These days consumers spend more time on mobile than web-browsers - and apps increasingly impact user behaviour. But how are they using mobile, and what does this mean for travel marketers?
To find out how travellers use their mobile devices, travel research firm Phocuswright tracked the mobile activity of more than 1,000 leisure travellers over the course of a month during 2014.
Using a combination of passive mobile data collection and an online survey, the firm found that apps dominate mobile activity, as opposed to browsing.
Travellers opened smartphone apps an average of 25 times per day and spent more than two hours in apps daily, while they visited just nine different mobile websites.
That said, app activity is actually quite narrow; it is focused on emailing, social media and gaming. And closer inspection shows that travel apps - including airline, hotel, online travel agency (OTA), metasearch apps and others - in fact only represent 1% of the time travellers spend in apps on their phones (shopping for flights and hotels is not a daily activity, but is included in daily smartphone activity).
On the other hand, despite a relatively low usage of travel apps, travellers still rely on the mobile web when planning their trip. For example, over the course of the survey more than 30% of the mobile study participants used TripAdvisor on their smartphone. But more of them were using the brand's mobile website (18%) than its app (13%); and app users visited the website too. Only 38% of TripAdvisor smartphone users were "app only."
The same trend applied to OTAs, which can reasonably expect higher engagement from app users than from people browsing a mobile site on a one-off basis. Yet according to PhocusWright's research, just 11% used OTA apps on their smartphones, almost half the amount of travellers who used mobile web browsers - 19%.
The research firm noted one exception to this trend: 42% of travellers used at least one airline app.
This shows that functionality is key when it comes to travel apps. Users want more than just the ability to shop for hotels and flights while they're on the move; they want the same sort of functionality provided by an airline app, which allows them to track flights, skip long check-in queues or enjoy the convenience of mobile boarding.
Despite the transformative power of a mobile app, what travellers really want is quick access to travel information without the bother of having to download an app.
So while apps may threaten traditional, open web marketing, the mobile web still holds the key to audience engagement, offering massive reach to travel firms. The lion's share (89%) of online travel's smartphone audience is active on mobile search engines, averaging roughly two searches per day.
Mobile web may not be as popular, but it still offers incredibly lucrative online activities - and this trend will only continue as developers invest in HTML5 and other web-based technology to improve user experience.
If current trends continue, mobile may well be the future and subsequently, what wins mobile will win the internet.
One thing, for sure, is clear from the study: understanding the mobile web (and how travellers are using it) is hugely important for travel firms.