Mobile Travel Technologies (MTT), a mobile platform provider to airlines, hotels, and travel management companies (TMCs), has been on a growth tear.

Today MTT has about 170 employees, with a plan to add about 30 more by January. Compare those figures with 18 months ago, when it only had 40 workers.

In July Travelport, the British-based global distribution system (GDS), acquired the Irish-based company for Euro 55 million.

MTT has brought to Travelport its expertise in building apps for major clients, such as EasyJet (whose app has had 13 million downloads) and BCD Travel, the TMC giant, whose TripSource app leverages its white-label tools.

MTT is helping Travelport with the development of travel apps for TMCs, too.

This is a game of catchup. Rival global distribution system Sabre has already gained a market lead with TripCase, while Amadeus is seeing steady growth in usage of its CheckMyTrip app. But Travelport’s ViewTrip hasn’t caught on well.

MTT offers an itinerary management solution called Concierge, with itinerary-management functionality. The TMC version of Concierge is available in three options.

One offers 100% bespoke functionality features, branding, et cetera, like what it did for BCD Travel.

The next level down from that is like the one used by Capita, a UK-based TMC customer of MTT. Capita has taken the user interface (UI) of MTT’s Concierge Itinerary tool and layered its own branding on it and added content that is relevant to its users. For instance, rail is a popular product for Capita’s corporate travelers, so it has been adding data from rail APIs to provide a full, feature-rich app.

A third option with Concierge is white-label, where a company can actually take the UI and add its own branding and re-skin it without many other changes. The company claims that is probably the best option for smaller TMCs aiming to break into the mobile market.

MTT has been conducting a global tour to explain what MTT’s tools will do for Travelport customers, including travel agents, airlines, destination marketing organizations, and other companies.

One of the key speakers has been Glenville Morris, head of consulting. He advises airlines on optimum mobile strategies to ensure their apps are successful, where they should focus future investment, and how their clients can achieve quick results.

Tnooz spoke with Morris to find out more about MTT’s plans and trends in mobile that TMCs should know about.

Glenville Morris MTT Travelport

The struggle to “own” the passenger

Morris says that TMCs are interested in having multiple touch points with the passenger throughout a journey.

But travelers usually have more touch points with non-TMC apps today, which are miles ahead in sophistication.

Whether it is a communication from the airline, the airport, an online travel agency, a transportation network company like Uber or a short-term rental company like Airbnb — let alone Apple, Google, or Facebook — travelers are not interfacing with TMCs as much as the travel managers would like.

A problem with some of the smaller and more traditional TMC players is that they’ve let mobile kind of go past them, so they’re trying to catch up. That can mean updating the archaic systems used for managing corporate policies and other databases that they use to kind of feed into mobile.

Morris said:

“Many TMCs are probably where airlines and airports were in mobile ten, fifteen years ago. They need to move forward really fast or they’re going to die….

At MTT, we do a lot of product research. We do online surveys, we speak to hundreds of travelers globally.

We’ve found that business travelers want itinerary management, recommendations at their destination, notifications related to their frequent flyer miles and hotel loyalty status, they want directions to the nearest airport lounge.

Today’s business customers want to use apps for several things: They want autonomy, they want the ability to manage their trip, do updates, and handle a upgrade without having to call anyone at a call service or queue up at a check-in desk or at a hotel front desk.

Business travelers are looking for relevant offers and relevant information. They don’t want to be spammed with notifications. They don’t want to be constantly contacted throughout their journey.

On the other hand, if a traveler has booked a flight but hasn’t booked a hotel, our mobile tools need to help the TMC help book the traveler a hotel inside policy. We need to push that technology to the TMC, rather than shiny gimmicks or trying to outdo Silicon Valley’s consumer products.

It’s about relevancy. It’s about contextual. It’s about personalization. It’s about talking to the traveler themselves via mobile. It’s not just a blanket approach.”

Being able to know where that traveler is may be the most important thing for TMC to look at next as mobile tools develop, he says.

MTT has done itinerary management work for BCD Travel, to let the manager know where the traveler is. Knowing the next step of the journey is really important for the travel manager just to be able to say, “Right. Okay. We know the passenger is safe on his flight. She’s gone to the hotel. She’s on his way to the next meeting.”

Morris says:

“What MTT has done with someone like Easyjet and the viable host functionality is work in collaboration with the airports, such as Copenhagen Airport and Oslo Airport, which have intelligent airport apps. What we’ve done with Gatwick Airport and a number of others is to collaborate on data-sharing about the passenger with major airlines.

