Will you be Ready for 2012, The Real Year of Mobile?
By Stephen Budd and Vicky Brock
Saturday, 13th June 2009
There's a little tourism/sporting event happening in London in 2012, you may be aware of it and from what I could tell while in Docklands earlier this week, there are certainly lots of cranes and men in hard hats endeavouring to ensure the Olympic Stadium is completed on  time. 

But there is another 2012 milestone accelerating towards us that will have wider construction implications for travel and tourism businesses.  As Greg Dowling, Head of Analysis at Nokia, informed me at eMetrics San Jose a few weeks ago - by 2012 more than half of those accessing the internet will do so from a mobile device.

As a research geek, I like to know the sources of such eye-popping statistics.  I wanted to check for myself that I had understood what he had said correctly and (apologies for the distrust Greg!) that the amazing numbers I was being told were accurate.

And it seems they are.

Leading technology industry analysts, IDC, report in their Digital Marketplace Model and Forecast (June 2008) that:

"Users will access the Internet through more than 1.5 billion devices worldwide in 2008, including PCs, mobile phones, and online videogame consoles. By 2012, the number of devices accessing the Internet will double to more than 3 billion, half of which will be mobile devices."

And I can tell you Nokia are taking this very, very seriously indeed.

Remember when we all stuck our brochures on the web?

I mentioned the big construction implications of the mobile web.  And like London preparing for the Olympics, tourism providers must realise that the mobile web is a similarly massive event and ask themselves, "Am I ready for these visitors?"

Like parts of London where infrastruture must be upgraded to meet the challenges of an influx of visitors, so there are web offerings that, if not changed, will not be fit for purpose come 2012.

We cannot simply throw existing website content at mobile users and think "job done".  People will be using devices that are geographically aware.  They are looking for downloadable apps they can carry with them.  People will expect (because its already do-able) that they can use their mobile devices to locate a nearby restaurant that meets their tastes and that has a table now.

Are you ready for that?

It is not an either/or of course.  Mobile is not greplacingh the fixed web - it is augmenting it with a time sensitive, location sensitive layer - one that is arguably also more flexible for interactivity with both objects and other people.

Travel and tourism is where fixed internet users first experimented and became more confident in researching and communicating online - there is no reason to believe that their mobile internet experience will be any different.  Travel, tourism and "familiarisation" applications will lead the way as internet users add another layer of enrichment to their experiences. 

In fact they already are - three excellent posts from Stephen Joyce, Norm Rose and the New York Times give you a flavour of some of the great applications already being used by visitors to navigate their way through unfamiliar places and travel processes.  Where the early adopters lead, the bulk of visitors will soon follow.

So is there a 2012 tourism connection between mobile and the Olympics?

There sure is.... Just as the Sydney Olympics were revolutionised by digital photography technologies, distributing images globally in minutes, London 2012 will be the first heavy test of the mobile internet. 

And provided London Underground don't decide to strike rendering us thoroughly immobile, there is a compelling case (as made here by the Mobile Data Association) that London will be the "mobile Olympics of 2012"

As they explain:

"As early as 2010, all new mobile phones will be mobile internet and mobile email ready and will have sophisticated camera functionality as standard. Mobile social networking and sharing rich moments with friends and family, will be a commonplace occurrence. Therefore visitors to the 2012 London Olympics will be recording and sharing their own personal memories of the games. This "of the moment" dynamic view will provide a great opportunity to experience the Olympics in a unique way."

They go on (and is this is where it gets interesting for the tourism/travel business):

"By 2012 we will be using our NFC (Near Field Communications) enabled mobile phones on the underground and public transport systems of London as an Oyster card replacement. There are significant opportunities to combine mobile internet, GPS location and mapping to provide visitors to the games with travel plans (using public transport), avoiding congested areas, making reservation in hotels and restaurants, tickets for the games and real-time security alerts and warnings."

So great, the London Olympics will have even more people glued to their phones and may even edge towards being a "cashless" Olympics if the transactional kinks can be ironed out.  But why is this remotely significant to, say, a hotel in Glasgow or an attraction in Leipzig?

Well, herefs a few reasons to start with:

  • Critical mass - many times we have heard that "this is the year of mobile" only for that promise not to materialise. But now a perfect storm of handset advances, content/application development, increasing wi-fi network availability and a major trigger event such as the Olympics means 2012 is a very realistic horizon for the mobile internet to become an absolutely mainstream platform in travel.
  • Mobile phones are beginning to be used "transactionally" - even if not quite yet as the purchase device  (booking a table for a nearby restaurant in 15 minutes time is a transaction, even if the purchase is completed in the restaurant).  At the moment, phones are typically acting as really smart guide books' but this kind of transactional development means that people should start using them to first move closer to the point of purchase, and eventually to keep and spend money.
  • The combination of User Generated Content, Social Networks, GPRS and Mobiles means that information will be shared among a target group more quickly - this has benefits (eg you are shifting stock at a discount to clear it) and drawbacks (word gets out quickly if you're product is duff).
So, peer to peer communication, as epitomized say by Trip Advisor, becomes even more rapid, even more geographically sensitive, even more context aware.   As one leading phone manafacturer who will remain nameless pointed out "not only do we know where you are right now, we know who is in you address book" - those things can be easily pulled together for custom recommendations.

Doesn't that have the potential to dramatically increase the power of peer to peer influence and word of mouth?  And will you be ready?

 (Thanks to suburbanslice on Flickr for the image of the Olympic Park.)

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