Tapping the tablet: five tips for a different mobile animal

After years of talking about it, the decade of the mobile is finally here. Many people already have a smart phone but tablet use is rising rapidly. While they may both be mobile, there are some clear differences between how people use the two devices. EyeforTravel’s Pamela Whitby identifies five tips for tablets that travel brands should be thinking about.

1. Your tablet strategy

Do you have one?  If you don’t, you should and it should be different to your smart phone strategy. At EyeforTravel’s Travel Distribution Summit in London Dan Robb, Google’s travel industry head, waxed lyrical about the importance of having a clear mobile strategy but towards the end of his address he had this to say: “We [Google] are separately targeting tablets. What you offer on a tablet can’t be packaged in the same way as a mobile phone website.”

Not having a tablet strategy is no longer an option and the numbers are starting to back this up. By 2013 tablet sales are expected to outpace desktop sales and what’s more these devices will generate more web traffic than mobile phones.  

2. Profile of a tablet user: looking or booking?  

Right now affluent and/or aspirational are two words that spring to mind. Of course that could change rapidly – and probably will - as competition hots up and the price of tablets falls. For now, however, tablet users tend to be higher income individuals (the exception being in Asia Pacific – see below), which is good news for companies hoping to convert users from looking to booking.

According to Thomas Laranjo, managing director of TotalMedia, the average time people spend online each day with their tablet is 1.5 hours – that is in addition to the hours spent on other devices. While the tablet may feel more like a PC than a smart phone it is the functionality, portability and speed that make users want to spend more time with it. And by virtue of spending more time online they are spending more money, Laranjo says.

If need any more convincing here are two statistics:

  • 2.6 million people have booked a flight on a tablet

  • In the UK tablet owners spend more time and money on the internet than any other TotalMedia

Tablet users are spending more time online than ever before. In fact TotalMedia’s research found that 46% of tablet owners go online more than they did before. “It is not that the tablet is cannibalising the time spent on other devices, the user is just spending more hours online,” he says. “So the booking window is that much greater.”  

When Expedia, a company absolutely focused on the booking path, started looking at their tablet strategy they understood that this is a device that is very much used in the planning and searching stage. “So we thought very carefully about how we optimise the tablet app for planning,” says Christelle Chan Expedia’s Marketing Director for EMEA. The result was a neat, clean design that loads quickly. “Tablet users really expect the product to be much faster so this is something to think about,” she says.

Chan is also quick to stress the need to understand where traffic is coming from so when it comes to marketing she recommends that tablet analytics are looked at separately.  “Optimise your SEM campaign by moving tablet traffic to a separate campaign. What you will get is higher click through rates and lower cost per clicks so overall costs will come down,” she says. 

3. Planning, inspiration and video power  

While smart phones are far more widely used for utility and usage (think maps, email and messaging), it is content that is absolutely propelling tablet usage forward. The former are used most at work or on the move while tablets are used more for content which is more likely to be consumed at home. Research backs this up.

  • 86% of people in the UK use the tablet at home

  • The iPad is largely used in the travel planning stage, whereas most last minute bookings are made via smart phone.

Not only do people consume far more content when they have a tablet, they do so from a much wider range of sources. They also shop more online and use the device in a multi-screen, multi-dimensional way. Think user sitting on the sofa researching a summer holiday across multiple sites, while watching (and voting on) Britain’s got Talent, and at the same time updating his Facebook page.

In other words they are interacting in way that they have never done before and so brands can no longer think in a linear way about reaching their target audience, says Laranjo. As a practical example: if a user sees an advert on television about a holiday destination he or she will very likely go straight to the website on the iPad. The experience he has then may make or break the booking.

What has become increasingly clear is that the tablet fundamentally changes user behaviour. Users are reading more news sources than ever before and they book holidays more quickly too.   

  • 72% of tablet users says they now go somewhere completely different to find information  TotalMedia

So today brands have to think far more clearly about media planning. The big name news organisations may not be the only way you can reach an audience. 

Using a tablet is also a far more tactile and visual experience and this coupled with ease of use and speed are things travel brands can really capitalise on.  

  • Tablet users watch twice as much online video as smart phone users each month (85 vs 33 minutes) Arbitron mobile trends, US and Europe

  • In the UK alone 34 million people watch videos online every month and the do this for inspiration and information Google

To this end having a digital video strategy is essential; the power of the moving image cannot be underestimated as Hotels.com discovered with its ‘extreme booking’ advertisement.   

One thing you can also be sure of is that when the user travels, the tablet will go too. Guidebooks are still an essential weapon in the travellers’ suitcase and there can be little doubt that the tablet will replace reference books – and in the case of travel that is the guide-book.

4.      What and where in the world – the battle for market share hots up

In developed markets like the UK tablet users may be more affluent – and aspire to own Apple’s iPad - but the market is only going to get bigger and more competitive. You only have to look east to see where things are headed. Globally most tablets are being bought in Asia Pacific. Europe, the Middle East and Africa follow with the weakest uptake being in North America. One explanation for this is that Americans use cars more and for this reason tend to book more last-minute travel as it is easier to be spontaneous when you are driving.  

APAC’s lead in the tablet world is not really surprising. Technology adoption here tends to be faster and as such mobile penetration is highest. Here too it is also about price point and Android tablets are more popular because they are cheaper. In India, for example, a tablet has been developed for educational purposes, which costs in the region of £100 and that is expected to fall to a very affordable £50 in the next few months. Clearly global brands need to think carefully about how they maximise tablet applications for individual markets – and don’t ignore Android either.

5.      Research, adapt and differentiate

Looking at what others are doing with their tablet strategy, understanding works and then differentiating is really important.  To differentiate you need to understand exactly what you want to do with your tablet website or app. Hotels.com made the call, for example, that it wanted its tablet ‘app’ to be a customer relationship management tool because “customers who download the app tend to be more loyal,” says Chan.  

Also worth looking at are the big news corporations whose revenues depend greatly on subscriptions and advertising. The BBC for one has recently overhauled its website strategy, something it did not undertake lightly. A blog by Erik Huggers the BBC’s Director of Future Media & Technology gives a flavour of the sort of questions that need to be asked before making an investment.  Do we really need this website to meet our public purposes? To what degree does it help meet our five editorial priorities? How does it differ from what else is out there in the market; is it distinctive? And if not - should we be doing it all?

So working out what you hope to achieve, what it can do for you business, what it’s going to cost and how it is going deliver is essential. And it doesn’t have to cost the earth, says Laranjo who says a really successful mobile and tablet web strategy can be achieved with under £20,000. If it works, this can be far more successful and cost effective than any traditional marketing or advertising campaign. 



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