Today’s consumers expect to book their business and holiday trips in the blink of an eye. According to research by Booking.com, nearly half of global tourists say they would use an app in 2020 if it helped them check out and book activities fast and easily.
Mobile users value service quality and expect a positive customer experience, which includes the ability to look for cheap but exciting trips from the comfort of their sofa. Tech-savvy travelers won’t become your customers unless you satisfy their demands for low-cost adventure.
In this article, we’ll talk about some tech trends that are shaping the world of online bookings. We hope these insights will equip you with new ideas for your travel booking app. Keep these in mind when building your booking app.
Read also: How the online travel industry operates
What mobile users expect from a travel booking app
According to Booking.com, travel lovers will gladly use a booking app if it meets the following requirements:
- Offers a range of exciting experiences
- Lets users plan and arrange activities by providing all relevant information all in one place
- Provides access to local cuisine and the ability to book exclusive dining opportunities in advance
To satisfy that demand, think of implementing technologies like artificial intelligence (which we’ll talk about in this post). Such implementations will help you offer your users tailored suggestions of places to visit, places to stay, and activities with which to fill their time. These suggestions should be based on users’ preferences, previous experiences, and such factors as weather and popularity.
There’s also a growing trend of last-minute travel. Let’s explore how you can integrate this trend into your app.
How mobile technology helps travelers make decisions on the go
You’ve probably been in a situation where you needed to book a flight or find a place to stay at the last minute. This situation might have popped up unintentionally due to a flight cancellation or because you missed the last train.
But in fact, last-minute travel is becoming incredibly popular, especially among millennials who book trips spontaneously simply because they want to. According to research by Hotwire.com, 84 percent of US millennials book a vacation a week or less from their departure date.
Last-minute travelers expect to find a good deal, and online travel agencies incentivize last-minute bookings by offering lower rates aimed at mobile users. But special rates aren’t enough to attract and retain today’s picky consumers.
People who are booking tickets in the days or even hours leading up to the start of vacation are usually doing so on the move and in a hurry via mobile devices. Therefore, the hotel and flight booking process should be simple.
How to help app users make fast booking decisions
Let’s explore features that will help users make prompt but informed decisions and book vacations on the fly. HotelTonight, one of the most innovative last-minute booking apps, offers the following features:
Easy search. Providing users with a dizzying variety of choices is great. But so as not to complicate decisions, simplify categorization and ensure clear filtering. HotelTonight provides only three categories: Basic, Hip, and Luxe. These categories promptly set the user on the right pricing path. In-app search is also easy thanks to well-thought-out filtering options that include city, attraction, location, and a user’s specific needs.
Support chat. If a user encounters any difficulties while booking a trip, their ability to text an assistant is likely to prevent your business from losing a sale. HotelTonight enables customers to chat with an assistant 24/7 if they have questions or concerns.
Travel restrictions and advice. Inform users of the travel rules each country sets related to the coronavirus pandemic. It’s also worth including information about vaccines and at which airports it is possible to take COVID-19 tests.
Focus on safety. A recent study by Booking.com claims that 63 percent of global tourists are concerned about safety issues related to accommodation. It’s important to highlight for your users the safest places to stay.
Extend the cancellation period. Keep in mind that in the COVID-19 reality, people change their plans often. This is why it would be wise to extend the cancellation window so travellers can cancel closer to the date of their stay. Of course, you should thoroughly discuss this with the hotels you cooperate with.
Booking on behalf of someone else. HotelTonight customers can book last-minute accommodation on behalf of another person. This comes in handy for people booking accommodation for a group of people (colleagues, family, etc.).
Expiring deals. HotelTonight provides users with the Daily Drop feature, which offers up to 30 percent off bookings. But there’s a catch: after unlocking a Daily Drop, the user has only 15 minutes to book it. This encourages users to grab the deal.
Booking while traveling. Based on the model of on-demand services like Uber, you can offer hotel rooms nearby (using geolocation data). Additionally, you can integrate maps into your app to help users find their hotel by foot, public transport, or car. For more on this, read our article on how to enrich your app with an itinerary planner.
If you decide to provide on-demand online hotel reservations, you should study user behavior, track how far in advance your average user books trips, and modify your app’s offerings based on your findings. If users have booked hotel rooms through your app previously, you should use information about past bookings to offer rooms that meet their preferences. This is when you can take advantage of artificial intelligence.
