Today’s consumers expect to book their business and holiday trips quickly and easily. They value quality of service and expect a positive customer experience, which includes looking for cheap trips from the comfort of their sofa.
These tech-savvy consumers won’t become your customers unless you satisfy their demands for low-cost comfort.
If you’ve read our previous article, then you should already know how the online travel industry operates. In this article, we’ll talk a little about some tech niceties that will be shaping the world of online bookings in the years to come. It might equip you with new ideas for your travel booking app development.
We’ve all been in a situation where we 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 a growing trend, especially among millennials who book trips spontaneously simply because they want to.
Tellingly, nearly half of all hotel reservations made within 48 hours of check-in are made through a mobile device according to Booking.com’s research.
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. No wonder these bookings are made via mobile devices.
Last-minute travellers expect to find a good deal, and online travel agencies incentivize last-minute bookings by offering lower rates specifically aimed at mobile users.
But special rates isn’t the only tactic you can use to attract budget-conscious young consumers. As we’ve already mentioned, the quality of a service is just as valuable as the affordability of trips. To better serve your customers, you should understand the context in which mobiles users are interacting with your app.
Just like on-demand services like Uber, you can offer hotel rooms in a user’s vicinity (using GPS). You can also filter search results based on price, quality, and other criteria users have set up. If users have booked hotel rooms through your app previously, you can use information about past bookings to offer rooms that meet their preferences.
Additionally, you can integrate maps into your app to help users find their hotel from their current location by foot, public transport, or car.
If you decide to develop an on-demand hotel booking app, you should study user behaviour, track how far in advance your average user books trips, and modify your app’s offerings based on your findings.
[The Booking.com's on-demand last-minute booking app. Image source: Juggernaut]
Technology is meant to make people’s lives better. When it comes to the travel industry, one way to make lives better is to make trips affordable for more people.
After booking a flight, how often have you thought: “I could’ve gotten a better deal” or “I should’ve booked earlier”? The process of booking flights is often painful, and the prices for tickets change constantly. You can never feel entirely comfortable that you’re getting a reasonable deal.
A lot of consumers experience this lack of certainty when booking flights unless they take advantage of an agent’s insider knowledge. But very few consumers use traditional agencies today, especially among those who regularly book flights. The good news is that modern technology can help people save money on flights without needing an agent.
Predictive analytics is the key to saving money. By analyzing flight itineraries and prices daily, algorithms can predict when airfares are cheapest and offer guidance to travellers.
This is exactly what the Hopper app does. Hopper searches through massive quantities of data to identify trends and price movements and suggest when users should book tickets and when they should hold off. It's a great example for those want to develop a flight search app.
According to Patrick Surrey, chief data scientist at Hopper, the app is pricing about two billion itineraries every day, the result of 20 million flight searches daily. By applying predictive analytics to these data, Hopper can instantly let users know when tickets are a good deal and when prices are likely to go up.
Hopper’s main purpose isn’t to sell tickets but rather to provide recommendations, which is why it’s so popular among its users.
[The Hopper app. Image source: Business Insider]
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 make your app disruptive, personalized, and even authentic. There are already some examples on the market.
Google Trips is an undeniable leader here. Google Trips represents a mighty threat to large online companies like Priceline and Expedia. Alongside booking flights and accommodations, Google Trips provides users with personalized guides that can be accessed even in offline mode. These guides map out daily itineraries, suggesting things to do and places to go. Google Trips puts together guides by gathering your travel information from Gmail and Inbox.
Another travel giant entering the field of virtual assistants is Airbnb. Airbnb doesn’t just want to be an alternative to hotels; it’s growing into a full-service travel company. In November 2016, Airbnb launched a new feature called Trips, which is broken down into two features: Experiences and Places.
Experiences are activities organized by locals who earn some money by inviting Airbnb users to do things like go horseback riding or go fishing. Places provides recommendations from residents who bring local authenticity to travel and banish the bore of typical sightseeing.
[The Google Trips app. Image source: South China Morning Post]
Another way to deliver great customer service through your mobile app is by implementing a conversational interface with a bot that can provide instant, automated support.
There are a lot of ways that bots can be implemented. Hipmunk, for example, has its personal agent that addresses three different types of requests depending on the channel:
Flight and hotel options via email;
Personalized flight, hotel, and car rental suggestions via Google Calendar; and
Travel advice and recommendations via Facebook Messenger, Skype, and Slack.
Messaging platforms like Snapchat, WeChat, WhatsApp, and Messenger are emerging as a new way for hotels and airlines to engage with their customers. 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 make a travel booking app.
We believe that the next step in conversational interface development is bots that understand voice queries. HelloGybe is one up-and-coming flight search app that uses natural language processing. The app simulates the experience of having a conversation with an actual travel agent; you can dictate a complicated itinerary involving multiple people, cities, hotels, and dates, and HelloGbye will make sense of all this and suggest options you might like.
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.) If you want to create a flight booking app that understands voice queries, you might want to wait until this technology evolves.
[The Hello Hipmunk bot. Image source: Hipmunk]
Virtual reality tours
It seems that the world has stopped talking about virtual reality for the moment. Virtual reality is a relatively new field that hasn't been explored much by app developers yet. But VR has great potential in the near future.
In the travel industry, VR can offer a new way to 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.
For example, a year ago 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. The content for the app is provided by JetBlue, YP, Lonely Planet, and other travel brands.
Qantas is another VR app. Focusing on destinations in Australia, Qantas lets users experience the beautiful scenery before they book their flights. But streaming 360 degree videos of touring destinations through virtual reality headsets isn’t the only way that VR can be used by the industry.
Airlines, for example, can use immersive technology to demonstrate the differences between various cabin classes. This is what Lufthansa did at ITB Berlin 2015 – the world's leading travel trade show. Lufthansa let visitors experience virtual airplane seats and virtual services onboard a virtual flight.
Here are some ideas for how to make use of virtual reality to promote your products and services and engage with potential customers:
Showcase hotel rooms, venues, and amenities
Offer virtual visits to conferences, clubs, parties, festivals, etc.
Compare services of different airlines
Let clients explore destinations from the comfort of your agency’s office couch
Help your clients discover new places and experiences
You can surely come up with more ideas
We hope these five technology trends mentioned here will give you inspiration for how to develop a travel app that will be competitive on the market.