The Travel Tipping Point: Do We Have Travel App-athy?
Written by Jaillan Yehia
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about just how much the travel tech landscape has changed in a few short years – and where it will go next.
Where once the idea behind apps like Airbnb or Uber had to be explained to most outside the travel industry, today the concept of the sharing economy is omnipresent, and new apps and offshoots of existing apps are springing up all over the world every day, pushing the boundaries of what is possible from your smartphone.
In the last few weeks I have heard about a few exciting startups revolutionising travel in Asia – Donkey Republic, a bike sharing scheme which started life (unsurprisingly) in Copenhagen has branched out into Mumbai, and MetroResidences a sort of Airbnb for corporate lets now has a firm foothold in Japan and Singapore.
Press releases have also pinged into my inbox about apps offering a way to tap into RV’s and caravans sitting idle, which actually makes a lot of sense, with companies like Yescapa launching in the UK.
But I can’t help feel that competition in the travel tech space is exceptionally fierce; if I had a pound for every company I saw offering a new app to help travellers find, book or rate their travel experiences – whether they be luxury or budget or somewhere in between – I’d have enough pounds to back more startups than Richard Branson (the Virgin entrepreneur seems to put his weight behind quite a few new players in the search for the latest killer app).
The conclusion that I have come to is that consumers have reached a saturation point with new apps in the same way that we have all reached our limit with mailing lists – ‘no more’ we cry – well, until someone tells us about one which is actually ground-breaking, useful and could save us both time and money, and then we are more than happy to make space on our phones for another little magical square box that matches us to our travel needs.
Where apartment company MetroResidences appears to be going right is in undercutting the current market leaders in a market that isn’t already bulging at the seams with competitors. The business travel market in Singapore and Japan is clearly open to options when it comes to corporate rentals, so by using inventory that’s empty and available, styling it to be minimalist and contemporary and making it easy to access – the app is doing what all today’s travellers, whether on business or leisure, seem to want out of a stay – fuss-free full service, with style.
But where many other companies seem to be going wrong is by offering yet another way to consume the same exact product – I can’t count the number of ways I could choose to source my flights, hotels and excursions, but most have no real point of difference meaning that many of these general consumer focused apps blend into one. And without critical mass these startups are destined for failure at worst, or at the very least, some repositioning, like in the case of Zozi.
I am, personally, a big fan of crowd-sourced information and services and I have more than my fair share of travel apps on my own phone. But where once I was evangelical about new ideas and loved trying out the latest way to consume and save on travel, I now feel rather more jaded and take a default position of ‘why should I use this?’ rather than ‘why wouldn’t I use it?’.
I recently heard of a service called Farefetch which matches people who are amazing at finding flight deals, with people who don’t have the time or knack to do it. 3 years ago I would have already been on this to try it out but today I am more realistic and know that while I like the idea on principle I might not remember it in a month – because I have heard of a handful of other sites which do something very similar, with a small twist.
Once consumers use a certain app, site or service and feel it answers their needs, taking our business away and converting us is not as easy as it looks – we don’t really like change. A surprising fact in a society where things change so fast.
Planning and booking travel is time consuming and labour intensive enough without having to try out a new app every time you want to book a flight or a hotel, and new launches need to be brutally honest about whether what they are offering is an app that will create real excitement and change or revolutionise a market, or if it’s one that leaves us lukewarm – not enough to get past our app-athy.
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