It's been one of the hottest topics in digital travel circles for a few years now: last-minute and same-day hotel bookings via mobile. And of course the poster child for the trend has been HotelTonight, the phone-only same-day hotel booking app.
I frequently reference the company when I speak at industry events. In online travel, content may be king, but in mobile, design is the differentiator. The elegance and simplicity of the HotelTonight app is a model for all of mobile commerce – not just hotel booking. Browsing is a delight, payment is painless, and while the big online travel agencies (OTAs) may be battling over who's got more inventory, HotelTonight is banking on the idea that today's mobile traveler doesn't need to see every accommodation under the sun.
But I've always been a bit skeptical about the market opportunity. Just how many travelers really book hotels the same day? Yes, there are flight disruptions and last-minute change of plans for business travelers. And no doubt there are some who are simply feeling spontaneous and take the plunge. (I will admit to being a more-than-infrequent browser, probably most often right before I have to pick up the kids from school or soccer and start digging in to dinner, homework, reading and bed.)
After some recent research, I'm a bit less skeptical. In Phocuswright's Parsing Shop and Book: How Airlines, Hotels and OTAs Compete on the Desktop and Mobile Web, we partnered with Adara, which collects data feeds from hotels, airlines, OTAs and other websites to power its advertising platform. For this study, we examined more than 2 billion distinct user sessions – search and booking events across a range of desktop and mobile websites of major airlines, hotels and OTAs.1 The results from analysis of the mobile website sessions are striking on two fronts.
Last-minute search volume is huge
Maybe there are a lot people out there like me, doing some last-minute fantasizing about a quick getaway stay. Figure 1 below shows the distribution of hotel searches by how far in advance of their intended check-in dates they are searching. Some 30% of searches on OTA mobile websites and nearly one in four on hotel mobile sites are for same-day or next-day check-in (the "same day / 1 day" window in the "x" axis includes the same day and all searches made within a 24 hour window before the check-in date).
The booking trends, however, shown below in Figure 2, are quite different. While bookings on hotel mobile sites are more or less evenly spread across the four booking windows along the "x" axis, OTA mobile bookings skew dramatically toward last minute – more than seven in 10.
We cannot infer an absolute market size from the data, but we do know that overall mobile search and booking volume is growing at a torrid pace. [Gross travel bookings via mobile (phones and tablets) will account for 27% of the U.S. online travel market by 2015, up from just 5% in 2012.2 And a big piece of that – two-thirds or more – is comprised of hotels.] There is clearly significant demand for last-minute hotels as seen through search data (Figure 1), and a clear trend toward last-minute mobile booking on OTAs in Figure 2.
So to the team at HotelTonight, my apologies. The pie is looking pretty interesting.
Last minute isn't the only thing in mobile
Same-day hotel bookings may be capturing an outsized share of the headlines around mobile booking trends, but it is by no means the only thing of note from the above figures. Also remarkable is the volume of shopping that is done in advance – well in advance. About 30% of searches on a hotel mobile site and one in five on an OTA are done at least a month in advance (Figure 1), indicating that all types of travel planning – not just last minute – is happening on mobile.
The numbers are even more remarkable for flights. Half of all flight searches on mobile are taking place at least a month in advance, and one in five are for departure dates at least three months out (see Figure 3). So while there seems to significant opportunity in last-minute hotels, travelers are clearly shopping – or at least daydreaming – about that far-off trip.
As more travel activity across the entire travel experience migrates from point and click to tap and swipe, travel companies will have to support advance planning and discovery as well as last-minute spontaneity.
Phocuswright's Parsing Shop and Book: How Airlines, Hotels and OTAs Compete on the Desktop and Mobile Web assesses trends in traveler search and booking behavior, as well as draws comparisons across key industry segments in the U.S. online travel market.
- Search and booking trends across airlines, hotels and OTAs, including data and analysis into the U.S. websites of select Adara travel data partners, loyalty programs and mobile
- An analysis of 2 billion search and book sessions across Adara's U.S. travel industry data partners
- How loyalty status affects the book-to-search rate
- Airline, hotel and OTA website book-to-search rates
- Mobile analysis including mobile web activity via smartphone and tablet
1 The data was anonymized and grouped (hotels, airlines, OTAs) so that individual data providers could not be identified and their confidential information protected.
2 Phocuswright's U.S. Online Travel Overview Thirteenth Edition. November, 2013