When starting a travel app development project, one of your first questions will be “how much is it going to cost?”. It’s certainly one of the first questions we hear from prospective clients. And while knowing what kind of budget to put behind this kind of project is important, it’s by no means the first question you should be asking.
Here are some better questions to ask:
- What business goal will the app help to achieve?
- What customer need will it solve for?
- What basic features are required?
- How will we measure success?
Why are these the better questions to ask? Well, until you answer these questions, it’s impossible to know what the cost will be. By focusing on customer needs and business goals, you’ll start to discover what’s required to build an app that a) your customers will use and b) will give your travel brand the best return on its investment.
Here, we’re going to look at the areas you should focus on when building the first generation of your travel app. We’ll focus on what features you’ll need to build a minimum viable product (MVP) and the costs associated with building in-house versus outsourcing to a third party.
Remember, building an app isn’t a once-off purchase; you’re investing in a long-term mobile platform that will grow, and your investment at each phase will largely depend on your business’s goals and customer needs at a given time.
How much is an app like easyJet’s?
If you’re building your first travel app, it’s normal to look at some of the best apps in the market for inspiration. If you take easyJet’s app for example, it averages 4.8 stars in the App Store and boasts features like mobile boarding passes, real-time flight tracking, passport scanning, FLIO and Lucky Trip integrations, along with visual search. So, it’s not surprising that we’re often asked by potential clients how much it will cost to build something similar—“how do I get the easyJet app?”
The short answer? Building an app like easyJet’s doesn't happen in one development phase. Much is invested, and not just money, but also time and innovation.
Creating an app with such advanced features and integrations would involve months of planning, significant development time and testing—not to mention that it would be the completely wrong approach. No app looks like easyJet’s on day one, not even the easyJet app did, and for good reason.
Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane to day one of the easyJet app. When it launched in late 2011, easyJet’s app was focused on delivering the best flight booking experience and promised to be the “fastest airline booking app available”. Passengers could book a flight on more than 580 routes in less than 30 seconds through the app.
Despite launching a seemingly basic app, in the space of a year, easyJet had hit over three million downloads. Why? Because they focused on a single business goal and created an MVP that focused on achieving that goal.
Over the next seven years, easyJet built on its app’s solid foundation, adding features like mobile check-in and boarding passes as well as more innovative technologies, the most recent of which are Siri Shortcuts and visual search. All of this stemmed from a cohesive mobile strategy that reconciled customer needs with business goals, and that took learnings from earlier generations of the app. This is how easyJet has come to offer one of the most loved apps in the world.
The lesson here is, it’s important to remember that if your CEO is asking for an app like easyJet’s, no app looks like easyJet’s today on day one. Consider what is important for your business and your customers. For easyJet, that was offering a quicker booking experience—and they nailed it.
Getting the basics right
So, what features are important for your travel app to have on day one? Technology and customer expectations have moved on since generation one of the easyJet app, so focusing on delivering fast bookings only obviously wouldn’t have the same impact today as it did for easyJet back in 2011.
As a travel brand, there are certain functions your app will need to include to create an MVP. For example booking, flight status updates, check-in and mobile boarding passes are features that users have come to expect as standard on airline apps. For TMCs, trip management, messaging capabilities and self-serve functionality are essentials.
By focusing on these core features, your app will start to drive engagement, enhance brand presence, reduce service costs, improve customer experience and justify the ROI in investing in mobile. Once you’ve launched your app and your business starts to see the benefits, you can build on that success by adding on more features that your customers want. Taking this approach also means that you’re not investing in a bunch of bells and whistles in one go, which may never deliver ROI for your brand.
Choosing a vendor
The cost of developing and maintaining your app will largely depend on who you choose to build it. There are a few options:
- Develop in-house
- Outsource to a generic app development company
- Go ‘freemium’
- Outsource to a specialist travel app partner
Of course, there are pros and cons to each option and we’ll evaluate them here to help you make your decision. But always keep in mind that cost alone shouldn’t be the deciding factor on who you choose to build your app; expertise, speed to market and future development roadmaps are equally, if not more, important.
