While mobile browser traffic still has value for travel companies,
they are increasingly working to steer customers to their brands' mobile apps. The explanation is simple - apps give brands access to data and opportunities for personalization, for example through relevant alerts or customer service chats.
The app “allows you to have a more
direct and longer lasting relationship with a customer,” says Jon Gieselman, president of Expedia Brands at Expedia Group.
And travelers are responding - all
the brands interviewed for this article say they have seen considerable growth in app engagement in recent years.
third quarter of 2022, Expedia hit an “all-time high” of quarterly active app users, with a 40% increase
from 2019. The Vrbo mobile app was the most
downloaded iOS travel app in the United States, according to Apptopia.
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consumers to download the app “is just the start,” Gieselman says.
must provide compelling reasons for customers to keep coming back and product
features they can’t live without,” such as “app-exclusive tools,” he explains.
recently launched a new Price Tracking and Predictions feature in the mobile app that uses machine learning to notify travelers about flight price changes
and predicts the best time to buy. Expedia members also earn twice the
points when booking their trip on the app and can take advantage of app-exclusive
promotions and sales several times a year, Gieselman
Expedia will launch One Key, a unified loyalty program that spans Expedia brands, including
Expedia, Hotels.com and Vrbo. Members will get “exclusive incentives for using
the app,” Gieselman says.
in 2023, Expedia plans to roll out additional tools in its app, including
Trip Boards, which allow travelers to collaborate on trips and Price
Drop Protection, an optional add-on that automatically provides a refund if a
customer’s ticket price drops before their travel date.
Apps linked to loyalty
Tripadvisor rebuilt its
mobile app “from the ground up” in 2020, and it is a “vital part” of customer
acquisition and increased member engagement, according to Tripadvisor CMO John Boris.
App use provides Tripadvisor
with access to anonymized first-party user data, enabling the company to
better serve travelers, including in-destination, “where we can put our
location data to work to deliver a better Tripadvisor user experience,” Boris says.
App use also drives
long-term loyalty, Boris adds: “We know that our
most loyal and valuable users are our app users. They review more often, are a
more active part of our community and ultimately monetize better on a per-user
Corporate travel brands are also prioritizing app engagement. Travel management company CWT announced a $100 million investment into its
digital platforms, including its app, in November 2021.
CWT has delivered more than 30 product enhancements over the past year,
including enabling people to share their trips and connect with colleagues and
adding carbon emissions information and eco-friendly hotel labels to allow “travelers
to make really informed decisions about the impact of the choices that are making,” says Erica Antony, CWT’s chief product officer.
CWT’s mobile app usage has climbed 90% year over year, which
includes a spike in communication with CWT’s counselors.
might start [in the app] with helping yourself or trying to get simple tasks done. But when it
becomes more complex or it becomes more urgent or sensitive, ultimately I want
to reach a person,” Antony says.
The app also gives CWT a way to assess customer behavior, she adds:
“We can start to see what types of activities are they performing at different
times of the day, different times of the week, what types of tasks are they
trying to complete?”
App recognizing users
At American Express Global Business Travel, the mobile app has seen an uptick in on-trip use in
particular, which includes alerts about flight delays, flight changes and gate
changes, according to the travel management company’s vice president of global product strategy and
user experience, Mark McSpadden.
The app “provides offline content really well,” McSpadden
“We know that during the travel journey, there are times when you
don’t have connectivity. And so to be able to have the information about your
flight, about your hotel, about your ground transportation there in a platform
that is available even without connectivity is really important.”
Because that authentication is already in place, we know who you are and can immediately get to servicing you in your current context
Mark McSpadden - Amex GBT
Authentication mechanisms such as biometrics, face ID and
fingerprint create trust and give the company useful information
that helps them better serve the customer.
“Because that authentication is already in place, we know who you
are and can immediately get to servicing you in your current context,” McSpadden
says. “We can start inferring what you might need.”
Amex GBT’s app connects the traveler to the traveler manager
through messaging. The company also added
a feature that allows users to share their flight status with colleagues, friends
or family through a unique URL for their flight.
The company is in the process of adding sustainability metrics to
the mobile app that will let travelers see the carbon impact not only at the
time of purchase, but of their overall travel, according to McSpadden, with completion expected by the end of the year.
Competing with 79 other apps
At Booking.com, “an app-first approach is
crucial to success in our now mobile-dominated world,” says Arjan Dijk, senior vice
president and CMO.
app was among the most-installed travel apps in both the United States and the
United Kingdom in 2021, according to the company. In the third quarter of this
year, about 45% of Booking’s room nights were booked through its
apps, an increase of more than 10% compared to 2019.
Reservations made in the app represent the majority of Booking’s overall mobile bookings, Dijk
says. Over the course
of the year Booking.com has also seen the app repeatedly set new records for
monthly active users.
The Booking mobile app gets “the
strongest direct repeat customer behavior” when compared to our other platforms
like desktop or mobile web, and the majority of bookings on the mobile app are made
by members of Booking’s loyalty program, Genius,” he says.
But Dijk says a single app is competing
with, on average, 79 other apps on a consumer’s mobile device, so simply existing
there is not enough. Companies need to keep reminding consumers
why they should use the app, he says, and Booking is exploring new marketing channels such as paid Facebook and YouTube ads.
Hugh Aitken, vice president of flights at Skyscanner,
says app users are a “self-selecting group.”
“People choose to download our app, and
importantly, keep it on the mobile device,” Aitken says. “We do see good retention on app, people coming in and downloading
it, but also engaging with it and carrying on engaging with it.”
The Skyscanner app shows not only flights to Miami, for example, but also
hotels and cars “so people can start to see the complete trip,” rather than
having to switch between apps or tabs. And the app gives travelers ideas, inspiration and
advice that they want from Skyscanner, he adds.
Read an interview with Arjan Dijk
, chief marketing officer for Booking.com, who
discusses the brand's app-first approach.