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4 Lessons You Need to Know From Competitive Travel App Battles

Travel Apps MTS Business Hub Mobile App How-to

If you’re running a business and think you can get by with just your standard website, you’re missing a massive opportunity in apps.

The travel sector is one area where the number of apps is growing exponentially to meet consumer demand. Hotel chains, airlines, resorts, car rental companies, cruise lines and travel attractions all have apps to interact with their customers on mobile devices. 

If you think smartphones are everywhere now, buckle up. Network experts Ericsson predicted that by the end of 2020 about 70% of the world’s population will be using smartphones. Usage will further skyrocket, as they also predict smartphone subscriptions will more than double to 6.1 billion and video traffic will grow by 55% annually, driven largely by video streaming services.

The travel industry is battling it out for consumer dollars, and they’ve put the research into making their online experiences as effective as possible. So why not learn from these companies and apply their best practices to your own business?

Where Should You Start?

“Initially, you should focus on an MVP – a minimum viable product,” says Jerin Valel, Director of Digital at MTS. “Let customer interactions dictate what you offer them in mobile apps. Add new features based on customer feedback and app usage. This will prevent it from going stale while growing your app’s usability.”

And of course, consider your budget, with the largest line item attributed to development costs. If you have an internal developer, then you’re a step ahead, but if not you’ll likely be looking at outsourcing this piece. Don’t worry if you don’t have a huge corporate budget to create an app either. In Manitoba, you’ll find apps available from smaller organizations like the Gimli Film Festival, Pembina Valley Baptist Church, No Limit Training, the Manitoba Child Care Association and Hockey Goal Horns. These organizations all started out with a great idea to connect with their audience — and not necessarily a lot of money.

Once you've sorted out your app's goals and the budget, it's time to think more about the design and development. Here's where you can look to the travel industry for advice, and consider integrating their features into your app.

Travel Industry Lesson 1: Think of the Customer

Travel industry apps aren’t just selling products and services. Companies are strategically using the tools to build relationships between customers and their brand.

Princess Cruises, for example, has a Princess@Sea app that can only be used by passengers while on board a Princess ship. Vacationers can check out the day’s activities, instant message with one another on board and view the ship’s itinerary to find out exactly where you are and where you’re going.

Lesson Learned: Personalize the experience for your customers. It’s not just about selling; it’s about offering a value-added app so your customers have the most positive connection with your brand. Your app can go a long way when it comes to repeat sales and referrals.

Travel Industry Lesson 2: Be Relatable

There are a growing number of travel apps that aren’t affiliated directly with an airline or hotel chain. You’ve seen the often quirky ads for many of them – Trivago, Kayak, Expedia, Hipmunk or TripAdvisor for starters.

Trivago focuses on hotels. Tell them where and when you want to go so their search engine can crawl other hotel sites such as, Expedia, Airbnb and Priceline to shows you rooms at the best prices. Hipmunk, Kayak, Expedia and TripAdvisor go one step further, letting customers book flights, hotels and attractions in one visit.

TripAdvisor is great at encouraging site visitors to read reviews by fellow travelers to help decide on the best option. Personally, I find these reviews quite valuable and I regularly write them about restaurants, hotels and attractions I’ve visited. Those reviews can be more trustworthy than a paid testimonial in many cases, so I’ve added reviews more than 100 times on TripAdvisor, which have been read by over 45,000 readers. Clearly, people are looking for helpful opinions.

Lesson Learned: Create a means to connect with your customers in a genuine and personal way. Reviews may be a great way of doing this, but be aware that with all positives come negatives so you’ll need to community manage and respond to feedback with the right tone and intention. Use positive feedback to reinforce great customer experience, and take negative feedback as a way to improve your product or service.

Travel Industry Lesson 3: Find Your Niche

Then there are thousands of apps that fill a particular niche in the travel industry. With so much competition, these apps have still found a way to provide a unique service.

One example is the Hopper app that sells airline tickets just like many other competitors, but their strength is their price-forecasting tool. Tell them your departure and arrival cities along with your travel dates, and Hopper will tell you whether you should buy now or wait a while to get your tickets.

You can get Hopper to ‘watch’ your flight and they’ll let you know if there’s a sudden fare drop so you can snatch up the best price. Other apps offer something similar, but Hopper specializes in this and their marketing focuses on this service.

Lesson Learned: Your app must solve a problem and do that better than the competition. If other businesses can replicate the solution then considering getting more granular and narrowing in one aspect of the problem. Customers will start to know you for that service

Travel Industry Lesson 4: Simplify

But what do these successful apps have in common? Simplicity.

Apps like Trivago, Hipmunk, and Hopper ask you the questions you need answering up-front: Where are you going? When are you going? What services do you need? But only the necessities.

All the important information is then clearly displayed so the customer can make a decision quickly. Price, discounts, times, vendors – they’re all available in an easy-to-understand snapshot. Rarely will you see a lot of text, as people prefer images, graphics and bullet point lists.

Other options are available if you decide to scroll further, but the options that best meets your needs like best price airfare or best value hotel will be presented first.

Lesson Learned: When you’re building an app, start small with something the most popular aspect of your website that answers the most important customer questions. As the app grows in popularity, add more features, but always ensure that the interface is clean and simple.

By starting with these four lessons, you’ll be able to focus the intention and design of your app, so it’s not only valuable to you but most importantly to your customers. Following this advice will also streamline the process of working with your design and development team, which will save you time and help keep your budget in check.

Can't get enough of app talk? Learn about the 10 Apps to Hack Your Productivity.

Brian Kozak

Brian Kozak is a Winnipeg writer who has been working online since 1997 when he developed content for Manitoba’s Flood of the Century website. Recently retired from MTS, he keeps his finger on the pulse of current tech trends. He's long said goodbye to the fax machine and overhead projector, but needs more time to think about ditching his trusty fountain pen.

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