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‘Customised, personalised, localised’- the travel app industry

Whether you are trying to locate the best cafés in Paris, or the coolest bars in Shoreditch, travel apps now offer instant access to reams of culture, insight and knowledge.

‘The digital revolution has impacted almost everything in the world as we know it [including the travel industry ]’. – James McClure, Country Manager for the UK and Ireland at Airbnb.

It seems that travel is only expected to become more digital and most notably, more personalised. The hopes for the not so distant future are apps that allow travellers to access a more customised and personalised experience, suggesting bespoke trips and recommendations based on user profiles and previous behaviour. For example, an individual who has used an app to access cultural guides and purchase a tour for an obscure attraction such as a graffiti tour of Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter, is then recommended graffiti tours in Amsterdam, Berlin, or London, based on previous behaviour or profile customisation.

Why not recommend users flights based on their own custom holiday budget, or recommend airlines users have enjoyed flying with in the past (sourced through a rating system), or, even recommend car rental based on the number of passengers travelling?

Based on the last decade, here is some competitor insight into the realm of travel, culture and tourism, and tech-related trends that have shaken up the industry during this period.

Girl planning travels to Asia

‘Exceed their expectations’- the sharing economy

Throughout the last decade, we have seen the rise of the sharing economy, which has particularly changed the way we travel. The idea of sharing your home to provide travellers with cheap accommodation, sharing a hostel room with fellow travellers, or sharing food with strangers whilst in a foreign city have all entered into the mainstream, as travellers have begun to relish discovering authentic cultural experiences.

The mastermind behind the sharing economy trend is quite evidently US start-up; Airbnb, which has revolutionised the ‘budget hotel sector’ and how we consider booking accommodation before we travel since its launch in 2008. In 2018, a research study revealed that in the ten cities with the largest Airbnb market share in the US, the entry of Airbnb resulted in “1.3 percent fewer hotel nights booked and a 1.5 percent loss in hotel revenue.”

British company Hostelworld followed suit, aiming to capitalise on the rise of the ‘budget hotel sector’, standing as the ‘world’s leading hostel focused online booking platform’ reaching 7.6 million bookings as of 2018.

Many have questioned; what will the hostel and budget hotel of the future look like? Well, ‘Poshtel’ mentioned in the 2015 trends report by the World Travel Market seemed to allude to a hybrid between what is deemed as budget and what is described as luxury; luxury hostels that offer the ‘best of all worlds’. The hostel industry has already started to innovate and adopt a luxury aesthetic to tempt a new demographic of travellers and tourists. Given how competitive the budget sector is, and with the rising popularity of Airbnb, innovation must continue in order to offer a more personal or niche experience to customers. And thus, hostels defined by theme or activity will start to crop up, such as an ‘art hostel’ or ‘wine hostel’ for example. Or, hostels that target a certain age bracket, demographic and type of traveller will start to rise in popularity.

What does this mean for travel businesses or future travel app developers? Travel businesses must capitalise on the growing niches that will start to dominate the hostel and budget hotel sector. An app enabling you to search for hostels in certain locations based on the type of hostel you are looking for, for example, an ‘art hostel’ or a ‘hostel for over 30s’ will soon prove to be valuable. Simultaneously, said app could allow users to create a traveller profile in which the app suggests hostels for users tailored to their age bracket, gender, or interests, helping to facilitate better social connections whilst abroad and engage users through a more personalised travelling experience.

VizEat seems to have taken the sharing economy to another level, introducing a whole new dimension to the market. VizEat is an app that connects travellers keen for a taste of authentic local culture, with hosts who are willing to cook meals for strangers in their homes. With a similar user experience to Airbnb, users can search the app based on location and meal preferences, and hosts can create profiles to upload images of their home, meal and fee for the evening.

A group of people enjoing a meal

Co-founder Camille Rumani claims that she started VizEat ‘because [she] wanted to change the way people travel, one food experience at a time. People had just started to talk about Airbnb and were curious about those experiences- but at that time, the idea of the sharing economy wasn’t mainstream at all.’

