The world is undoubtedly diminishing by minute. Our technical advancements have made it possible to find a flight and get a place to stay in a matter of seconds. With this immediate gratification, people are eager to get faster and easier solutions for their business and holiday trips. With more than two billion people traveling by flight each year, it’s no wonder why apps that help travellers are so popular and why these apps earn lots of money.
The travel industry is very competitive. People already know the big shots on the market such as Kayak, Expedia, Hotels.com, and Booking.com, and they have no reason to shift their online travel agency. But you can always come up with a better mobile solution or even invent a new concept of traveling.
Here are five questions that you’d need to consider if you decided to develop a flight and hotel booking app:
1. What do you want to focus on?
Do you want your app to offer only flight search? Or do you want to sell additional services, such as hotel booking, car hire, and walking tours?
Hotels.com, for example, offers only one service – hotel booking. This strict use case is very clear for users and doesn’t confuse them.
Other travel companies are aiming at pleasing all possible travel needs to make customers stay in their apps and keep them away from competitors. They offer hotel booking, flight search, route planning, car rent, maps and traffic info, restaurant reviews and a bunch of other useful content. Presumably, such services can potentially make more money than those that offer only hotel booking or only flight search. But on the other hand, clogging an app with all sorts of features isn’t the best solution from the user experience perspective.
We recommend that you choose one service for your travel app, but make it impeccable. If your idea works out, you can build up new functionality. Once you have a large enough user base, you can get meaningful feedback when testing out new and innovative features.
2. What is your app’s competitive advantage?
As we already discussed, the travel app industry is very competitive and people tend to use apps from major companies such as Kayak and Expedia. But there are at least three ways you can gain a competitive advantage on the flight and hotel booking app market:
- inventing a new concept of traveling
- making use of a technological innovation
- applying social features that appeal to modern travellers
New concept of traveling
If you can invent a new concept of travelling, you will automatically get a competitive head start on the market. Assuming, of course, that the concept is successful.
Airbnb and Couchsurfing are great examples of apps that invented new travel concepts. These apps basically offer the same service – an opportunity to see a country from the perspective of people living there. A big difference between Airbnb and Couchsurfing is that Airbnb offers hosts an opportunity to earn some money, while Couchsurfing is focused on mutual cultural exchange.
[the Airbnb app]
Up until today, traditional travel apps have evolved to offer new features, but have failed to offer a new approach to travelling – something you can hardly call innovation. This means that the travel app segment might be a goldmine of undiscovered technology fields. If you can implement innovative technology in your travel app, it might end up becoming the next big brand of the travel industry. Even though the possibilities are numerous in the tech field, let’s at least take a look at the following two trends:
1. Natural-language processing
Natural language processing technology is based on machine learning. The area is quite large and covers many different fields that touch upon the interaction between computers and human languages. In our case with flight and hotel booking apps we can apply the following tasks that NLP technology is aimed at solving:
- question answering
- speech recognition
This way we can make a mobile app turn into a human being ready to help a customer book a flight or a hotel by understanding their voice queries.
An up-and-coming app in the flight search area that uses natural-language processing is HelloGbye. The app simulates the experience of having a conversation with an actual travel agent. You can dictate a complicated itinerary involving multiple travelers, cities, hotels, and dates to the app, and it will make sense of all this to suggest the options you might like best.
[This is what HelloGbye will look like when released]
You can check out natural language processing software produced by the Stanford Natural Language Processing Group, a team that tries to solve major computational linguistics problems.
Natural-language processing technology is still in the early stages which makes it problematic to work with. This might be the reason why HelloGbye is still in private beta.
2. Virtual reality tours
Virtual reality is also a relatively new field, which hasn't been utilized much by travel app developers yet. In the travel industry, VR can offer a new way to inspire or help users to decide where to travel. This might generate more revenue for a booking company, since people are more likely to book a flight or room after experiencing what it feels like to be at the place they want to travel to.
A couple of months ago we designed a virtual reality app called Ascape. It provides guided virtual tours of the largest cities around the world. You can read more about our work on Ascape here.
The only disadvantage of virtual reality technology for now is that few people actually own a virtual reality headset needed to stream 3D videos. But if you are the owner or manager of a brick and mortar travel agency or a hotel, then you can buy a headset and let your customers explore the travel destinations from the comfort of your office sofa.
Social features that appeal to modern travellers
Looking at current sociological theories can help us figure out what sorts of features can make a travel app successful.
According to sociologist Thomas Ziehe, our modern society has evolved a great obsession with individualization. Since most people face unlimited possibilities in their choice of lifestyle, identity shaping has become a great concern. Many people seek outside the borders of their countries to fulfill this need of individualization. However, the traditional style of travelling has gradually become too commonplace.Traditional travelling - wading through a sea of camera-wielding tourists - is no longer seen as adventurous, and because of that, no longer satisfying. If we look at the startup world, the awareness of this problem can be seen in an increasing number of apps that offer easy solutions to untraditional travels.
