Thoughts on Travel Apps and Mobile Tech

Okay, so there’s this post on Business Insider… Actually, I hesitate to call it a “post”—it’s more like a tease to entice you to sign up for some kind of paid subscription service, wherein you’ll find all sorts of insight into the travel industry and mobile apps.

As someone who rather enjoys travelling, I’ve a few insights of my own. And I’m sure you do, too. Let’s discuss…

The Bombshell

This chart is the centrepiece of the Business Insider story:

Mobile Ease of Use

It seems that 65% of Americans say that mobile ease of use would “positively impact” their decision to make a holiday booking on their phone or tablet. In Europe it’s over 80%, and in Canada… Well, I guess you have to pay up to get the numbers for Canada.

Quick Survey

A quick survey of travel providers in Canada confirms that, for the most part, booking carriage is currently not an option on mobile devices:

The notable exception here is VIA Rail; booking a train is front and centre on their mobile site.

At Home

I myself would be hesitant to buy a plane ticket on a mobile site because there are so many other factors involved in such a big-ticket purchase. At the very least I’d want to check Expert Flyer and SeatGuru to make sure I can snag the best available spot in the cabin. But while I most often purchase tickets directly from the airline’s website, I might well start my travel plans using something like Hipmunk on my tablet.

It’s the same story for hotels. Again, I usually book directly with the property but do so only after poring over reviews on TripAdvisor—a task which I can accomplish with ease on their mobile app.

And Away

One big thing that has changed for me when I travel is that I no longer bring along a laptop. The risk is minimized by access to a desktop computer in the business centre of most hotels, or maybe an Internet café down the street.

Thus I’m far more likely to make a travel purchase from a phone or tablet when I’m actually on the road. It’s here, I think, where the travel industry needs to get with the times.

Case in point: When the girlfriend and I were in Hong Kong this past winter we wanted to ride the cable car to Ngong Ping and the Big Buddha. Being Chinese New Year and all, line-ups for said cable cars were long enough to necessitate booking ahead. Now the Ngong Ping 360 has an excellent mobile site, but unfortunately after we booked we had to bring along a printout of our purchase rather than something more modern like, say, a QR Code on one of our phones.


Speaking of QR codes, I’ve had precious little success with mobile boarding passes. They may have worked on a WestJet flight or two, but most times I inevitably get a piece of paper at the check-in counter without even asking. I can still remember the first time I tried to go paperless with Air Canada in 2008:

You should have seen the look of abject terror on the counter agent’s face when I showed her my screen. She made a feeble attempt to scan it with a reader she had, then promptly asked for my passport and printed up the usual paper boarding document.

Over to You

So that’s my two cents on mobile tech and the travel industry. If you’ve got an experience or some wisdom to share, please do!