A Tour Operator’s Guide to Mobile Bookings

By Erick Tomaliwan

Booking ManagementBooking Management

Mobile bookings continue to increase as more travelers jet off to their bucket-list destinations. Maybe it’s because airlines are enforcing stricter carry-on weight limits and fees. Or perhaps it’s because “go with the flow” backpacking is gaining popularity amongst millennials. Whatever the reason, it seems travelers are leaving their laptops at home and booking activities while in-destination.

Checkfront collected booking data over the last three years and found that mobile bookings made up 44.3% of all bookings in 2017— that’s more than half if you include 8.7% from tablet bookings. Also, 24.50% of bookings were made same day and 33.78% one week before.

It’s possible there’s a correlation between last minute and mobile bookings. Compared to the fluctuating prices and uncertain availability of flights and accommodation, there’s less urgency to book tours and activities. As well, travelers who choose to pack lighter might only have a smartphone for bookings during their trip.

And booking last minute on a mobile device affects a traveler’s online behaviour — it’s different from sitting down at a home desktop. Searching is specific and sometimes voice-conducted. Browsing involves finger swiping and pinching. And content is often scanned, not digested.

As a tour and activity operator, you’ll benefit from knowing how to meet the needs and tastes of travelers who rely on their phones to book with you. This post will help you do just that. Whether they’re first discovering your tour, wanting more information about the experience, or ready to make a quick payment, you’ll align with their goals every step of the way.

There’s already tour operators who’ve considered the impact of mobile technology and taken measures to be mobile-first — not just mobile friendly. Here’s an example:

Tour operators find success with mobile bookings

From all over the world, travelers make their way to Zrce beach for the ultimate beach party vacation. To help them plan and book everything they need — like accommodation and festival tickets — Zrce.eu provides the best information while making it easy for travelers to book on the fly.

Since their target audience lands in the age range of 18-35, Zrce.eu focuses on creating an optimal mobile experience. They understand travelers in this age demographic tend to take their smartphones everywhere. If they didn’t cater to their mobile needs, they’d lose out on a significant amount of direct sales.

In fact, 80% of Zrce.eu bookings come from mobile devices. So it’s evident their mobile-first approach is succeeding. With a mobile-friendly website and Checkfront’s booking system designed for mobile reservations, travelers can easily navigate their site and complete a purchase.

At the same time, Mystery Towns has figured out how to create a walking tour that’s also mobile-first. Using a smartphone app, their guests are able to explore a new destination without a tour guide. They simply follow a series of clues from one location to the next until they unlock the mystery at the end.

Mystery Towns offers a complete mobile experience from point A to point B. All on a smartphone, guests can make a booking, get a confirmation with the app’s access code, and start the tour game whenever they want. It’s an entirely automated process, which has helped Mystery Towns quickly expand into new cities.

If you’re wanting to be like Zrce.eu or Mystery Towns and target travelers with mobile bookings, the best thing to do is learn about a mobile user’s online behaviour.

Mobile user behaviour insights

According to our data, conversion rates are higher with mobile bookings. A total of 61.91% of mobile users followed through with a reservation, compared to that of 45.33% of desktop users.

However, mobile sessions are faster than desktop — averaging at 2 minutes and 20 seconds. As well, mobile users are more likely to bounce. While the bounce rate for desktop users was 56.40%, it was 61.30% for mobile.

What does this information tell us then? Why are conversion rates higher, but there are shorter mobile sessions and a greater chance of bouncing?

One reason behind this could be that travelers on mobile are goal-oriented and impatient — they intend to book before it’s too late.

Close up of three females with colourful nails using smartphones at the beach

For instance, when someone waits to book an experience, they might adopt a book now or never mentality once the departure date creeps closer or they’re presently in-destination. If, however, they researched beforehand, they might’ve decided which tours and activities to put on their itinerary already. In this scenario, they know what they’re looking for and with little time left, they want to book as soon as possible.

But that doesn’t explain the bounce rate and page session time. Let’s look at it from a personal perspective. When you have a goal in mind and something gets in your way, do you take a different approach?

It’s the same with mobile browsing. If a traveler knows what they want and are running out of time, they’ll abandon a page that doesn’t help them reach their goal. And on a mobile device, this is more likely to happen because many websites aren’t compatible with mobile behavior.

So what can you do to ensure you’re not turning away mobile users? You can start by testing your mobile website performance.

Test your mobile website performance

You’ll have more success landing customers when your mobile website performance is top-notch. Even if you provide a remarkable tour experience and deliver outstanding customer service, a mobile user won’t come to realize that if they’re turned off initially by challenging navigation and slow page speed.

For the best mobile website performance, you need a web page that loads faster than your guests shooting over the treetops on a zip line. You need navigation that helps users get from point A to point B — like the way your trailblazing tour guides do. And similar to your snug-fitting  wetsuits, content needs to be visible without falling out of place.

If your website doesn’t meet these standards, you risk losing mobile visitors as soon as they find you. Remember, mobile users are impatient. Any obstacles that get in the way might cause them to give up and return to the search results. Don’t let that happen!