“Some of our airport customers are looking to make available, via APIs, data to airlines.

“That’s good news, because business travelers are asking, if suppliers can provide me with last-minute travel updates in slick interfaces, why can’t I get that in my mobile solution from my corporate travel manager.

They’re a bit frustrated that they’re not getting that kind of service. Agencies also want to mobile tools that will let them provide duty of care their traveling clients.

This kind of sharing will help TMCs to maintain contact with their travelers throughout the journey.”

What matters is getting being mobile-ready in a few key details, such as supplying simple “we know where the traveler is” and if there’s a problem or if we need to speak with them, we can also communicate with them all via mobile.

Simpler user interfaces

Removing the “friction” of using apps is another big theme in mobile right now, says Morris:

“There has been a massive movement this year for removing friction. I used to work at Easyjet. I used to work on their analytics as well and you can clearly see and this is across all airlines. Most, even outside the travel world, most drop-off points are those points where there’s numerous forms to fill in, whether that be passenger details for an airline or even payment details paid for an airline or a hotel on TMC so there are numerous drop-off points we’re working on.

What we’ve done with the UI and UX at MTT is to look at how we can reduce some of those drop-off points. Saudia, the flag carrier of Saudi Arabia, had us do its app. In mid-2014, MTT helped Saudia, the flag carrier of course of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, launch its first app.

In Saudi Arabia, it’s typical that a family might travel together as a group of, say, six or seven people and normally the son would book for the whole family. On mobile, imagine filling in the date of birth and the passport details for five or six people. They were getting huge drop-off on their mobile websites.

So what we’ve done is use things like safe profiles, so if you go on the Saudia app now, you can say, I always travel with these five or six people and save their profiles for re-use…. As soon as you go for the booking flight, you can say, I want to pick these people. You literally tap each name and it pre-populates all those fields for you.

Those are the kind of things alongside the credit card scanning and the passport scanning that we’re now seeing as huge benefits, which increase in conversion for all kinds of customers on mobile.”

This is an example of a broader point about adjusting to the demands of the different platforms.

“This year’s biggest mobile trend, to my mind, is removing friction. If you look at cross-platform search, you’ve got people at Expedia doing Scratchpad, where no matter where you search, whatever platform your on, it saves that search so you can pick up that search from whatever platform you move to.

You’ve got BA now saving customers searches on mobile as well as desktop. So again, moving that friction of having to start your search again on a different device.

I used to work in analytics for EasyJet. The two biggest drop off points for EasyJet are the payment details page, and the passenger details page. To solve that, we don’t want these people to come out of the booking flow, we want to keep them in the booking flow. So streamlining forms as they display on mobile devices is important.

Third-party integration of content, such as with Foursquare with restaurant recommendations and Checkmate for hotels, via APIs…

Delta is the biggest airline app in the world, with 20 million downloads and counting, and its app offers complete re-accommodation and trip management via mobile. Egencia is doing the same thing. This is all about giving control back to your travelers.

Another MTT client, EasyJet, has replaced the home screen with widgets. If you have a booking with EasyJet the first thing you see is a widget with information about your upcoming trip, which updates in real-time. When it is time to check in for your flight, you’ll se a reminder. When you reach the airport, you’ll receive a welcome message telling you how long the queues are at check in. After you pass security you receive gate information when it’s available.”

What mobile tech trends should we all be watching out for?

Voice-powered mobile search

MTT has been investigating voice search for two years, and a couple of its customers are actually talking about some of the code capabilities and the new voice apps that are out.

Morris says that at MTT:

“What we’re looking at now is to say, how can we take away the step of opening an app to actually check my flight status? Can we actually just talk to the mobile app, and then the app will say, “Your flight status is delayed, cancelled et cetera.” For some of our customers voice search is the natural next step for mobile travel apps.”

There’s a broader trend at play. Skyscanner, the British metasearch, has begun trials with voice-powered flight search powered by Amazon’s echo technology.

Meanwhile Google has seen use of voice search go up about six times in the last few years, and Apple has been broadening the power of its Siri voice search.

Wearables

Morris owns an Apple Watch. When asked about it, he says:

“The new version of the watch and its SDK is going to open up a whole new realm of functionality, like access to the digital crown, which could let you put in a security code when you’re doing a credit card purchase. Companies like American Airlines and United have started to look at using it for creative displays of flight status….

Why do you need to look at your phone to have a look at your flight status? Why can’t that information just appear on your watch? Voice integration gets interesting on the watch, people like Foursquare are doing that already with Siri.

