Could you predict where a stranger will be taking their holiday and where they’ll be staying based only on the device they’re using to search? Well, travel companies are gathering data to try and do exactly this, and deliver different results according to the habits of those using various devices. So, what differences are there between various devices, and could it affect what you see when booking a trip online?
What data do travel companies gather?
A report from Kayak looks at the differences in behaviour between people using their website on a desktop computer, iPhone and an Android device. The results? iPhone users seem to be keener to enjoy the finer things in life, with 25% of all their accommodation searches being for 5 star hotels (compared to 20% for Android users and 21% for desktop searches). 67% of all bookings made via iPhone are for 4 and 5 star hotels.
Despite the apparent higher preference for luxury from iPhone users, the report found that desktop users are the highest spending overall, laying out 9% more on the top ten popular destinations than mobile users and 8% more on what Kayak classified as expensive destinations. Desktop users also tend to book longer trips, with 62% searching for durations of two weeks or more, compared with iPhone users (51%) and Android users (43%) searching for trips of that length. The most searched for duration on both mobile devices was one week.
All this might suggest that while we’re more comfortable searching for and booking shorter, lower cost trips on our mobile devices, we sometimes prefer using a desktop computer for planning longer, more expensive trips.
Perhaps the higher spend on desktop devices ties in with discussing the options more with friends and family and wanting a larger screen for looking more carefully at the details. The report itself suggests that desktop users might have more fixed ideas about when they want to fly, rather than mobile users who are more flexible in looking for good value.
Different device users have different habits
Again, desktop users seem to be more careful with their planning than mobile users in terms of how far in advance they book the various elements of their trips. The same report from Kayek states that, on average, mobile users book 12 days later than desktop users, and this remains consistent across flights, hotels and car hire.
Desktop users also seem to be less impulsive in that they spend on average roughly twice as long searching for flights as phone users do, and an additional 1 to 1.5 minutes searching for accommodation.
Whilst this is only one report, it seems the practice of tracking usage habits based on the device isn’t unusual in the travel industry. In an interview with U.S. based abc News, CEO of online travel agency Orbitz, Barney Harford, was careful to make clear they don’t offer different prices for the same product to users of different devices, but do tailor the search results which are delivered based on the device used. They found, for instance, Mac users spent as much as 30% more on hotels than PC users and when they do book the same hotel, tend to want a more expensive room. Their argument is this serves the consumer better by recommending hotels that are likely to be more suitable for them.
In a limited case study, we tried searching for hotels via Kayak.com.au on a desktop PC, via the iPhone app and the Android app for the same destination and time period: Seminyak in Bali from 6th to 13th February 2016. Prices were per night for one room, two guests.
We found no difference in the top five hotels served by the app on iPhone or Android devices. There were, however, differences in the results served via the website on a desktop PC versus mobile. Only one hotel appeared in the top five results across all three devices. While this is only one example, it does align with what Harford said in his interview – that prices for each hotel aren’t altered, but their order in the list of results served up to users may vary depending on the device you use.
What could this mean for the consumer?
If we take the travel companies at their word, this kind of profiling offers you a better user experience by highlighting hotels that will be most relevant and attractive to you, at least according to the data. If the hotels featured in the top search results match your needs and wants, it could cut out a lot of trawling through hundreds of listings, or spending time carefully setting the search parameters for area, price range, amenities etc.
That being said, it is important to be aware that the order in which the hotel search results appear may very well differ from one person to the next – or even for the same person searching on two different devices. If you’re more impulsive, or in a particular hurry to book and don’t compare the options available as carefully as others, you might find you have booked a more expensive hotel because it appears near the top of the search results on your device, whereas a cheaper option might have been just as suitable for your personal needs.
User experience, profit driving, or both?
This kind of tracking is not necessarily something to be scared of and indeed could be useful to finding what you want faster. However, the system is imperfectly based on the data gathered and a ‘typical’ user of each device. Therefore it’s important to keep in mind what you want, how much you’re prepared to spend and that the best option for you may or may not appear in the top five or ten results you’re initially served.
In short, a thorough comparison is often the way to the best deal, regardless of what the data says about you and your travel preferences.