The travel industry has been accused of lagging behind on mobile technology, but it seems to be waking up to the benefits of being able to contact customers, or potential ones, anytime and anywhere.

More than half of us wholly rely on our mobiles to keep in touch with family and friends, with 4.1 million text messages being sent every hour in the UK.

It is not uncommon to receive a text message from your doctor, dentist or hairdresser to remind you of an appointment or alert you to a special offer. Now mobile phone devices are emerging as a valuable tool for retailers to communicate with their customers.

Travel Weekly looked at what mobile technology providers can offer and how they can help your business grow…

Travel Buddy

Entrepreneur Adam Winterflood set up Travel Buddy in 2006 when he realised the need to open up communication between holidaymakers and travel companies.

Recent events have stressed the importance of this, he said. “With the risk of terrorist attacks, natural disasters and airlines going out of business, it is more important than ever that people have a way of contacting their tour operator.”

Agents or operators organising school trips are missing a trick on mobile communications, he added.

“It’s frightening to think children can go on a school trip and their parents hear nothing from them the whole time, when it is so easy to use mobiles to stay in touch.”

Travel Buddy also offers destination information such as details of attractions, restaurants and events, and customers can text keywords such as ‘weather’ or ‘events’ and expect a response within minutes. They can also send customer service queries, which are passed to the operator.

First Choice uses Travel Buddy to provide ski and snow updates to keep customers up to date with what is happening on the slopes. The Co-operative Travel Group is also using it to provide destination information.

The service can work as well for small independent agencies as for multiples, said Winterflood. “Text messaging is another incremental service agents can offer. It engenders customer loyalty,” he said.

And the next step? “We will eventually offer a customised web page with emergency and destination content. But that’s not mass market yet, text messaging is quicker and more simple.”

CallUma

CallUma provides holidaymakers with access to almost 1,000 interpreters covering 87% of the world’s languages, who are on standby 24/7.

The CallUma service was set up in March this year after a trial in Spain. The company is already attracting plenty of attention and is in the process of signing up some of the major tour operators.

Chief executive Tony Partridge came up with the idea when one of his children became ill on holiday and he had no idea who to call.

But the service is not just for emergencies. Holidaymakers can call or text the company for details of local attractions or restaurants. It also offers a luggage tagging service and assistance with blocking or cancelling stolen credit cards.

Agents can choose from three CallUma packages, and the company is in the process of signing deals with various travel companies.

It is currently working with The Co-operative Travel Group, the Travel Trust Association and Expedia. CallUma UK sales director Darran Burr said: “This is an extra ancillary product for agents to sell and improve their bottom line. It is another way to take care of their clients.”

Handy Group

Founded four years ago by Michael Lacy, Handy Group takes relevant information from websites and uses it on more manageable sites that are ideal for mobile devices.

So far, it is working with hotels4u.com, Cosmos and Holiday Extras and is signing up many more. The sites can be used for information or to make bookings.

Senior vice-president for sales Peter Deane said: “Mobile internet is not a perfect world and we’re still in the early stages. This is like the internet was 15 years ago – in a few years it will be commonplace.”

“To increase awareness companies have to build the fact that they have a mobile site into their marketing campaigns.”

The tool could be especially useful for travel management companies. “Business travellers on the go will be able to change their travel plans through their phone.
It will completely change the landscape of business travel,” added Deane.