The Apple Watch: What Will Be the Wearable's Impact on the Travel Industry?
Photo courtesy of Starwood Hotels & Resorts
By now you’ve probably heard of something called the Apple Watch.
It’s the poster child for the wearables movement, and, considering roughly one million Apple Watches were sold in the device’s first day of availability, it’s safe to say Apple is happy with sales so far.
But now a bigger question is being asked: Will it stick? Better yet, can it actually change entire industries?
The travel industry has generally been on top of things when it comes to identifying technological trends and adjusting accordingly. In fact, numerous travel companies have already developed apps that are compatible with the Apple Watch. Some introduced these apps on the very day the wearable was officially launched.
Naturally, those in the travel industry are increasingly turning to companies that specialize in digital solutions and marketing, understanding the value of being mobile and online-friendly.
Steffan Berelowitz is vice president of digital platforms for one such company, called Travel Tripper. Travel Tripper has been around for about eight years, well known for its central reservation system (CRS) and digital marketing services. And it’s currently focusing on the impact wearable technology like the Apple Watch could have on the travel industry and beyond, Berelowitz said.
Travel companies may want to follow suit.
Because, according to Berelowitz, if the Apple Watch takes off and becomes a mainstay item like the iPhone, being at the forefront of the movement could not only help increase bookings (including pre-trip and post-trip), but it could also help combat the recent loss of direct bookings to metasearch engines and OTAs, an issue hoteliers and airline operators are well aware of.
Native apps — not web-based apps — will be the name of the game, Berelowitz said (native apps differ in one big area: They are designed for a specific platform or device, available for download through an online store like the Apple App Store or Google Play). Native apps are also brand-centric in that, for one, you have to physically type in the name of the app in the app store. A company’s name is automatically in the consumer’s mind. And if your brand has a strong Apple Watch-compatible app, for example, well, you are in the consumer’s mind for a good — and potentially highly profitable — reason.
“It has the potential to change the game plan for brand loyalty,” Berelowitz said. “That’s ultimately what could happen.”
In that sense, the Apple Watch very well could change the travel industry from a supplier’s standpoint.
From a traveler’s standpoint, having everything on your wrist has its advantages. Consider two contrasting hypothetical scenarios, courtesy of Berelowitz.
Scenario One: Your plane lands. You then rent a car and drive to the hotel, already tired from a day of traveling. Then, you have to wait in a long line at reception. Then, you check in. Then, you get your room key. Then, you get to finally open your room door and land on your bed (face first, of course).
Scenario Two: You arrive at the hotel. You walk straight up to your room because you already checked in via an app on your Apple Watch. Then you open your door with your watch using the latest technology. Then you fall asleep in a peaceful state of mind (or enjoy your life a little bit more with the extra time saved).
Now … which scenario sounds better to you travelers out there (excluding travelers who like to face a lot of adversity because “it’s all part of the journey”)?
Of course, this all sounds fine and dandy, but travelers have to ultimately fall in love with the Apple Watch and other wearable technology for it to be worth the investment for travel companies (being mobile-friendly can, by the way, be rather pricey).
As Berelowitz put it, the world is wondering, “Is the Apple Watch and wearables technology the next overpromised Google Glass or is it here to stay?”
Berelowitz, for one, thinks the Apple Watch is here to stay.
According to Berelowitz, Google Glass — another hyped technology — didn’t succeed for a few major reasons: 1) It largely didn’t deliver on its promises, proving difficult to use and lacking a user-friendly interface; 2) it perhaps wasn’t the right time and people weren’t ready for it; and 3) it was introducing an entirely new concept that people weren't comfortable with (namely, wearable tech on your face).
In terms of delivering on its promises, the reviews are mixed so far for the Apple Watch. Tech websites Macworld, CNET and Engadget scored it 3.5 out of 5, 7.8 out of 10 and 79 out of 100, respectively.
Is it the right time? Selling more than one million units in a day’s time seems to declare “yes” emphatically.