An example of a non-traditional travel can be backpacking. We came across Backtracker, an app that seeks to make a mix of two features: social media and user recommendations.
[The Backtracker app]
Based on Ziehe’s theories, an app with these features is not surprising. First of all, user recommendations have become a vital part of nearly any product on the market. This is explained sociologically by the fact that in a society where technology changes so rapidly, people need reassurance of their choices. In the travel industry, this means that user recommendations, or even better, expert recommendations, are crucial for creating trust in a product.
The focus on individual development and search for a social community is no coincidence. The postmodern individual wants to create a personal identity, but at the same time wants to reflect themselves in a community of likeminded people. This might suggest that future travel apps could benefit from offering this mix of social media, user and expert recommendations and easy solutions for new travel activities that encourage personal development. Apps can facilitate personal development through travelling by specializing in travel themes from extreme sports, adventure trips and spirituality to political interest. The possibilities are numerous!
You should check out: Social networking app technology stack
3. How do you plan to profit?
Do you want to sell advertisements, take commission from every order, or offer some in-app purchases within your travel app?
Quite often travel companies run sponsored ads in their apps offering the best deals to their users. The Hipmunk app, for example, uses the “Tonight deals” option to help its users spontaneously find a cheap hotel in a new city.
Some companies offer in-app purchases within their travel apps. Most companies, such as Skyscanner, sell an ad-free version of their app for a small amount of money. Kayak, on the other hand, offers a pro version of the app with that gives users terminal maps of nearly all airports. This is handy if you either are in a hurry to reach the next plane, or if you want to find the perfect place to wait for it.
But the majority of travel companies take a commission from affiliates every time a customer books through their app.
4. How do you want to feed the travel data to the app?
Most airline and hotel companies will make it easy for you to put their information into your app because they will benefit from your app too. Here are the following ways to collect data from different websites:
- Scraping the web or using the RSS feeds of hotel and airline sites.
- Using APIs of the airline and hotel companies. For example, Turkish Airlines offers their API through an affiliate program. You can go to IATA for more airlines. You can check out a full list of travel APIs here. Integrating an API will allow you to compare prices and present the cheapest option to your user.
- Using an API of an affiliate network. For example, Skyscanner Business offers tools and APIs for flights, hotels, and car hire in exchange for shared revenue.
Read also: Technology used in travel apps
5. How will you make it convenient for users to use your flight and hotel booking app?
After analysing the App Store reviews of the major travel apps such as Kayak, Expedia and Booking.com, we have worked out a list of features that customers appreciate most:
People use travel apps to save time. They don’t want to waste time figuring out how your app works. The easiest way to make your app’s functionality clear for customers is to place your main product on the homepage of the app. If your main product is hotel booking, then your front page should be a search portal for destinations. All the secondary features should be placed in the menu or any other place that seems intuitively right. Take a look at Booking.com for an example of this layout.
It’s nice to be able to find a flight or a hotel that fits all possible user needs. But on the other hand, too many filters make the user experience confusing, especially if some of these filters are not very useful. The minimum number of flight filters we recommend include:
- The best mix of speed and price
Filtering can be done in a lot of different ways. Hipmunk, for instance, offers an interactive schedule that compares price and departure time, while Momondo has a price calendar that shows the current estimated prices for your destination, making it easy to detect the cheapest days to travel.
[The interactive schedule in Hipmunk]
The same methods apply for hotel booking apps as well. Our recommendations of the minimum required filter categories are as follows:
- Nearest to you
- Best reviews
Most travel apps also have maps where customers can see the location of hotels and even get directions. Some apps like Booking.com offer travel guides with maps available offline so that travellers don’t have to worry about having an internet connection.
Another interesting feature available in the Momondo and Booking.com apps is that you can manually draw an area on the map, circling the location within which you want to look for hotels.
You can also implement search for interesting travel places and hotels through a “special theme” filter. Examples of these themes include romantic, adventure, family, and cultural trips. This feature has been adopted by many travel apps. It can inspire customers to travel, and meet their needs in a more personalized way.
If a customer goes so far as to make an account in your app, they are likely to come back. That’s why a lot of travel apps give discounts if a user books through an account. Personal accounts are also convenient for users, because they let users save reservations in the app. In addition to this, a personal account empowers customers to save products they are interested in while conducting hotel or flight search.
However, you should always give your users the possibility to browse hotels or flights without an account.
Even though the travel and hotel booking industry might seem crowded and difficult for a startup to compete within, there is actually a lot of potential to make the next big brand in the app world. As this article suggests, there are plenty of ways to implement new technology or features that will make your app entirely unique compared to older established travel apps.