Part of the fun of taking a trip is planning it. But how are travelers planning?

As travelers continue to book hotels and airlines online, mobile plays a part in the action as well. Travel marketers should take note of where mobile travelers are actually researching their next getaway or business trip, whether it is via mobile web, mobile app or Google Inc.

In October 2014, web and mobile measurement firm comScore Inc. reported 52% of all digital time by all consumers spent online was in an app.  The travel industry is no different, says Jeremy Kressmann, travel analyst at market research firm eMarketer. As consumers spend more time in apps than on mobile web, they could rely less on Google search for the travel queries, he says. With a plethora of travel apps, such as TripAdvisor, Kayak and Expedia, mobile travelers have a more specialized way for searching for trips than just Google. “Trends in the mobile space certainly pose challenges for Google,” Kressmann says.

Mobile travelers may go straight to their favorite brand’s app for familiarity, loyalty rewards or exclusive deals. Travelers with mobile devices also use online travel agency apps for search and for price comparison and consumer reviews. Data analysis consulting firm Strategy Analytics found in a report, which surveyed 1,500 Android users in 2014, that of consumers who used an online travel agency app on their mobile device, only 20.8% also used an airline app, and 14.0% used a hotel app. However, 43.8% of consumers that used an airline app and 32% who used a hotel app also used an online travel agency app.

A look at total mobile search ad dollar spending shows Google is losing share, eMarketer reports. In 2012, Google owned 82.8% of the $2.24 billion total of mobile search ad spending. In 2013, eMarketer reported Google’s share dropped to 68.5%. EMarketer predicts Google’s percent of total mobile search ad spending will be around 65.7% for 2014, 64.1% in 2015, and 64.2% in 2016.

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Kressman adds Google’s mobile search isn’t as optimized for apps—where consumer spend most of their mobile time—as it is for the mobile web. “(The popularity of apps is a challenge for search companies like Google, as apps aren’t as comprehensively indexed by search,” Kressmann says, “and Google has less insight into the demographic details of app users, making targeting the right search ads more difficult.”

While Google might be losing search numbers, it is growing its influence in other ways, some analysts say. Joshua Martin, research services director at Strategy Analytics, reports that Google is an increasing  threat to airline, hotel and online travel agency mobile travel platforms.

“Anyone that underestimates how influential Google can be is making a mistake,” Martin says.

“Google continues to release new service features that further encroach on hotel and airline app relevance,” he reports.

For example,  Google Flight on desktop and mobile, which can be accessed at Google.com/flights or by keying in a flight search with two cities to the Google search bar, aggregates flight information from airlines, and travelers can book right on the Google search page. Similarly, searching “hotel” and a city on Google will aggregate hotels.

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Ryan Williams, vice president of travel at mobile research and measurement firm Millward Brown Digital adds that unless travelers already have several researching apps on their mobile devices, they will likely still use Google to search for travel.  

“I can’t imagine researching travel without utilizing Google,” Williams says.

 

Follow mobile business journalist April Dahlquist, associate editor, mobile, at Mobile Strategies 360, @Mobile360April

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