In-Depth Interview With Senior Product Manager Mobile for TripAdvisor Mike Putnam
Establishing a travel mobile application revenue model
Travel community TripAdvisor has taken several mobile-related initiatives this year. Be it for launching its mobile website in 17 countries to its new iPhone application, the company says all such initiatives are related to revolutionizing how consumers get travel advice.
In late July, TripAdvisor formed a partnership with Nokia, which resulted in an Ovi app for Nokia’s Ovi Store and integration of the TripAdvisor service into Nokia’s Ovi Maps. The TripAdvisor for Nokia app allows travelers to search for popular hotels, restaurants, and attractions in their vicinity, as well as find the cheapest airfares available. Nokia users can find and filter hotels and attractions by rating, distance, and price. With such applications, users get immediate access to the latest user reviews of the restaurants, hotels, and attractions in their immediate area or anywhere else in the world they may want to discover while on the go.
“Mobile is a great fit for TripAdvisor, allowing travelers to plan trips and get travel advice wherever they are. Since December of 2009, we've launched our mobile website (which works on thousands of phones in 15 languages), and released downloadable apps for iPhone, Android, Nokia, and Palm. Mobile is growing very fast: we recently announced that three million unique users visited TripAdvisor Mobile in the month of August alone,” Mike Putnam, senior product manager, Mobile, TripAdvisor, told EyeforTravel’s Ritesh Gupta.
Putnam spoke about the company’s plans, revenue model, the app vs. mobile web debate, and much more. Excerpts:
Can you provide an insight into the app development and submission process for different operating platforms?
MIKE PUTNAM: Mobile platforms range from more structured and protected, such as Apple and Nokia, to more unstructured, such as Android and Palm. Apple typically takes a week or two to approve an app, assuming they don't find any issues. In contrast, on the Android Market, you submit the app, and it is instantly live. There are, of course, trade-offs with these different approaches.
Hotel applications are compatible with iPhone, Blackberry, Android, Windows Mobile devices, and most mobile web browsers. Can you elaborate on how initiatives like these show how to offer timely and useful alerts and appropriate information via mobile devices?
MIKE PUTNAM: Mobile holds great promise as a channel for delivering timely and relevant travel information. For example, flight status, confirmation of various travel reservations, and notification of cancellations or problems. There are various ways to communicate with travelers, ranging from app notifications on iPhones, to SMS messages, to email. Many app developers are also carrying over their own messaging systems, linking them into mobile websites and apps.
How do you assess the role of technology and gadgets for additional sales channels and driving customer loyalty in the time to come?
MIKE PUTNAM: TripAdvisor wants to help travelers plan the perfect trip, no matter how they are getting to us. This is why we launched a mobile website in December 2009, very quickly ensuring that it would work on any phone with a web browser. On the iPad, consumers can simply go to TripAdvisor.com and they'll instantly have access to more than 40 million traveler reviews and opinions. As with all software platforms and devices, we set priorities so that we can deliver our travel advice to the most people possible.
How should one go about establishing an application revenue model? Also, what’s your take on the app vs. mobile web debate?
MIKE PUTNAM: Mobile revenue models differ widely, from advertising-based, to app sales, to in-app purchases, or the TripAdvisor model, generating leads. These models are not one-size fits all - each business should examine the trade-offs and choose the model that works best for them.
Our answer to the "app or mobile web?" question is simple: Do both, and let each one do what it can do best. We have taken a hybrid approach to our apps, where we've wrapped our mobile website in native navigation. This has allowed us to very quickly release apps for iPhone, Android, Nokia, and Palm. The hybrid approach has major advantages. For example, whenever we release a new feature on mobile, it automatically launches at the same time on our mobile website and in all hybrid apps. In contrast, if we had five separate, fully native apps, we'd have to run five separate projects to release one feature. We also see mobile web and apps converging. New standards like HTML5 are increasing the capabilities of mobile websites, and native apps are also becoming more accommodating of web development approaches.
How do you assess the approach of the likes of Apple, Nokia, etc.? For instance, the industry is witnessing an increasing number of travel apps populating the Ovi Store where apps can be discovered, downloaded, and installed on Nokia devices.
MIKE PUTNAM: TripAdvisor is always looking for new ways to help travelers and that includes reaching them in their geography on their various devices. In comparing the various platforms, we generally look at the number of travelers we can reach, compared with the effort required. For example, TripAdvisor can be accessed on Nokia smartphones in many ways: through the mobile browser, our Ovi app, through our client on Nokia Maps, and in reviews included in the Expedia app.
A new trend has started around the options new devices provide like location-based services, as well as integration of other services like social networks. For instance, Lufthansa this year announced the launch of what is being described as the air travel industry’s first real-time, location-based social networking solution for frequent flyers. How do you assess the emerging possibilities for monetization, be it for contextual advertising and promotional deals associated with navigation applications at this stage?
MIKE PUTNAM: Social networking is a huge, powerful trend, and most companies that deal directly with consumers should be watching it closely and experimenting. It's also very early days for this technology. Many experiments will fail, and a few will achieve incredible success. TripAdvisor now reaches members of social networks in various ways, including Facebook Connect at TripAdvisor.com, our Cities I've Visited app on Facebook, and Trip Friends, which helps people get travel advice from their friends. In terms of monetization, this brings us right back to the topic of revenue models. If a company has a service that is appealing in a social networking context that friends will share with each other, then they'll get traffic. Whether they can convert this traffic to revenue really depends on their model.
TRAVEL DISTRIBUTION SUMMIT NORTH AMERICA 2010
Mike Putnam, senior product manager, Mobile, TripAdvisor, is scheduled to speak at the forthcoming Travel Distribution Summit North America 2010
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