The smartphone is changing the way we travel. Since 2000, a shortage of meaningful content, issues with handset functionality and high usage charges have stymied the long-awaited “Year of the Mobile.” With these barriers lowering, the smartphone age is upon us and it has big implications for travel marketers.

We know the consumer in transit is always switched on and hungry for useful, compelling content. But how Transumers connect with that content changes throughout their trip.

Below are some ideas for how brands can use mobile technology to engage customers at each stage of the journey cycle. Some of these examples are already out there – that’s because they work. Of course, we also invite readers to suggest their own ideas.

Tempt me

In the dreaming stage potential travellers are open to a broad range of information, including deals and offers, but focussed on the destination. Mobile applications should ignite interest, fuel desire and raise awareness of a place or offer.

E-mail newsletters and Twitter feeds are made for mobile. Both can provide regular interaction with a destination through special offers, updates and images. Both can inspire your customer to move straight to booking, bypassing the planning stage.

Of course, mobile applications are also great platforms for deeper engagement. Apps can deliver holiday ideas, destination tours, street level maps and so on. A great example is Tourism Queensland’s iPhone app which offers maps and information on Queensland’s top 10 destinations.

Give it to me straight

Travellers need information during the planning stage. Content should be detailed and comparison tools are key.

World Nomads has a bunch of helpful apps that provide detailed information on destinations around the world. Webjet’s iPhone app helps simplify the price comparison process.

Dates are usually the first step in the decision process, but dangling special offers in front of the consumer via Twitter and e-mail newsletters can encourage people to plan their holidays around a deal.

Stage 3: BOOKING
Make it quick and easy

Mobile provides an opportunity for the industry to exercise greater influence over the booking process, by encouraging spontaneous bookings through special offers. Flights are usually booked first, while accommodations fall into place later as other good deals arise.

The booking stage is a great opportunity for upselling and upgrades. After a customer has booked, brands can share related offers via text message, confirmation e-mails or apps. For example, the Hertz rental car iPhone app could be targeted at travellers who’ve just booked their flight or hotel.

Excite me

The anticipation stage is characterized by excitement, preparation and anxiety. It generates a need for detailed information and a wealth of opportunities to upsell. The mobile medium can be used to keep the excitement alive through sensory pictures and videos. Thomson mails the customer a video of their destination on booking that they can show to friends.

Mobile apps can also be built around destination-specific suggestions or information such as amenities, events, weather or exchange rates. User-generated review sites like TripAdvisor are ground zero at this stage of the journey.

Stage 5: EN ROUTE
Hold me close

Mobile is a fantastic platform for streamlining routine travel chores and keeping the traveller on track with updates and alerts.

Providing customers with airport directions, transfer information or taxi coupons is an excellent way of ensuring a stress-free arrival.

TripCase, for example, is an iPhone app that aggregates information about airport shops, gates and parking, and allows travel managers to track employee whereabouts.

Knock me off my feet

The destination stage is the heart of the journey cycle. Location-based services and user-review apps are both made-for-mobile opportunities to improve customer experience and engagement.

Leading hotel chains, such as Omni, Hilton and InterContinental, are using mobile technology to streamline check-in. Initiatives include apps that give guests the ability to select a specific room; radio-frequency-identification key cards distributed to loyalty program members; and kiosks that spit out room keys.

Plans change. Travellers are increasingly using their mobile phones to adapt their itineraries. Lonely Planet’s iPhone app offers location-aware guides linked to Google maps – great if you turn up on New Year’s Day to find that the hotel you hadn’t bothered to book is closed for renovation (happened to me in Argentina a few years back).

The tramTRACKER iPhone app in Melbourne can feed real-time timetable updates to you. So if you suddenly score tickets to a big game on Viator, you can work out how to get there for the opening kick.

The final step in the destination stage is closing the circle to the next trip. Equip customers with reasons to stay engaged with your brand. Invite them back and keep them updated with regular interaction through newsletters and social media channels to build on the relationship and reward loyalty.

That’s the thing about the journey cycle. As soon as we get home, the dreaming begins…