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Travelers' Mobile Habits Put Marketers In-Flight

Mobile offers new touchpoints to reach travelers

April 17, 2013 | Mobile | Travel

Travelers are a more affluent subset of the digital population, and they’re more likely than internet users in general to own tablets and smartphones. Now marketers have the opportunity to reach their customers almost constantly during the travel journey, according to a new eMarketer report, “Marketing to Mobile Travelers: Device Usage During Travel Offers New Touchpoints.”

Still, time spent in flight remains an elusive touchpoint, despite the fact that travelers are making every effort to stay connected while they’re in transit.

Mobile devices are not just proliferating among travelers; they’re constant travel companions. Prosper Mobile Insights surveyed US smartphone and tablet owners and found that as of March 2012 approximately 98% took their mobile devices with them on vacation; nearly four in five respondents in this group used them “all the time.”

US Smartphone/Tablet Owners Who Take Their Device with Them on Vacation, March 2012 (% of respondents)

And in-flight is very much a key time when travelers turn to their mobile devices. According to FlightView’s “2012 Flyer Survey,” more than four in five US travelers polled used their smartphones while flying. About two in five respondents used laptops when on a plane, and a similar proportion used tablets.

Though smartphones are currently the dominant device in use on the plane, fliers are increasingly turning to their tablets. According to TripAdvisor’s annual air travel study, 37% of respondents considered their tablet an “essential” in-flight accessory—a 5% increase from the 2012 survey.

Indeed, Gogo, the most prevalent in-flight internet provider, released figures in December 2012 that showed tablets were already connected to the internet on planes slightly more than both laptops and smartphones.

Devices Used by US Airline Passengers to Connect to In-Flight Internet Provided by Gogo, Dec 2012 (% of total)

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimated that airlines expect to carry approximately 3.13 billion passengers worldwide in 2013. As in-flight connectivity evolves, travelers offer airlines and other marketers an unprecedented opportunity to capitalize on a massive captive audience while it flies.

In-flight services to mobile devices are still few and far between, however. But several airlines are in the “evaluation” stage. United Airlines, for example, expects to increase its Wi-Fi-enabled fleet by more than 300 planes in 2013, and CEO Jeff Smisek told travel news resource Skift.com that Wi-Fi “will overtake LiveTV on seatbacks.” Marketers have the ability to place advertisements at Wi-Fi access points in the form of pre-roll video ads, for example.

In its “2012 Passenger Survey Report,” digEcor noted that consumers worldwide were looking to engage in travel-related activities and purchases while flying, reflecting the trend of travelers planning more of their trips in real time. Leveraging these passenger behaviors could open avenues for further partnerships among airlines and other travel companies.

Many marketing tactics that take advantage of BYOD are contingent on Wi-Fi, but travelers are using mobile devices whether or not they can connect to the internet, because passengers can prepare enough offline content prior to boarding. Since marketing to travelers while flying is contingent on a reliable communications platform, airline implementation of Wi-Fi will be the tipping point for the BYOD trend to bear marketing fruit.


The full report, “Marketing to Mobile Travelers: Device Usage During Travel Offers New Touchpoints” also answers these key questions:

  • How many travelers are using smartphones and tablets?
  • What types of mobile content do consumers access while traveling?
  • What percentage of planes have in-flight Wi-Fi?

This report is available to eMarketer corporate subscription clients only. eMarketer clients, log in and view the report now.


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