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Can Travel Apps Still be Successful?

Posted by Mike Atherton on 24 October, 2016

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Mobile apps provide one of the biggest opportunities for TMCs and OTAs to increase revenue generation. However, traveller app usage and online behaviour patterns are changing rapidly. New market research shows that the marketplace for apps of all varieties is ‘tightening’, with year-on-year growth in mobile apps declining steeply. What does this mean for the travel app, and how can TMCs and OTAs navigate the challenges and opportunities these changes present?

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The Lay of the Land

There are over 500 free apps in the ‘Travel & Local’ section of the Google Play Store, offering everything from reservation and booking services to recommendations for local attractions in specific countries. At almost every step of a journey, from researching destinations to arriving at the airport, the traveller is being exposed to adverts promoting apps for every element of travel.

As a TMC or OTA, the pressure to ensure that your app is on your traveller’s devices is increasing. In recent market research published by comScore, the rate of growth in app downloads and usage has fallen substantially over the course of 2 years.

Trends in Traveller Behaviour

While most mobile metrics continue to increase, it’s becoming clear that many mobile users do not download apps regularly. While the average smartphone owner downloads 2 apps per month, more than half do not download any. What’s more, app stores are losing their influence over the marketplace, as users begin to pay more attention to marketing and word-of-mouth.

This has particular significance for the travel industry, where apps might only be needed by the user 2 or 3 times a year, and may be forgotten in the intervening periods. Even in business, where apps might be part of standard issue for company phones, there are reasons for concern if users do not engage with your product as part of their travel.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Deloitte’s research into the ‘mobile consumer’ recently revealed that while it might be natural to assume that travellers begin searching for their next trip via web browsers, frequent travellers are more likely to start on an app.

Still, ensuring that your travellers fire up their apps again for the next trip can be difficult when you are competing with so many other notifications and drains on traveller time. So what can travel specialists due to ensure that their app is used time and again?

Integrate to Offer Real Value

The simple truth is this: no part of your digital travel business, be it your web portal, your app or even your website, will provide real traveller value unless it forms part of an overarching travel technology strategy. Without value, your app is destined to be deleted when a device’s memory is full, or simply ignored. 

As James Tiongson says, writing for Google

"App users need an incentive to reengage with an app they've abandoned. And there are ways to draw app users back to your brand. Thirty percent of those surveyed in our research say they'd start using an app again if they were offered a discount toward a purchase, and nearly a quarter of app users would return if they received exclusive or bonus content."

He goes on to make the point that this is particularly true in travel, where 40% of those surveyed said they would use an app again if they received a discount or coupon offer.

Value isn't all about discounts and merchandising, however. Providing value in travel apps can mean ensuring that travel documents are easy to access, or receiving unique content such as travel risk notifications in emergencies. Having a thorough mobile strategy will help you identify these opportunities to create traveller value.

Developing a mobile strategy: a guide for TMCs