What is the meaning of ‘mobility’ in the travel industry?

Back in 2015, Skift defined the “mobility era” as “the era of disintermediation offered through digital platforms” where “mobility providers and aggregators...disrupt the industry and deliver seamless proactive and interactive solutions for the whole journey, including the last mile.”

Today, this vision remains on the horizon, while the concept of mobility in travel has only grown more nuanced. One big shift: the taxi disintermediation is mostly complete, with ridesharing platforms (such as Uber and Lyft) pursuing ever-bolder visions. With e-scooters and bikes, and (soon) vertical lift-off vehicles, many are investing heavily to become the preferred platform for moveability in urban landscapes.

Mobility aggregators also proliferate, thanks to cheap cloud computing technology, and massively powerful -- and ubiquitous -- smartphones. There’s now a sophisticated tapestry of mobility platforms that includes both established multi-modal aggregators (think Google Maps, Mozio, and Rome2rio) and new-ish startups such as Transit and Bellhop connecting consumers in new ways to their options.

Is there a simple definition for mobility in travel? How do we define it -- and what does it actually mean for the future of an industry inextricably linked with the logistics of moving people and things from point to point?


Defining mobility

At its most basic, mobility is the ability or capacity to move. The travel industry is fundamentally a mobility industry, which focuses either directly on moving people and goods (airlines, ground transportation buses), or peripherally serving those same people (hotels, in-destination services).

Mobility is, therefore, an essential piece of the travel industry’s promise. We either safely transport you and your things from A to B or serve you once you arrive at B. In some cases, such as cruises, we do both of these things at the same time.

So travel IS mobility. Within that lens, mobility is the natural progression of the industry. Mobility is autonomous vehicles. Mobility is in-dashboard infotainment navigation that integrates with travel supply, such as hotels and in-destination activities. Mobility happens at home, in your daily commute, and elsewhere, on your vacation or business trip. As travelers turn to apps they use during their daily lives, the lines between travel app and daily utility have blurred. Someday quite soon, we predict the lines will vanish completely.

‘Smart’ mobility, aggregation and platforms

When (or if?) self-driving vehicles integrate into the mainstream market, multi-modal transportation platforms will have an edge. Consumers will seek out the companies that can transport them from A to B in the fastest, most comfortable, and/or most affordable fashion. It will become less about the means of conveyance and more about the convenience, price, and comfort of the experience for the traveler.

Centralization also becomes essential in this model, where the mobility aggregators that have the greatest access to the most modes of transportation will be best positioned to win.

Lyft has said that mobility is a core piece of the value proposition for business travelers, which also aligns with the “single transportation app” preference of consumers:

The whole idea there is really us wanting to leverage all of the different transportation options that we own alongside various other transit integrations with public facets so that we can continue to enable this variety of options available for these users to get around the city.

The evolution of regional transportation is the most significant influence in the growing conversation around mobility and the future of travel. It really is about transforming how we get around, both in the places we live and the places we visit.  

There’s an ongoing reshuffling of power centers as mobility platforms expand into self-driving cars, and even autonomous vertical lift-off vehicles. Airlines may no longer be the only option for regional transportation, which forces new paradigms when envisioning how regional flights, as well as cars and buses, fit into the broader airline space.

As mobility platforms build out supply to compete with each other, global mobility aggregators, such as Mozio, have a greater influence on the future of travel. These platform-agnostic aggregators connect supply to demand, bridging the gap for consumers who can’t easily shop around between Uber, Lyft, and other regional players.  

David Litwak, CEO and co-founder of Mozio who is also judging our upcoming Mobility Pitch Night, has described the service as “a GDS for transportation,” emphasizing collaboration over displacement:

You can’t be so disruptive that you are trying to blow up the existing systems. You need to find a way to be disruptive within the existing systems. We’re finding ways to give different types of ground transportation technology within booking engines and tools and bring that technology to them.  The key is keeping one foot in the world of disruption and another in the existing system. For example, Uber overextending themselves. They hit on a major innovation, but regulations and rules are there for a reason.

As mobility platforms seek to build supply, they rely on both acquiring existing startups and scaling existing networks to provide the greatest choice at the lowest cost to consumers. And yet, these platforms remain unprofitable in their pursuit of growth. Mobility has immense upside potential -- but remains an expensive proposition that has yet to prove profitable.

Mobility and regional transportation

Another entity prioritizing mobility as a pillar of tomorrow’s travel industry is JetBlue Technology Ventures, the Corporate Venture Capital arm of JetBlue Airlines. The JTV team sees mobility as a key component to the future of travel; in fact, it’s one of their investment priorities under the rubric of “evolving regional travel.”

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Partner Raj Singh sees mobility as a value add for a more consistent, reliable, and predictable travel experience:

Our interest in mobility is more about seamless journeys. It’s about getting out of congestion on either side of the flight. One way to get this is to have electrification and autonomy. The other way is to include the transfer when you book your flight, so the autonomous vehicle shows up at the right time to make sure you get to the airport on time. When you leave your home, it tells the airline that you’re on the way.

Challenges ahead

There are still plenty of unsolved problems ahead. As Deloitte outlines in its Future of Mobility report, the ideal state of “Seamless Mobility” requires a cooperative system of inter-linked modes of transportation so passengers can seamlessly move from one to another during a single journey.

Raj Singh of JetBlue Technology Ventures notes that there are still three major hurdles to true urban mobility: cost to the consumer, electrification of transportation types, and access to related infrastructure for things like rapid charging and traffic management:

If the cost of renewable energy continues to decline, then we can envisage a future where people can afford to go longer distances without sharing costs, like on a bus or plane. We also can’t realize this future with the current air traffic control model where there’s a human in the loop. You need the vehicles to de-conflict by themselves, and some form of unmanned vehicle coordination system.

There’s also the issue of data sharing across siloed infrastructure. Without shared data within a cooperative ecosystem, mobility becomes nearly impossible. It’s not realistic for a “winner takes all” scenario in such a complicated ecosystem such as urban mobility.

Urbantech incubator Urban-X has approached the mobility opportunity with a clear thesis to build a collaborative fabric that fuels innovation, says Urban-X’s Miriam Roure.

This fertile ground brings to life what Ambient Intelligence can be at an urban scale: an ecosystem of distributed intelligence, where different solutions coexist, where they build on one another, where they are tested in a market setting, and where they exist not as disruption for disruption’s sake, but for a positive impact on people’s lives. It is also a place where design is pushed forward through active discussions, prototyping, and implementation.

Caption: How Deloitte    envisions    the “smart mobility” ecosystem of the future

Caption: How Deloitte envisions the “smart mobility” ecosystem of the future

The future of mobility is clearly complex -- and vital to the urbanized future that blends travel and transportation in new and novel ways. We’re taking this lively topic to the stage at our next pitch night at Voyager HQ in NYC. Join us for our Mobility Pitch Night on Thursday, March 28th to hear from five innovative startups at the forefront of mobility disruption. Alongside our panelists, the audience will vote for the winner according to the business model, presentation, product-market fit, and fundability.

Urban-X’s Roure, who will also be judging at Mobility Pitch Night, concludes that success and scale come only with collaboration:

Design and entrepreneurship have one core feature in common: optimism. The optimism of having the capacity to build something that others will want, and the optimism of creating change for a better society. As startups tackle the many challenges of urban life, not only will they need this optimism, they’ll need the power of design and citizen engagement in order to succeed and scale.

Register here to join your peers, as well as panelists from Urban-x, Mozio, Amadeus and Hudson Structured Capital Management in exploring the compelling future of mobility — a future being crafted by startups and enterprises in deep collaboration.