Library M-commerce equals M-reservations!

M-commerce equals M-reservations!

Just as you were becoming accustomed to E-commerce, advances in wireless technology and the Internet are combining to drive a new generation of electronic commerce called mobile commerce, or if you prefer, ‘M-commerce’.

What’s the difference you ask? Well, where E-commerce uses the Web on a computer screen to run transactions, M-commerce uses much smaller screens on mobile devices. Mobile Commerce connects business and customers via the Internet through wireless devices, cell phones, Palm Pilots, personal digital assistants (PDA’s), handhelds and basically any wireless device.

Although applications for the general consumer industry are showing slow growth, the travel and hospitality industry in particular are poised to take advantage of the growth in M-commerce. What level of growth is expected? Well, the Princeton, NJ-based Kelsey Group is predicting 1.4 billion wireless users by 2005.

With those numbers it’s easy to understand the potential impact of telephony automation and Internet on the travel and hospitality industry. Travel occupies the cutting edge in both spheres and for simple reasons. A travel purchase is inherently a remotely-made decision. Before you go on a trip, you pick up the phone. You look at a map.

As well, travel, by its nature, deals in constantly changing, massive databases of train, plane, and cruise schedules, fares and room availability. In fact, across a wide area, M-commerce will enable business travelers to better access hotel information, find out where rooms are available, check price and room details then make or change reservations from their cell phone or PDA.

With the advent of M-commerce, hoteliers need to realize that online access, i.e., a transactional website, is no longer optional. An increasing number of would-be travelers use the Internet to find, view, evaluate, and book hotels and travel. They want to see the spread of room prices, pictures of the rooms and suites, current availability grid and make a reservation online.

Yet even with the internet, online access is not enough, as even though many travelers have seen the range of services and perhaps made their initial selections via web forms, a large number of them want to follow through by speaking with a live representative. If a hotel’s web page has a click-to-talk option or a fast-track 800 number plus real time reservations, the chances of locking in traveler’s business go way up.

The M-commerce technology combining the old (telephone/fax) with the new (Internet) is the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP), an open, global standard for communication between a mobile handset and Internet oriented applications which allows users of Web-enabled phones, pagers and PDA’s the ability to search for hotel information, book hotel reservations and access guest loyalty programs using their wireless devices.

Currently a number of the largest hotel chains, have entered the M-commerce arena with the launch of a wireless capability, expanding on their company’s well established Internet presences. Mobile reservations or M-reservations will also become part of the travel industries repertoire.

Yet, the technology is so new, that apart from the larger players or more technologically advanced hotels, few lodging companies have anything up and running.

Considering that the mobile handset is often the hub for working while traveling and the WAP technology simplifies much of the administration around reservations, the travel and hospitality industry should begin thinking how these new technology opportunities can further their E-commerce and M-commerce goals.

In the meantime hoteliers and other players in the travel industry should be rethinking their current E-commerce efforts and concentrate on converting more of those mouse clicks into sales. – John Shenton – April, 2002