Smartphone app development is a sector which has been hot for over five years now and shows no sign of cooling off any time soon. From healthcare and fitness apps to cab booking apps, major apps stores like Google Play store and Apple Apps Store are littered with apps focused on different industries. Statista reports that as of the third quarter of 2018, there are 2.1 million apps on Google Play Store and 2 million apps on the Apple App Store. These figures contain apps of all kinds, from games to video streaming. And one of the hottest apps on these app stores are travel apps. Over the past few years, these apps have created a strong following for themselves and have brought hefty, mouth-watering profits to their makers. And if you are thinking of getting in on the action, then you might be thinking if it is even possible at this stage when there are so many travel apps already out there in the market?
The answer is yes, it most certainly is. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy though. With new apps releasing every year and old ones constantly reinventing themselves, you’ve got your work cut out if you want to launch your very own travel app. And today we will discuss how you can develop a travel app like TripAdvisor and Expedia.
Why develop a travel app?
Developing a travel app can have numerous advantages for you. But what advantages? That depends on the type of business that you are running. If you are a travel agency, then your app is not there to earn you money but make it easier for your customers to reach you and access your facilities. On the flip side, indirectly, having an app for your agency basically extends your reach and availability to customers. Some other advantages that you have by developing an app for your travel agencies are:
- Earn loyalty points from customers
- Increases your reach
- Increases your connectivity with the customers
Now, if you are not a travel agency and you are creating a travel app as a product which both travel agencies and customers could use, then the biggest benefit that you will have is financial. Now the problem here is that your app if it is the only product that you’re offering, needs to be flawless. There can’t be any glitches or shortcomings in it. So you need to be on top of every little detail. After that, you need to come up with a sound marketing plan, too. The reason being, you need to monetize your services and the smartest way to do that is by ads. Some of the advantages of developing such type of mobile apps are:
- Commissions from hotels/tourism companies etc. on every booking made
- In-App Purchases
How to develop a travel app?
Traditionally, there are two ways you can go- In-house development- that is you assemble a team of developers yourself whose sole job would be to work on your app and maintain it over the years. While it is a great option, the problem here is that it takes a lot of money to set up the infrastructure and it takes a lot of money to hire people on a monthly salary. So unless you have investors with deep pockets backing you up financially, we wouldn’t recommend this approach.
The second way that you have is- hire a smartphone app developer. There are firms out there who are willing to work on your idea and take it from scribblings on a piece of paper to reality. You can hire these app developers and ask them to make your app. If you are new in the market, then you can take help of sites like Clutch to find the perfect firm which is ready to work in your budget, is punctual and maintains good communication with you.
Now if you have decided to go with the latter, then we have created a systematic guide for you to follow.
Again, the first step in our guide is researching on your own. Make sure that you know everything there is to know about travel apps before you hire a development company. The reason being, good research will help you plan better, and a good plan will help you and the development firm that you will hire in creating a better product.
Research for an app is usually done in multiple steps. And while there are no rigid norms that you must follow, there are topics that you need to cover one way or another.
You need to be aware of your competition. And more than that, you need to be aware of their strengths and weaknesses. Strengths you adopt, weaknesses you avoid. By keeping a close watch on your competitors, you get the idea of the type of apps that are currently hot in the market, and you get a hint of the blueprint that you need to create for your app. More than that, in the race, to make a superior product, you need to make your competitors seem inferior. And the only way to that is by making sure that you excel in the departments they don’t.
- Customer reviews
This step and competition step can overlap sometimes. You can interview customers about different competitor apps, conduct a survey of sorts and ask them what they like and don’t like about those apps. You can also snoop on their app store pages and see what customers have to say in their reviews in the comments section.
You can also conduct customer interviews to find out- what kind of app they want? What are the key features that they look for in a travel app before downloading or committing to it? Ask them what things, features or elements of apps repel them and what are the key alluring factors that fascinate them.
- Trend research
Trends change. They come, rule the market for a couple of years (some for months, and some for just weeks), and then they disappear. So it doesn’t sound very fair that we have to give them so much heed when they only last for such small periods of time. But we have to. Trends can make or break an app. Customers like to stay updated these days, from the clothes and brands they wear to the devices they use and the apps they use on them. They want to be up to date with the world. So if you develop an outdated app, then you might as well have put all your money on fire instead of developing an app, because it is not going to get you anything.
But other than being on top of trends, you need to be able to predict them as well. By the time you hear about a trend in the market, it is already too late; there are already a lot of apps in the market exploiting the same trend. So you need to make sure that you are on a hot trend, even before that trend is a trend or even hot.
The second step is planning. This is the phase where you take all that you have learned in the previous phase and put it to work. The first thing you need to do is decide on what your app needs to be, what will be its motive. Try to write down the exact goal of your application in just one line. This will prevent you from deviating from the track because you will always be working to create an app which is parallel to the goal that you’ve written down.
Now we know that you have a robust app in your mind with a myriad of features in its feature list and you want to wow and astound the world with them. It is not a bad thing, but a less prudent approach to mobile app development. While you should plan for the final app in the planning phase, you must also plan for a smaller version of your travel app with only a handful of essential features. The reason being, completing a big app, takes big bucks and a lot of time. So instead of waiting for it to be finished, get an MVP developed and release it as soon as possible. Once you have done that, your development team can keep working on the bigger version of the app and launch various updates for the app to add more features. An MVP will also help you in gathering the initial customer reviews and help you improve the app.