As of 2018, the platform had more than 25,000 hosts across 130 countries. A most notable fan is Apple CEO Tim Cook who ‘totally got the concept.’ He said to co-founder Rumani; ‘the aim of any platform should be to bring people together and build stronger social relationships. That’s what tech is for.’

Authentic, but also shareable’- the culture economy

Despite the nature of the current political climate, which seems to be fostering a xenophobic outlook, individuals themselves seem to have responded extremely well to apps such as Culture Trip and platforms that encourage social connections and a deeper understanding of foreign cultures.

‘The current socio and geopolitical environment is pushing people to engage with culture, and with the meaning of culture in new and deeper ways.’ – Culture Trip Founder and Chief executive, Dr Kris Naudts

Culture Trip’s central selling point, setting it apart from its competitors, is its extensive and thought-provoking content. With articles, guides and even historical insights put together by their creative network of writers and locals, you can find out about pretty much anything culture or travel related on their platform.

Culture Trip stated that their target demographic are Millenial and Gen Z users who are ‘switched on, and independent’. They have claimed that in order for future app developers to capitalise on the culture economy they must offer the ‘perfect blend of experiences that are culturally rich, immersive and tangible, new and undiscovered, authentic, but also shareable, [and] offer a contrast to the every day, but are still within grasp.’

City landscape

As the market continues to grow and diversify, it will become harder for tech companies within the travel sector to continually source and provide content that is always ‘new and undiscovered’, however, offering content that is ‘authentic, but also shareable’ seems prominent here, combining both trending economies that have been discussed; the cultural and the sharing. Everything about Culture Trip, from the tours, guides and destinations offered in the app to the app’s functionality itself is shareable. The articles are very powerful; not only do they heighten the quality of information offered by the platform, but they are downloadable, and shareable between other users or others who are interested.

Culture Trip offers a ‘wishlist’ feature so users can make a ‘wishlist from culture trip stories’, capture ideas, save-to-dos, and plan their next trip as well as ‘saving articles’ of interest and download them to read in ‘offline’ mode, which allows a level of user customisation and makes for a far more personalised user experience. However, if the app recommended destinations, tours, sites, or even articles that would be of interest to a user based on previous user behaviour; this could transform the user experience and by virtue, user engagement.

‘We’ve become a generation of DIY travellers’- What does this mean for businesses in the travel industry?

‘Low-cost carriers and online travel agencies were the clear winners of the online travel revolution over the past 15 years, changing the way today’s consumers plan and book their trips.’ – The Guardian

Travel agencies and airlines have acknowledged the age of the DIY traveller, and have turned their attention towards online and mobile channels to stay competitive. Traditional travel distribution such as high street travel agents have seen a serious decline because of online travel planning and booking platforms. Traditional travel agents cannot compete with platforms such as Kayak for example, that enable you to book flights, hotels and even car rental by searching hundreds of travel sites in one instance. More than this, Kayak actually provide price forecasting to ensure that users can book with confidence and relevant insight. Apps such as Skyscanner allow users to find cheap flights, comparing millions of flights, offering the cheapest route or easiest route available. The chart feature enables users to look at the cheapest days or months throughout the year to fly to a specific destination and sends notifications to users of any price changes.

If these revolutionary travel apps have taught us anything, it is that businesses in the travel industry must adapt and digitise their processes, catering to a world of ‘DIY travellers’. The only way to compete with the abundance of travel apps and online platforms that are currently disrupting the market is to digitise and streamline processes so they match, or exceed, the user experience, efficiency and simplicity offered by competitors. Successful platforms mentioned above all allow an extensive amount of user customisation. Skyscanner even lets you review ‘Top Deals’ based on your nearest airport. Although, competitors could take this a step further by forecasting ‘Top Deals’ based on user behaviour, recommending flight times, destinations, and airlines desired by the user.

Travel booking mobile app

In light of the trends and popular apps that have disrupted the travel industry in recent years, it is clear that travel businesses must adapt to the mobile age and focus on developing apps and online platforms that provide swift and simple booking and travel planning for users, as well as offering customisation and personalisation to users in order to stay competitive.

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