And one reason why the Apple Watch may have a greater chance of succeeding than Google Glass or other technologies is because, “Unlike Google Glass, people are already wearing watches,” Berelowitz said.
In short, Apple is taking an existing technology that many people already use and is simply trying to make it better. Watches are still popular. Heck, we still wear them even though we have phones and clocks all around us that tell us the time. And the wearable concept has drawn its fair share of fans, from the avid runner who uses it to measure distance and heart rate to the outdoor adventurer who uses it to view altitude and locate exact position via GPS.
After all, Apple was just a wee bit successful in deploying the same strategy with phones …
Still, that doesn’t counter the argument that the smartphone basically does the same thing (for a fraction of the cost if you shop well, at that).
But Berelowitz does see an important quality in a watch that could separate it.
“Why do we wear it? It’s unprecedented convenience,” Berelowitz said. “There’s nothing like the convenience of at-a-glance information on your wrist. So, if the watch is already popular with two features (time and date), imagine what it will be with 3,500 apps (the current number of Apple Watch-compatible apps).
Indeed, when TravelPulse asked Twitter followers their opinion of the Apple Watch, one Apple Watch owner tweeted back:
@RyanRudnansky yes it is. 100%. Very convenient, lets me know when I'm being lazy. Rarely use my phone now.— Chad Satterfield (@Chadderfield) May 5, 2015
When asked why he used a watch over a phone, he added:
@RyanRudnansky I mostly use my phone to text or send quick emails. so it's nice that i can reply from my wrist quickly— Chad Satterfield (@Chadderfield) May 5, 2015
The value of the wearables market as a whole right now is legitimately being questioned. Android Wear, Google’s smartwatch, is off to a rather slow start. Only about 720,000 units were sold for the whole year of 2014.
But the Apple Watch has already been more successful in terms of sales, proving that wearables can produce big returns. The Apple Watch’s initial sales may also support another important distinction: It’s owned by Apple, and Apple has quite the hold on the market when it comes to hardware and operating systems.
“The fact that a million units were sold (on the first day) compared to less than a million in the first year for Android is a really big sign that (Apple’s) done something right,” Berelowitz said.
In terms of the current price point, Berelowitz again referenced the iPhone. The iPhone, he noted, was a few hundred dollars when it first came out in 2007 (even for the less powerful 4 GB model). Now you can get an individual iPhone for 99 cents (not including the phone plan). In that respect, the price of an Apple Watch does figure to eventually go down as wearable technology becomes more commonplace.
When it comes to the travel industry specifically, Berelowitz does see the Apple Watch becoming a central figure down the road.
“It’s going to be really big in travel,” Berelowitz said. “I think that’s highlighted on Apple’s (official webpage featuring Apple Watch apps) where two of the first three apps listed are in the travel sector (Starwood’s SPG app and the American Airlines app).”
On that note, travel companies should not just be preparing to be Apple Watch-friendly — they should already be Apple Watch-friendly, according to Berelowitz.
“I think that if wearables take off and mobile continues to ramp (up) in the hotel sector, then certain brands are going to be left in the dust if they don’t adapt,” Berelowitz said.
“If they’ve already fallen behind on mobile (marketing), as these kinds of wearable apps take off there’s a huge risk of them falling further behind,” he added.
It’s also worth noting that if wearables take off, millennials — one of the most targeted (and potentially rewarding) generations in the travel industry today — will likely be among the technology’s greatest supporters.
“If (travel companies) really embrace mobile, then they’re obviously going to be well positioned (to attract) the folks who are using these devices extensively,” Berelowitz said. “I think you could say it’s a great strategy to capture millennials … If wearables take off, it will be a tremendously important battleground.”
Quite simply, the Apple Watch presents “an opportunity to take a leadership role in the travel sector,” according to Berelowitz.
If this is indeed so, companies like Starwood Hotels & Resorts and American Airlines may have positioned themselves on the high ground of what could become an increasingly competitive fight.
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