To create an MVP for a travel app like Expedia and Tripadvisor, you need to include below features, at least:
#1. Trip Planner
This feature is basically your user’s personal planner for his trip. From start dates to end dates to plane/train/bus tickets to hotel room bookings, everything could be managed from this module. It needs to be organized, easy to use and eye soothing.
#2. Hotel Booking
This feature will allow your users to find hotels of all price ranges in their desired destination and book rooms. You will need to have tie-ups with the hotels of course, and on top of that you will need to have filters based on per day cost of a room and type, and a safe payment gateway to make the bookings directly from your app.
#3. Ticket Booking
This feature will permit your users to purchase the plane/train/bus tickets to their destinations. This module will allow your users to choose the date of travel, locations of seats, and destinations. You will need to have some good filters to make the search is focused and have a safe payment gateway so that the user can book his ticket directly from your app.
#4. Maps and Geolocation
This feature will help users in more than one way. Once a user has reached his holiday destination, this feature will help your users in finding spots of interests in the vicinity. On top of that, this feature will also help users in finding the exact locations of the hotels and stations as well, thus making sure that they don’t get lost.
#5. Transport booking
Once at the destination, this feature will work as any other cab booking app- it will allow users to book a local means of transportation. You can either have a tie-up with apps like Uber or have your very own ties with local transport people who can take your users to unique places which big names like Uber and Google Maps usually miss.
Locals of a destination always have an advantage in the matter of knowing places. Apps like Google Maps try hard to make their list of spots of interests as complete as they can, but the fact remains that some cool local spots will always be found by the help of locals only. So your app should allow users to hire local guides who can take them on informative trips to places no other app would even know about.
AI in apps is now quickly becoming a common thing. Amazon, Netflix, Spotify and other apps like them constantly bombard their users with the suggestions of the things/shows/songs that they may like, based on their previous purchase/watch/listen. Your app needs to do that as well, just for places that might interest your users. Furthermore, you can localize this feature for a user already on vacation and show them places similar to the one they just visited as well.
#8. Push Notifications
They are a powerful marketing tool. Push Notifications can be used to share information with a user without actually irritating him. A new travel package that your app is providing, reminders, price drop for a hotel room, and other information such as this can be shared using this feature
#9. Review and Feedbacks
Reviews and feedbacks are useful for you and your customers both. Most customers, before buying a package, take a hard look at its reviews and see what others have to say about it. So you need to give your users that power. Furthermore, you should take these reviews as valuable inputs because they can help you in improving your services.
#10. Social media integration
Any app these days without social media platform integration is incomplete. People want to share their latest exploits with their friends on their various social media accounts. So you need to allow your users to be able to share pictures, checking-in from various destinations, and do other such fun things with your app.
Choosing a platform
Now that you have a list of MVP features for your app, it is time to decide what platform it will run on. The smartphone market is divided between two major players- Android and iOS. Both of these OSs have their pros, and both of them have their cons. Android has a broader reach; iOS has quality customers who make big purchases. It is needless to say that both of them have their own following. Traditionally, every app should be developed for Android and iOS apps both. Reason being, both of them have huge market shares under them. So whichever OS you choose to miss, will cost you dearly. So you need to have an app for both platforms.
But if money is an issue, then there is another way around. Now we would like to emphasize that you need to have apps for both platforms. But in the beginning, you can start by having just an iOS app. The reason why we favored iOS is simple- it is quicker to develop an iOS app. It only has a handful of versions in the market, while Android is open source, so every vendor makes some changes in the OS, making it difficult for Android app developers to develop an app which runs on all iterations. Furthermore, since there are only a couple of iterations in the market, apps running on iOS are easier to test than Android apps. So in this way, iOS apps are finished quickly and are cheaper than Android because of the shorter testing time.
You can also go for a Hybrid app as well. These apps are basically web-fronted native apps which require an internet connection to run. They are cheaper to make since both Android and iOS can run the same code. So, there is no need to develop two different apps. Thus, what you get out of a hybrid app is an app which is capable of running on two OSs in the cost of one. But it has its shortcomings, like poor quality, rigidity, and low visual appeal.
After you have landed on an OS, it is time to look at our pockets. Now, we can go back and forth between these steps; you can tweak things in your plan according to the depth of your pocket of course. Now, even though it is a good habit to have a fixed budget, it must be kept in mind that app development is a volatile process which can demand more money any time. So make sure that you are a little flexible. Furthermore, don’t be too eager to part with your money. You need to keep some for post-deployment processes like bug fixing and updates.
4. Hire a mobile app development firm
And finally, once you have planned out your app and have decided on a budget, you can go ahead and hire a smartphone app developer. Now before you do so, you need to conduct another round of research, this time on these firms. You are about to give them the command of your dream and hard earned money, so make sure you hire a trustworthy firm which is punctual, skilled, dedicated and maintains good communication with their customers.
Before the app is deployed, you need to get started with the promotional phase of your app. You need to create a buzz for your app, sort of creating a stage for its grand entrance in the market. Once the app is done, tested and deployed, come post-deployment processes. These processes usually include updating some features, fixing bugs which were overlooked in the testing phase, etc. If you hire a good and trustworthy development firm, then your travel mobile app development process will run smoothly, and the final outcome will exceed your expectations. So in the end, all of it depends on the development firm that you hire and their conviction to deliver a good product.