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Expedia's Egencia next quarter plans to release the first phase of its "next-generation" mobile tools for travelers and managers, Egencia president Rob Greyber told The Beat. Initially providing itineraries and travel information, the mobile suite will be released globally at no added cost for iPhone and mobile web-enabled devices, and Egencia will "look to develop on additional platforms, including Android and BlackBerry, in coming releases."
Mobile booking and shopping functionality are planned for a second release later this year, Greyber said. Future releases also are certain to include "incorporating more of what Mobiata has done," since Expedia Inc. in November acquired the mobile travel application developer. "The first release does not leverage the work that Mobiata has done, but we certainly see doing that in the future as we continue to push the envelope and pace of innovation," Greyber said.
Developed in-house, Egencia's first release will serve as a "companion to check to ensure that all arrangements have been made," improve the airport experience, provide driving directions and deal with flight delays, weather and destination logistics, Greyber said.
A "smart itinerary" would provide relevant data and functions to the traveler at various points, such as flight schedules and online check-in, interactive maps, security features that include location-relevant flight and transportation alerts, weather forecasts and a "click-to-call" button to reach Egencia customer service when an agent is needed on the phone.
Egencia is researching how to allow "travelers to interact and find things in an area, whether it's attractions or restaurants," Greyber said. "There are some hard-wired ways that some players in the industry have gone about trying to build that walled garden. We actually think there are some open sources and ways to do that, and we'll have some of those in the application as well."
At launch next quarter, Egencia plans to support the mobile functionality in eight languages: U.S. and U.K. English, Dutch, French, French Canadian, German, Italian and Spanish.
Egencia also plans to integrate the mobile functionality into an existing travel management program that allows travelers, travel managers, CFOs or others to access the same information. "The integrity of the business is maintained even as the travelers' experience is enhanced," Greyber noted.
While elements of the travel policy and management program are planned for the first release of the new mobile strategy, Greyber said, the features won't include compliance reminders as the focus is on the traveler.
For several years, Egencia has been "experimenting and learning about the mobile market" as it introduced various products, Greyber said. Officials asked travelers and managers what they wanted, but more importantly Egencia watched how customers used new tools, he said.
The vision is to develop mobile tools and applications that allow customers to serve themselves in much they same way as they use online booking technology to self-enable, Greyber said. "Online adoption is such an important metric because it says to what degree you enabled people to serve themselves. We will think about mobile in a similar way," he added.
"We don't need to have and actually don't care if people book online or offline through our service center or tools. Similarly, we would be more or less indifferent whether people use the phone, tethered application or a mobile application," Greyber said.
Greyber declined to reveal how much of Egencia's business is currently via mobile, but said it has increased in recent years. When it bought two-year-old Mobiata in November, Expedia said mobile business accounts for roughly 4 percent of Expedia's traffic and grew in 2010 at nearly five times its pace of 2009.
In the corporate market, mobile appears to be in its infancy as various buyer polls reveal few have embraced the technology as part of a managed corporate travel program.
Adoption could escalate if more corporations viewed mobile as a key traveler safety and security tool, according to a white paper sponsored by Egencia and produced by The Beatparent company Business Travel Media Group of Northstar Travel Media. The white paper recommends that companies as a minimum include "traveler mobile phone contact information in stored traveler profiles, ensure mobile devices function in foreign countries, consider SMS messaging if cellular bandwidth is clogged due to emergencies, provide travel alerts via text message when travelers are on the road and consider advanced mobile safety strategies" for employees who regularly travel to high-risk areas.
The article originally was published in The Beat.
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