should.

At 79 million strong, Millennials are set to take the travel industry by storm. The question is simply whether the travel industry will be ready. These travellers represent an incredible opportunity for brands to create offerings that address the particular needs and wants of this traveller, particularly in the mobile space where these travellers exist. To entice this group, these products must have both head and heart, speaking to the need for speed and convenience and the need for exploration and expression.

In addition to, or perhaps as an extension of, the Millennial, Skift refers to the “Silent Traveller,” who is “adept at all available online and mobile tools and uses them to jump across all industry-defined silos. These new travellers don’t need tons of handholding, they shun human interaction, and they know their way around everywhere they go.”

At first glance this traveller may seem like a cipher–what do you give the traveller that has everything? Still, there are ways to win these savvy users over. For proof, have a look at these telling stats from the Google study “Sun, Sea, Sand, and … Search”:

Travellers spend an average of 13.8 days (with 129 minutes actual time spent) over a 73-day period researching and planning a trip, visiting 32.5 sites in the process. Two takeaways:

  • Travellers are willing to invest time and energy on travel
  • No truly great tools exist yet. If they did, no traveller would have to visit 32.5 sites to plan a vacation. The way to the Silent Traveller’s heart and wallet is to give them intensely useful, unencumbered experiences that offer smart, subtle personalization.

The Sharing Economy

The Sharing Economy, which Rachel Botsman defines as “An economic model based on sharing underutilized assets from spaces to skills to stuff for monetary or non-monetary benefits,” has reached scale. It can be seen in Airbnb, Kickstarter, ZipCar, and the bikeshare programs cropping up in seemingly every North American city.

Some things at play:

  • The times we live in: economic downturns are often the mother of ingenuity–sharing makes more sense than owning, particularly if you only require something for a short amount of time.
  • The rise of the Millennial generation whose travel style is significantly different than that of their parents.
  • The widespread de-valuation of loyalty programs across airlines and hotel brands, particularly in 2013.

“Traditional” businesses are taking note. The Jupiter Hotel in Portland, Oregon lists their rooms on Airbnb and Enterprise started a car share, for example.

As today’s traveller increasingly turns away from the choreographed and toward the experiential, exciting change is afoot. The travel industry has an opportunity to offer consumers.

Examples of our work

  • We helped a travel company design and develop a social travel and discovery platform. Whether planning a trip or just dreaming of one, the platform aims to help users find a perfect destination with a little help from their friends.


  1. Fantasy Interactive. “Let’s go flying.” Fantasy Interactive. 2013
  2. JiWire. “JiWire Mobile Audiences Insights Report.” JiWire. 2013
  3. Skift. “The 14 trends that will define travel in 2014.” Skift. 6 Jan, 2014.
  4. Expedia. “Vacation deprivation study.” Expedia. 2013.
  5. Trip Advisor. “Trip barometer.” Trip Advisor. 2013.
  6. Gonzalo, Frederic. “The growing trend of bleisure travel.” 28 Oct, 2013.