Mobile is the travel industry’s new battle ground for profits.
Googlesays 850,000 Android smartphones are being activated each day. Goldman predicts Apple will sell 44 million iPhones and iPads this quarter. Together that’s upwards of 300 million new, potential customers each year.
Suppliers like Hertz are striving to generate speed and efficiency from mobile — positioning their technology as an antidote to stressful flying. "We want to make the transit to the car quick and easy," a spokesman said. "As you land we’ll send you an email detailing in which bay your car is waiting — with an option to upgrade with just one click."
But the online-travel agencies are hungry to create — and cannibalize — market segments. Top of that list are spur-of-the-moment purchases.
Last week Priceline.com launched its "Booking.com Tonight" app which targets last-minute hotel decisions, promising discounts of up to 50 percent wherever you are in the world. For car rentals, it reports 41 percent of its bookings are now same-day, with 48 percent of those within two hours of pickup.
"I’d focus on how big the market can get," advises Anthony DiClemente at Barclays. "Travel is essentially local. It fits very naturally with using a smartphone."
DiClemente said Priceline’s immediate challenge is to increase recognition of its Bookings.com brand here in the U.S. Beyond that, it may be underestimating the competition.
Having spent four years migrating to a single technology platform, Orbitz is now promising to sharpen its customer offerings and to expand beyond its traditional U.S. focus and airline bookings, demand for which may not migrate well to mobile.
"All of our consumer brands around the globe have at least one mobile offering — that includes discounts on hundreds of hotels of up to 50 percent," an Orbitz spokeswoman said. "And our brands are the only ones that offer vacation packages on mobile. They’re sometimes seen as complex bookings but we’re seeing consumers actually booking packages on mobile."
This post has been updated.