Machine learning and other tools to ensure personalization
Machine learning is an application of artificial intelligence that allows software systems to explore data, define patterns, and make predictions with minimal human involvement. A machine learning algorithm can improve its performance as it gets more data. That’s why the most prominent flight search and hotel booking platforms like Booking.com apply machine learning to provide users with personalized service.
Booking.com uses two key approaches to ensure personalization. The company calls these approaches Most Cases and 1:1 Personalization.
Most Cases. With this approach, Booking.com improves its service by tailoring it to multiple user segments grouped by similar preferences.
1:1 Personalization. This approach involves so-called hyper-personalization, which is achieved by learning a customer’s behavior (based on searches, clicks, reservations, etc.) so as to offer the experience the customer expects. 1:1 personalization allows Booking.com to provide users with highly relevant offers and suggestions even if one user wears different travel hats. For instance, the same user might be a husband and father searching for a family vacation, an entrepreneur booking accommodation for a business trip, and a friend planning a surfing vacation with his buddies.
By the way, the match score integrated into Google Maps is another instance of hyper-personalization. A match score shows the fit between a user and a restaurant based on the user’s food preferences, previous visits, saved lists, etc.
Collecting user feedback also plays an important part in ensuring a personalized experience in travel booking apps.
How can you collect feedback without bothering users?
Today’s app users are likely to get irritated if you ask them to fill out long questionnaires. So how can you get user feedback in the most unnoticeable way? Learn from Netflix, which gathers customer feedback by providing thumbs up and thumbs down reactions to content. Booking.com has implemented an X button for closing recommendations. By clicking this button, users signal they’re not interested in the recommendation.
In addition, Booking.com uses various research tools to collect users’ feedback. These tools are used for data analytics, contextual inquiry/investigation, surveys, and interviews.
Booking.com also performs A/B testing to get customer feedback. A/B testing is an effective approach to define problem areas and inform future design and UX decisions.
Using these technologies and tools during the decision-making and booking processes will help you learn user behaviors and preferences.
But in addition to learning user behavior and providing a personalized approach, you need to predict future booking prices to help your customers save money.
Predictive analytics to offer users the most optimal booking prices
After booking a flight, how often have you thought 'I could’ve gotten a better deal' or 'I should’ve booked earlier'? This is easy to understand, as the process of booking cheap flights is often painful and ticket prices change constantly. A lot of consumers never feel entirely comfortable that they’re getting a good deal.
The good news is that modern technology can help customers save money on flights thanks to predictive analytics. This is an approach to extracting information from existing data sets to identify patterns and forecast outcomes and trends. By analyzing flight itineraries and prices daily, algorithms can predict when airfares are cheapest and offer guidance to travelers.
This is exactly what the Hopper app does. It searches through massive quantities of data to identify trends and price movements. By applying predictive analytics to this data, Hopper suggests when users should book flights and hotels on mobile and when they should hold off. Hopper is a great example for those wanting to develop a flight and hotel search app. Hopper’s main purpose isn’t to sell tickets or push hotel rooms but rather to provide recommendations, which is why the service is so popular.
To understand the logic of predictive analytics to forecast prices, take a look at our article on how to create a machine learning regression algorithm for predicting home prices.
In the pursuit of technological innovation, don’t forget to add a user support component to your travel booking app. Let’s see how user support helped Google Trips and Airbnb improve their services.
Virtual travel agents
Poor customer service is one of the biggest drawbacks of online travel agencies. Buying airline tickets and reserving hotel rooms is where many travel apps’ services end. Yet a lot of customers today expect support beyond the issuance of a ticket.
Virtual agents can help you expand your travel service. Google Trips is a great example of how this can be done. It provides users with personalized guides that can be accessed even in offline mode. These guides map out daily itineraries and suggest things to do and places to go. Google Trips puts together guides by gathering a user’s travel information from Gmail. The service also allows users to view information about all of their previously booked trips and easily switch between flight, hotel, and package searches.
Another travel giant entering the field of virtual assistants is Airbnb. It has enhanced its customers’ travels by providing the Airbnb Experiences service. Experiences offers exclusive paid activities run by local hosts. These activities include special meals, helicopter flights, horseback riding, and whitewater rafting. Users can book Experiences via the Airbnb mobile app as an independent service with or without an Airbnb stay.
Another way to deliver a great customer service through your mobile app is by implementing a conversational interface with a bot or voice assistant that can provide instant and automated support.
Conversational voice and messaging interfaces
Thanks to improvements in artificial intelligence and natural language processing, conversational user interfaces are getting smarter and more intuitive. They’re providing human-like assistance and are becoming the preferred way for some consumers to communicate with brands.