Here are some free tests to see whether your mobile website performance needs some attention:

Page speed: Users like fast sites — which is why page speed is now considered a ranking factor. You can test your page speed with Google.

Mobile-friendly design: Go on your smartphone and browse your website. Or use Chrome’s DevTools to simulate the mobile browsing experience on your desktop. Check to see if everything fits on the screen and it’s easy to complete each step in the booking journey.

AMP page test: An AMP page (Accelerated Mobile Page) gets priority on Google search results. If you have AMP pages, you need to perform a test to see if they’re valid — Google only qualifies valid AMP pages.

After you perform these tests, there might be some improvements required. But you don’t need to overwhelm yourself with a complete overhaul — start by making small changes.

Tweak your website for mobile

We’ve learned that a mobile website needs to accommodate goal-oriented and impatient travelers. If you’ve conducted the above tests and discovered your site isn’t fit for mobile browsing, then you can tweak your website to make sure it does.

Female traveler booking on mobile at sand dunes wearing an orange jacket

Here are a few things you can do right now for mobile booking optimization:

  • Publish key information on your landing page. Mobile visitors don’t want to spend time reading through paragraphs of information. Short and sweet is best.
  • Reduce image file size by running images through an image optimizer — such as Tinypng.com. Bigger file sizes can significantly slow down page speed.
  • Create a clear path to purchase. Make sure call-to-actions button stand out and are easy to tap on with a finger.
  • Simplify the booking form with only 3 form fields. At this point, a mobile user can drop off if there’s too much to enter. We recommend just asking for their name, email address, and phone number.
  • Collect guest details using a guest form — but after the booking is made.

These small changes can make a huge difference in helping you create a mobile friendly website. For even better results, get a website that’s made for mobile bookings.

Site Builder helps with mobile bookings

Most of us struggle with creating the perfect Instagram Story, let alone designing an entire website. Unless computer coding is your second language, it’s a good idea to leave this task to the professionals. Not only will it save you hours of watching tutorials, but it will also ensure you have the best possible website for mobile.

There are lots of website themes available online to choose from, but it takes time sifting through them to find the perfect fit — even with filters in place. Some are designed for travel bloggers, while others are better for fashion e-commerce. Not all options are going to work well with the goals of your tour business. But there is one that will!

Site Builder is the mobile website design solution for companies in the tourism industry — including tours & activities, accommodation, and rentals. With a marketplace of beautiful themes, you can find and customize one to match the look and feel of your business. Plus, it’s fully responsive, optimized for SEO (search engine optimization) and automatically syncs to your Booking Manager.

How does Site Builder give you a mobile booking website?

Finger-friendly buttons: Mobile users don’t have a keyboard and mouse. Scrolling and clicking are done with the tip of their finger. Site Builder’s call-to-action buttons are big enough to tap on — which makes it easy for mobile users to move on to the next step.

Search functionality: Site Builder has an optional search widget for the homepage which lists all of the available items according to the selected date. It helps narrow down the search for visitors, so they can find what they’re looking for as quickly as possible.

Seamless booking experience: Think about the questions you ask a booker over the phone — What date? What time? How many adults? Any children? Site Builder can cover these questions using pop-up calendars, timeslots, and booking parameters.

Smart caching: Caching is the process of storing data temporarily to speed up page load time in the future. Site Builder uses many caching practices to ensure faster browsing for mobile users.

Best practices for advertising to mobile users

It’s best to create a mobile website before advertising to a mobile audience. That way, you won’t waste marketing dollars because the visitors you attract are more likely to convert.

Plus, implementing mobile-first practices will help you become familiar with mobile user behavior and make it easier to learn how to advertise to them. It’s just switching from keeping a mobile user’s attention to capturing their interest.

Black male traveler wearing tropical shirt sitting outside looking at smartphone and laughing

To get you started, our friends at Outdoor Adventure Marketing share the best practices for advertising on mobile. Here are a few of their tips:

  1. Size and shape: Mobile devices have small and narrow screens — which means the square format is best for mobile ads. At the recommended size of 250 x 250, your ad fits on a mobile screen without being overly obtrusive. Also, when the size of the ad is smaller, the text needs to be larger. Make sure the text on the mobile advertisement is big enough to read.

  2. Video outperforms images: Video is more captivating than an image— so use video for mobile ads whenever possible. Mobile users are more likely to stop scrolling and watch a video play out, whereas with an image, they often glimpse, move on and forget.

  3. Direct to a landing page: When someone taps on your ad, they’re interested in the offer. Take them to a landing page dedicated to that offer — one with more information and an opportunity to book. This will give you a better chance of maintaining their interest and converting them into a customer.

  4. Respond on mobile: Since a mobile user’s actions are quick, they likely expect the same speed for communication. When they message, you should respond right away. Get a text message service that helps your team members send and receive messages from their device. That way, someone will always be available to reply on time

Final thoughts

Mobile technology isn’t a trend; it’s a way of life. This means that mobile bookings are here to stay. The longer you wait to become mobile-friendly, the more bookings you’ll miss out on. So get started with the above tips and watch the mobile bookings roll in.

P.S. Want more mobile bookings?

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