What the Facebook developer conference means to travel

From Facebook in San Francisco to Europe’s wired cities and why if you don’t go mobile, you’ll go broke, guest columnist Phil Butler shares his views

Your audience, your guest, your consumer is almost fully mobile now! You’ve already heard about this, so why the register of surprise? Where once a hotel guest passed a neon sign, and stopped for the night, now the neon is on a tablet or smartphone. Soon travellers will book passage on everything from phones to refrigerators, this is irrefutable and unchangeable.

Whether you’re a hotelier, a revenue manager in hospitality, an ad professional or a marketer intent on building your customer base, here are some significant changes and innovations you need to know about.

Facebook’s Audience Network

Yesterday Facebook launched their new mobile advertising network at the F8 developer conference. What’s significant about this announcement for the travel market is the so-called Facebook Audience Network lets third parties utilise Facebook profiling and targeting to reach potential customers. What’s more, brands with apps using this capability can use standard and custom ads to reach tightly targeted guests, diners, flyers and so forth. But here’s the thing, these F8 announcements are more about a ‘stable mobile experience’ than simply ad targeting. In the keynote, Mark Zuckerberg highlights the purpose with the slogan: ‘BUILD GROW MONETIZE’. These words are music to the ears of brands, app developers, and anybody who communicates sales. The reasons include:

1. Facebook is now primarily mobile
2. Login with Facebook has drastically streamlined mobile utility
3. Facebook helped businesses to process $3 billion in payments a year
4. Facebook has distributed a billion app installs already (that’s 1000 million apps)
5. Facebook’s new network will bridge the gap between Apple, Google, and Microsoft services

The first two reasons are all about distribution and adaptation of your marketing and monetisation tools - your business’ mobile imprint, so to speak. Looking at payment processing, this will continue to be a sort of ‘Holy Grail’ for hotels, restaurants and an array of tourism oriented businesses converging with mobile. Why? Your guests and patrons want to be able to pay you quickly, via mobile – you want them to pay you fast and easy.

Secondly, when an app for your brand is distributed it’s not just a tool to connect your hotel or tour agency to customers, it’s a brand advertisement and a marketing input device. Without overly complicating this discussion, Facebook apps become your best brand evangelists – that is if your marketing and PR team can get them adopted.

Finally, think about your customers. Yes, those people frantically fingering their phones in the lobby, dining room, bar, or on the beach - what matters to them, should matter to you. Facebook understands this, they’ve a billion customers, and now they want you to ‘build, grow and right alongside them.   

WiFi – The net closes on connectivity and Europe plays catch up

If it’s a trend you’re looking for to cement the idea mobility is here to stay, news that cable giant Comcast is creating 8 million new WiFi hotspots in America may suffice. Pretty soon, data charges in the US will cease to exist! The hotelier worries about supplying free WiFi to guests? Sooner or later that will be ancient history.

Europe and the rest of the world is catching up with the US

What’s more significant though, Europe and the rest of the world is catching up with the US. What this means for your business is simple: you need to engage and connect with customers via a competitive mobile presence, more precisely, not just a presence, but with a superlative app or interface. WiFi hotspots, mobile capability as technology or innovation, this is all part of a diligent business plan for any successful concern.

If you’re in Europe, cities from Florence to Helsinki are some of the most ‘wired’ on Earth where WiFi hotspots and services are concerned. One service in Florence, FirenzeCard, allows travellers a massive spread of access coverage across the city, not to mention transport passes, free admissions and so forth. Innovative companies like this have apps, services and business affiliations that your hotel, restaurant, attraction or tour company should be providing too.

As a for instance, FirenzeCard has an app that helps visitors get around in Florence, a city like so many that is under-served by mobile apps. The point is, the trends, the business, the services, and the customer is who you should be following.

But what about poor connections and bandwidth, you may ask. The answer is already on the wind and in the trend. Gigabit WiFi, or 802.11ac capability, is being built into a plethora of devices to be released this year. You don’t need to be a technology geek or IT expert to understand consumers’ appetite for more speed, gadgets and things that connect them. Look at WiFi proliferation and other trends this way; you’re watching a several billion customers, served by thousands of mobile businesses, walk past your hotel’s front door. Now what should you do?

More proof

While researching for this post, I came across some Forrester data on the subject. According to Forrester, last year eBay did $20 billion dollars in mobile transactions! The research also cemented a trend any of us who are mobile understand – the need for instant gratification. Forester found that increasingly, consumers expect they can get what they want instantly. Furthermore, with the maturation of mobile advertising, businesses will be engaged with their customers as never before. Not even during the age of so-called ‘soap operas’ at the advent of TV were concerns so closely connected with their clientele.

According to Forrester, last year eBay did $20 billion dollars in mobile transactions 

The Forrester report goes on to discuss negatives. For instance, despite the trends, most businesses will not spend the resources to differentiate tablet experiences from smartphone ones. Also, most companies will fail to leverage the convergence of social media and mobile. It matters not ‘why’ - the point is that many of your competitors will miss competitive advantages.

Go mobile, or go broke

A final bit of technological/strategic proof of the move to mobile business is something called the Internet of Things. Basically, some really big brands are aligning to expand mobile/digital capabilities and interactions into devices other than tablets and smartphones. That’s right, pretty soon your hotel rooms could be advertised on appliances and machines you’ve never imagined. What if the hotel next door were somehow connected to a big GE refrigerator door LED that showed scenes of the balcony view to a housewife in Boston?  How about booking via another touchscreen in an elevator headed to the 43rd floor in Manhattan? Or what if the next trend is a holograph from a home cooktop, showing a recipe from your restaurant’s head chef? An amazing picture, now isn’t it?

The biggest challenge your business faces today is differentiating itself from competitors. Even if you have the finest hotel on Earth, even if your service is the most dedicated anywhere, your panoramic view of a magical destination unsurpassed, if you’re not mobile soon your competitor will be and your future customers will be eating, drinking or being entertained at a venue down the road.

Phil Butler is editor-in-chief of Everything PR News, CEO of Argophilia the online travel development company, and co-editor of Argophilia Travel News. He’s widely cited on beta startups, search engines and marketing, and a contributor to Social Media Today, The Huffington Post, The Epoch Times, and other media outlets. His views are his own

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