The most common use cases of bots and voice assistants in the travel industry are:
Searching and booking. Messengers like Snapchat, WeChat, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger are a great way for hotels and airlines to interact with consumers. Facebook Messenger and Amazon Alexa can offer travel options by asking users simple questions. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines uses chatbots to answer customers’ questions by means of the BB smart assistant operating on Facebook Messenger and Google Assistant. Customers can book flights directly through BB by answering questions and can view their flight details on any Google Assistant-enabled device.
Check-in and boarding. There are chatbots and voice assistants that enable consumers to check in directly via a conversational platform. For instance, United Airlines customers can check in via Alexa without needing to log in to the application or site.
Providing personalized suggestions. Along with handling common travel tasks, chatbots and voice assistants can provide personalized recommendations on local activities. For instance, TripAdvisor has a Facebook Messenger bot that gives advice on places to eat, hotels, sightseeing, and flights using user-generated content.
Serving customers with AI-powered conversational interfaces can be seen as the natural evolution of concierge services. The only thing is that unlike personal concierge services, which are often associated with luxury, bots are available to all customers. To build a bot is also much easier than to build a travel booking app.
Next, we’ll talk about a technology that has recently taken the world by storm. Virtual reality headsets are going mainstream, and the travel domain is increasingly adopting this technology as a marketing tool.
Virtual reality tours
In the travel industry, virtual reality can help people decide where to go. Showing off destinations in virtual reality might generate more revenue for booking companies, as people are more likely to book a flight or room after experiencing what it feels like to be at a destination.
We designed a virtual reality app called Ascape VR that works with Google Cardboard and other virtual reality headsets. Ascape VR provides 360-degree video clips and guided virtual tours of places and experiences around the world. Content for the app is provided by JetBlue, YP, Lonely Planet, and other travel brands.
When combined with other uses for virtual reality, guided virtual tours can create a seamless booking experience, allowing users to explore rooms and facilities in hotels, compare accommodation types, check out local sights, and search hotels' key information all in the same place.
The Australian airline Qantas offers a VR app with virtual destinations including Australia, New Zealand, and the USA. Qantas lets users experience beautiful scenery before they book their flights. But streaming 360-degree videos of tour destinations through virtual reality headsets isn’t the only way VR can be used by the travel industry.
Companies like Amadeus offer an entire booking experience by means of a virtual reality headset. This technology removes the need to use a computer mouse or touchscreen to book a hotel.
You can also offer virtual visits to conferences, clubs, parties, and festivals and compare services of different airlines to promote your products and services and engage with potential customers.
How can you make a last-minute booking app popular?
Based on our own research, we’ve gathered tips and advice to help you with booking app development.
Tip 1. Collaborate closely with hoteliers
Users’ satisfaction with a booking app depends not only on the quality of features. A failed deal with a hotel is a bad experience. People often blame a booking service rather than a hotel in this kind of situation, so the app loses users.
To avoid such problems, you need to closely collaborate with hotels. Traditionally, hoteliers give data on rooms and inventory, including availability and price. For example, HotelTonight receives this info daily since the price isn’t fixed. But that’s only half of the work. Hoteliers also need to monitor both online and direct bookings to avoid mishaps. Many hotels organize and update inventory information manually after receiving an order. This process is time-consuming, so online reservations systems need to operate efficiently.
To make your booking app convenient for hoteliers and gain their trust, you need to provide an efficient notification system. Once a user confirms an order, the app needs to alert a hotel manager so that they can update the information. Also, it may be a good idea to implement personal accounts for hotel managers. This way hotels will be able to monitor the number of orders from the platform and see which deals bring the highest revenue.
Tip 2. Define your target audience
When creating any kind of application, you need to consider the needs and preferences of potential users. HotelTonight target audience is business people who need to reserve rooms fast because they don’t have time for puzzles. So HotelTonight created their app with a short and clear user flow that lets you book in a few clicks.
Before you create a last-minute booking app, you need to define who your target audience is and conduct deep user research to define a set of features and how they will be presented.
Tip 3. Provide a secure experience
Booking services require personal data and often handle money transactions. For users, it’s important to know that their data and money are safe. Partnering with well-known and reliable companies such as PayPal and Apple is a nice solution.
We hope the tips we’ve presented in this article help you make the booking process seamless for your app users. Offering increasingly tailored travel recommendations and a diverse selection of places to visit is likely to result in success. We’ll gladly help you with native app development on iOS, Android, and other platforms.