Born to Run: Travel and Tourism is Going Mobile, Fast

A number of years ago, I went on a long trip to Europe. I didn’t need to bring much – just some good walking shoes, my backpack, and a map to get around. Still, I had to do my homework before stepping out the door. I needed to know where I was going, what I wanted to see, and I had to polish up on my people skills to figure out what to do in every new place I encountered. A lot of preparation went into that trip, and it was worth it!

Travelling is very different today, thanks of course to the smartphone. These little devices haven’t just affected what you bring on a trip – they’ve changed how you approach your trips altogether. You don’t need to plan as much because everything you may need is right there, at your fingertips. And you don’t just bring one phone, of course. A family traveling this summer will have 4 or 5 devices in the car, and maybe the car itself is connected too. They’re using mobile devices to navigate, stream music and videos to keep the kids occupied in the back, look up restaurants, make hotel reservations, and play games with each other – all at the same time.

Maybe you are going to experience this some time this summer, or maybe you just did this July 4th. Either way, as you head out on the road this summer, look around and think about the profound impact that mobile technology is having on the vacationer’s experience – and let’s consider what it means for performance testing.

Highlight Reel: Major Trends in the Travel Industry

Let’s take a look at some of the paradigm shifts we are seeing in summer travel. First, the industry is a lot bigger than you think. Reports show that the U.S. tourism industry generates $2.1 trillion in economic impact, with almost a trillion of that spent directly by travelers. According to research by eMarketer, 2015 is the tipping point year, when the majority of those travelers conduct their research from a mobile device as opposed to a laptop or desktop.

With demand for mobile services increasing so rapidly, the supply is naturally right there to fill it. These days, you don’t need to plan so much (like I had to do in my trip). You can actually get by just fine thinking only a couple days in advance. As evidence, did you know that last-minute bookings have been killing it on Expedia and Orbitz? Sites like those have seen a near 70% rise through mobile channels and higher occupancy rates.

Advertisers love the travel industry as well. The more we move, the more ads they can show us. Especially when you consider the highly valuable location and behavioral data that travel apps are able to collect from users. And with more and more people starting to get creative with their media strategy, you can expect to see more and more interesting use of local and social ad space.

Then, there’s the booming sharing economy. Companies like Airbnb, Uber, and OpenTable are some of the hottest on the market, creating all kinds of interesting business models for entrepreneurs, not to mention unique vacation experiences for travelers. With the sharing economy, mobile apps have transcended beyond information resource or booking agent to enablers of entirely new travel trends.

Implications on Performance Testing

So why does performance matter so much with mobile apps? To answer that question, start by considering a user’s first experience with a new mobile app they are trying out. Maybe they’ve downloaded it for the first time while flying on an airline they haven’t flown before, or they just arrived at a theme park and want an app to get them around. Apps are available for trains, hotels, airlines, theme parks, city guides, and local events – basically anything travelers need to make sure that their trip is a success.

Regardless of what they are looking up, travelers’ first experience is on the go. Users are under pressure, trying to figure something out without wasting any precious time. They are distracted – navigating a busy ticket counter or conversing in a foreign language with a street vendor. The decisions they make at that moment really matter, and can mean the difference between a pleasant flight and a missed connection. Reliability of your app is key in these situations. If the app is slow, unresponsive, or difficult to understand, your user will give up.

With so much travel happening over the summer, there are a lot of new users always coming in. This is the best time to get happy visitors and have them sharing their stories of how your app made their travel experience better. But if your performance is bad going into it, you’ve blown that big opportunity.

Here’s how to get in the passing lane:

Tip 1: Account for All of the Variability

When you are dealing with a massively mobile audience, you need to realize that you have a lot of different users acting under different conditions, and often they don’t even know what to expect. Make sure that you can handle all that variability and that you are prepared for it.

As part of your load testing process, set up emulators that account for variability in network speeds: including at a minimum 3G, 4G and WiFi. Have a representative collection of devices because new models are coming out all the time. You’ll want to test on different screen sizes and different operating systems. Finally, test how problems with service delivery affect your apps and your performance, such as latency, packet loss and the contention ratio. What happens when a user gets a phone call while in the middle of a transaction? What happens when they lose service because they are going through a tunnel? All of these scenarios are ones you’ll want to think about and plan for.

Tip 2: Adopt a Mobile-First Strategy

Now is the time to start thinking that mobile is the primary vehicle for users interacting with your company site, or at least an equivalent one to their laptop or desktop. This is especially true over summer weekends. It’s tempting to think of your users falling into separate groups (mobile or PC), but this is no longer the case. It’s the same people who are using multiple devices to research and book trips.

It’s time to structure your testing and monitoring with a mobile-first attitude. Mobile isn’t a secondary afterthought anymore. It’s how your users are experiencing you all summer long. What does it mean to start with mobile? First, don’t silo your testing or performance monitoring, keeping mobile and PC separate. Set up load tests with a mix of mobile and non-mobile devices or emulators, mimicking what you see in the real world. Build out your test scenarios as completely on mobile devices as you do on the traditional website. And make sure your operations teams are sharing information across all platforms and devices.

You can explore our Mobile-First infographic for more ideas.

Tip 3: Starting Planning for Wearables and Explore IoT

We still don’t know what the impact will be on performance from the embryonic wearables market, but this summer is the perfect time to gather some data as your users play around. Based on that data, start to build some models and simulations that will help you develop a strategy for testing wearables over the next 12 months. For more about this topic, check out our previous post here.

While you’re at it, you may also want to start thinking about the Internet of Things. Wearables are just the beginning. Soon, we’re likely to be flooded with a seemingly unending flow of Internet-connected gizmos and gadgets. IoT is going to mean big things for storage – as sensors and devices stream terabytes of data from, for example, a Tennessee Cornfield. Storing all that information? Not so easy. There are few standards for IoT platforms and even less for performance. Still, you can bet that in a few years, all those travelers will be turning on their AC from their phones. So, this summer is a good time to get educated.

Make This the Best Summer Yet

We are constantly on the go. Our mobility only increases over the summer, as we browse travel apps, check flights, make reservations and just search for fun things to do all from our phones. To ensure that a user’s first experience is as good as possible, make variability, mobile first strategies and IoT planning your main priorities. That way, it will be a near-perfect experience for every new user, and your app may become the next great, must-have travel app.

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  1. July 17, 2015

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