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What to expect from travel tech in the coming months

Jun 26, 2017

Recent years have been up and down, but the global travel market is set for growth in 2017, driven by major gains in Asia Pacific, with an increasingly mature Chinese market at the forefront. That's just one of the findings from the Phocuswright report that we commissioned to help you stay ahead this year. 'Phocus Forward: The Year Ahead in Digital Travel' takes the key learnings from recent years, with a focus on in-depth research on the market in 2016. Here are some of the key findings:

APAC will lead online airline growth for the foreseeable future

In 2016 57% of US air bookings were made online; Europe saw 48% of bookings online, and APAC lagged behind at 39%. APAC, however, gives the most reason to be bullish on the air market again. Our insight suggests that while Europe and the US will see moderate growth in online air bookings through 2020, in APAC, such bookings are set to increase by 11% in the same period, closing the gap with the US and Europe.

If you can't beat 'em…

The last year saw much hype around the rental market, and our findings confirmed that rentals are increasingly considered as an alternative to hotels. Urban rentals now account for a third of all rental stays and a fifth of rental revenue. Rather than staying still, forward-thinking hotel brands are innovating to compete – and that's taking intriguingly different forms. There were high-profile acquisitions in 2016, with both hotel groups and OTAs entering the rental space, while others launched new offerings to beat the challengers at their own game. Marriott's unreservedly millennial-targeted Moxy brand is one such, aiming to combine the attention to detail and design of a boutique hotel with the laidback party culture of hostels.

Expect more disruption to the booking funnel

Thanks to acquisitions and innovation, the travel booking funnel has changed irrevocably, and that's only going to continue. The search journey alone has become enormously more complex since the distinction between navigational, informational and transactional searches was made in 2002. But now the lines between searching, shopping and booking are disappearing. Travel companies should arm themselves with the tools to capitalize on these changes to stay ahead of the curve.

The activities market is set for a boom

In-destination activities have been slow to digitize – the sector is broad and a lack of cohesion has made it difficult for traditional providers to monetize tours, sports and other activities online. But more affordable tech has meant that start-ups have started to blossom in the activities space, and mobile growth has enabled travelers, who tend to book activities in-destination, to book online while they are travelling. In 2015, nearly 80% of travelers booked an outdoor activity while in-destination. Now the biggest players in the travel industry are launching products for booking activities with an instant-booking focus, paving the way for significant growth in 2017.

China is leading the mobile market…

Worldwide, most online bookings are still made on desktop. In both the US and the UK the rate of mobile bookings is still under 30%. China, however, is the very notable exception to that rule; over half of all travel bookings are made on mobile, in a trend that will likely continue in 2017. Mobile growth will be driven elsewhere both by demographic changes and improvements in tech. This will see mobile strategy become an even greater focus across the travel industry, with a premium on optimizing for conversion. Among 18–24-year-olds 58% agree that 'researching/booking flights with a smartphone is easy', while just 17% of those aged 45+ agree. Travel companies still have work to do both on the mobile experience and in convincing travelers who aren't digitally native to go mobile. Those who can differentiate on mobile could win big, and this should be a particular focus for companies operating in rapidly emerging mobile markets such as India, Indonesia and Brazil.

…And that's not all

China is also now the second-largest travel market in the world, and is set to become the most highly penetrated online market in the APAC region this year. The Phocuswright findings show a complex picture with a host of factors behind growth and the mobile surge.

The detailed market analysis makes essential reading, and some broad themes emerged for the year ahead, including more watershed moments in the digital market around the world. 

Download the full report