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Are Smartphone Booking Apps Overrated?

If you were to judge by the buzz, you’d think that smartphone apps were the booking option of choice for a majority of today’s travelers. And perhaps one day they will be.

But for now, more people are chattering about phone booking apps than are actually using them.

That’s the key finding of a just-released report from the Global Business Travel Association. The report, “Booking Behaviors: Helping Business Travelers Book Smarter,” co-conducted with Carlson Wagonlit Travel, surveyed more than 500 North American business travelers.

Because the respondents were business travelers—frequent flyers, in other words—the natural expectation would be that they’d be especially apt to use the most tech-forward booking options, including smartphone apps.

However, the survey found that only 39 percent of the respondents had booked a hotel using a smartphone app during the past six months.

The report makes much of the differences among age groups. Indeed, older travelers tended to be less app-oriented than their younger counterparts. For example, 41 percent of those in the 18-34 age group had a booking app from the likes of Expedia or Orbitz on their phone, versus only 22 percent of those 55 and older.

But downloading an app and using it are different, and the low usage rate is surprising.

Could it be that the smartphone, with its limited screen space, simply doesn’t lend itself to viewing spreadsheet-type data displays that are typically part and parcel of online travel searches? That’s certainly the case for me: too much squinting and scrolling. When researching and booking travel, give me a big screen every time.

If the physical limitations of the smartphone display are indeed the limiting factor, then the prospect of a mobile travel-booking world has been grossly oversold.

But that may represent an old-fogey view. While I’m happy to watch a full-length movie on my laptop’s 15-inch screen, but not on my smartphone’s five-inch screen, my 18-year-old daughter can often be found watching TV shows on her phone, even when her laptop is readily at hand.

So maybe the uptake of travel apps is simply subject to a generational blockage, which will be overcome as app-happy millennials displace older travelers.

Stay tuned.

Reader Reality Check

Is a smartphone app your preferred vehicle for travel bookings?

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