I’m finding I speak to my watch and do more reminders on my watch than I ever did with my phone, which is kind of weird, because I’m speaking to something a little bit older conceptually. It feels more natural for me, surprisingly.”

Goodbye, homepage

In user experience for travel apps, a trend is to replace a home screen with cards that are relevant to the point in your travel journey that you’re on.

Morris insists that TMCs don’t have to enter an arms race with the Apples of the world about who has got the best functionality, whether they’ve got credit card scanning or mobile wallets.

For example, Facebook Messenger is rolling out M, a concierge functionality.

Beacon sensors from Facebook and Apple may also have interesting implications for mobile travel devices.

He also notes that Google is a major player.

“Google Now’s Android interface used to only provide boarding passes and flight stats easily. Now you can get weather, destination, currency.

Out of the 23 Google Mail cards that are actually available outside of Google Now, 9 are directly related to travel. If you think back to just a year ago, you could only really get boarding passes and flight status in your Google Now app.

You can get “leave for the airport now” push notifications, flight status, weather, currency, photos of spots nearby. Just in the last couple of months they’ve launched full itinerary cards. No matter what vertical you book, flights, hotels, cars. They’re all manageable inside Google Now.”

glenville morris MTT Travelport

Another hot topic is real-time communication with travelers. BCD Travel’s app lets users knows about flight delays, so does Capita’s. Personalizing these messages is the next step so that we can give the right message, to the right traveler, at the right time.

Wearables are another trend. When the Apple Watch came out in April this year, there were 15 airline apps that were ready for launch on Day 1. There were also numerous hotel apps and a few kind of Tripit-style itinerary management style apps.

The Watch can act as a boarding pass or for hotel check in, and for flight status tracking,

In the last couple of weeks MTT has launched a responsive website hub to manage the travelers who also going across multiple platforms, such as iOS and Android, across their multiple devices.

Which rivals impress MTT the most?

Morris has admiration for products by several other industry players:

“TripIt has got some amazing third-party integrations with things like finding an airport lounge that best suits your needs via LoungeBuddy and finding a taxi-style ride via Uber.

Sabre’s TripCase, the next-biggest itinerary management app, has in the last couple of months shown that it can be a master of integration by adding Foursquare, Uber, Checkmate, and even destination guides.

The best city guides out there at the moment is probably the new one from TripCase. They’re using sources like Foursquare, Gogobot, etc, to provide that third party user-generated content to their users. But this is what people want, they want this kind of destination inspiration.

Worldmate completely rebuilt its Android app and they’ve got amazing widgets for both iOS and Android. They’ve also rebuilt their responsive code. Years ago it was a horrible experience to view their site on mobile devices, because you had to pinch and zoom because it was a full site. Now its a completely responsive site.

Wipolo, a French app recently bought by Accor Hotels, is a really, really good app. Accor is trying to own the traveler through itinerary management as well.

India is also seeing some interesting itinerary-management apps debut.”

What’s ahead?

Morris believes that 2016 will be the year of mobile payments.

“The most successful companies and merchants will be the people that allow their travelers and their passengers to pay in some way that doesn’t require them to type in a credit card number and a security code to pay. We talked about friction, the biggest drop-off point again from people using the EasyJet app are when it comes to entering payment details.

Credit card scanning, being able to save profiles, using fingerprint-based Apple Pay, or Android Pay, these are all available to remove friction.”

Morris’s comments are interesting given Travelport’s ownership of eNett, one of the larger players in payments and an asset the GDSs’ rivals lack.

As for MTT itself, Asia is a geographic growth target for MTT. It is actively seeking offices in Asia Pacific, beyond the ones it has in Manila and Bangkok. It has been talking to as many of the airlines and hotels and TMCs in that region as it can.

Today MTT signature client in Asia is Singapore Airlines, which it signed earlier this year and which released its apps for iOS and Android. A couple of weeks ago, it also released a tablet app which is the first airline app that offers control of a Panasonic in-flight entertainment system [IFE] system and wifi access on-board — functionality that might become widespread among airlines.

EARLIER THIS YEAR: MTT’s Day of Travel study

NB: Tnooz met Morris at this year’s Travelport Customer Conference in San Antonio and it paid its own way for this trip.

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Mobile Travel Technologies (MTT), a mobile platform provider to airlines, hotels, and travel management companies (TMCs), has been on a growth tear. Today MTT has about 170 employees, with a plan to add about 30 more by January. Compare those figures with 18 months ago, when it only...