Industry insights from high-fliers at big brands to entrepreneurs and innovators in travel and technology are what we at EyeforTravel like to hear most. Over the coming weeks we’ll be grilling a range of industry players to bring you their insights into the big trends on the horizon. First in line is HotelTonight’s chief executive Sam Shank who has just three words: mobile, mobile, mobile.
The decade of mobile is here. Recent research by EyeforTravel found that in the third quarter of 2011 bookings via mobile devices increased by 30% and that continues to grow. And if there was any doubt that people were using their mobile devices think again: in March 2012 350 million Facebook users accessed the social network via a mobile device. HotelTonight’s chief executive Sam Shank is certainly in no doubt about the importance of mobile. “We've seen the recent success of brands like Instagram and Path that have, like us, built a business entirely on mobile and I see this as just the start.”
But while mobile is undoubtedly the word for Shank, who will be speaking at EyeforTravel’s TDS North America in September, not everything of a mobile flavour is going to be a winner. “The hot trends,” he reckons, “are mobile, on-demand transportation services like the ‘uber’ or ‘hailo’ apps that allow users to find friends and similar people nearby.” Here though Shank expects one winner rather than 100 apps that do this.
What he is not convinced by are social travel planning apps none of which have become “wildly successful”. And he speaks from experience with “the scars to prove it”. Shank’s first company, TravelPost, was after all a social travel planning tool which linked to hotel reviews and it didn’t work.
Inspiration boards for vertical categories also leave him cold. “The most successful, sustainable social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn) combine personal expression with personal communication as the core of their offerings and value propositions,” he explains while inspiration boards are heavily weighted towards personal expression. “As we saw with MySpace, that ultimately wasn't sustainable to grow a long-term loyal audience,” he says.
One thing Shank is clear about is that services should fulfil a basic need. So ‘uber’ and ‘hailo’, for example, help people get from one place to another in an “elegant way”, saving considerable time and giving them control over what previously would have been (i.e. knowing exactly when your ride will arrive) in a situation that previously had a high degree of variability (i.e. waiting an empty cab to drive by).
So what makes a successful mobile only business?
For one, unlike web-only businesses apps have a rating system. Secondly users are not just rating the quality of the app, but the quality of the company. For this reason HotelTonight “obsesses on providing our customers with a phenomenal hotel booking experience”. And this also explains why the firm only works with hotels it personally vets. It also keeps its US-based customer support base in-house.
What keeps Shanks awake at night? His two sons have been known to keep him from getting a full eight hours of sleep. But he should rest assured his not the only one. On a more serious note he is keen to ensure HotelTonight attracts, hires and provides a challenging work environment. The work is challenging and must be accomplished well and but those that do will be recognised and rewarded.