Travel apps boom for smartwatches but slow adoption rate

Travel News 01 Nov 2015

In a report by Business Travel News on 26 October 2015, one in five American adults already uses a wearable device (Apple Watch, Samsung Galaxy Gear), according to a Forrester Research survey of 952 consumers that was released in September.

According to the Forrester survey, 16% of wearables adopters use the Apple Watch. While its arrival in April generated plenty of buzz, consumer adoption thus far has been lukewarm.

In August, UBS equity analysts found that consumer interest in the Apple Watch, based on consumer Web searches, was “lower than for earlier Apple products, as well as many consumer electronic launches.” However, as with many emerging technologies, smartwatches may evolve into something better, more pervasive and cheaper.

Travel suppliers have awoken to the promise of smartwatches. American Airlines has enabled baggage claim and gate change notifications, as well as boarding passes, on the Apple Watch. Uber users can request a ride and receive car-arrival notifications on Apple Watch. Smartwatch-wearing Starwood Hotels & Resorts guests can unlock hotel room doors, at least at some properties, and check-in and review reservation details. Hotel Tonight allows for booking of last-minute hotels on watches.

A few tech products used in the corporate realm also have positioned their wares for watches. Apps like TripCase and TripIt itinerary management tools support various smartwatch platforms, enabling travellers to see upcoming trip information and receive notifications.

Travel management companies (TMC) may have a reputation for being slow to respond to consumer technology trends. TMCs and buyers may even have an audience, as many early wearables adopters also happen to travel for business.

According to BTN’s Mobile Migration survey of 300 travellers, 20% travellers own a smartwatch. Sure, that pales in comparison with the 98% carrying a smartphone and the 77% wielding a tablet, but it’s early. In a separate study published in April by Phocuswright showed business travellers adopting wearables at a faster pace than general consumers were. According to another online survey by the group last year, 15% had a wearable device versus 9 percent of overall consumers. The survey showed that 66% planned to acquire a wearable device “in the next few years.”

On the other hand—or wrist—there are plenty of travellers who, according to the results, “are reluctant to add another device to their lives.” Of the research group’s survey respondents, 35% were not interested in adopting wearables ‘anytime soon’. “Business travellers pack light, so any new device has to provide serious value,” wrote the group. “Given that the majority of business travellers already own two or three devices, adding a wearable and its accompanying paraphernalia like chargers and cables to an already crowded briefcase is something many travellers will think carefully about.”

If wearables turn out to be the next big thing, they’re not there yet, giving travel managers some time to grapple with the potential implications.