Building an in-house team can be the right option for some businesses, although it requires significant investment. Building a mobile app with an in-house team can be three times more expensive than outsourcing to a dedicated mobile partner.
The main advantage to building your app in-house is the control you have over its direction. Your team fully understands your goals and customer needs, so your app (should) align to your business requirements perfectly. You will have total control over the entire project and sign-off process can be quicker if everyone is in the same location.
- Speed to market: According to research by Outsystems, 40% of IT professionals said that it took between 6 months and over a year to deliver a finished app. With an industry expert, you could go live with a robust mobile app within three months.
- Expertise: Mobile app development requires very specific expertise in areas like iOS/Android development, usability, user experience and UI. Hiring experts in-house can be costly and gaps in knowledge can lead to slow development.
- Adaptability: Mobile is constantly evolving and changing and the in-house team needs to keep up-to-speed with new technology and innovations. This can put a strain on development time.
- Software delivery: There is a risk of partial or complete failure, due to expanding maintenance of an increasingly large code base and legacy code as your app develops.
- Integrations and partnerships: It can be difficult to dedicate the resource in-house to handle integrations or partnerships. A partner can already have relationships in place or integrations done with other customers.
Up to $2 million
Building an in-house team can be expensive. You need to ensure you hire the right people with mobile specific skills, which incurs additional costs like on-boarding, hardware, software, benefits and so on.
There are further cost implications to maintain and upgrade the app as well as maintaining the in-house team. In addition, systems can be expensive to implement and must work with any systems your travel brand already has in place.
Outsource to a generic mobile app developer
Because generic software is built to apply to a many clients, it can have a wide range of functionality. However, as travel brands have very specific needs when it comes to functions, it’s important to check that all features that make up a MVP are included.
- Lack of understanding of the market: Travel industry mobile solutions have to integrate with third parties and complex systems, such as GDS. You should be confident in your mobile partner’s understanding of your business from previous experience and in their ability to incorporate industry-specific tools—APIs, and integrations such as flight status, passenger tracking, payment and scanning solutions—into your mobile platform.
- Expertise: Some technology businesses can’t offer the full spectrum of services needed to create a successful mobile offering that includes user experience design/user interface design, coding, testing, launch, mobile marketing support, app store optimization guidance and marketing strategy.
- Speed to market: The speed to market from generic suppliers is slower, as they don’t have the tech stacks built specifically for travel brands. Speed to market is vital to keep on top of a rapidly changing mobile travel landscape and the best mobile partner will orientate your business’s mobile offering ahead of the competition.
It depends on the features you choose and the cost of integrating with complex travel systems.
If you’re in a hurry to get your app to market on very little budget, you might be tempted to try a ‘freemium’ option. But like most things in life, if it sounds too good to be true it probably is—and buying a free app can actually cost you a lot more in the long run.
‘Freemium’ options allow you to spend very little and get an app to market in a short timeframe—although you will sacrifice quality, branding and features as a result.
- Free can be expensive: If choosing a ‘freemium’ app, remember that free apps often come up short when pitted against the rising complexity of services and features offered by a premium version. Delivering a substandard app can cost your travel brand business in the long run.
- Branding: Free apps are usually unbranded and prioritize the third-party provider’s logo. This can dilute your travel brand’s impact and disconnects your brand from your customers.
- Analytics: Free tools don’t offer a useful level of insights; usage, conversion rates and user satisfaction are difficult to measure. The absence of data leaves your travel brand wondering how to improve performance or where to invest next.
- Customization: Freemium app providers offer very limited changes to the basic app design (e.g. colors, logos or text). If you are paying for your own app, you’ll have the ability to configure settings and turn on/off features that you want end-users to use. Free apps offer little or none of this flexibility.
“Free”, but will cost your business in the long run and your end users will get little value from the app.
Outsource to a specialist mobile travel app developer
While there are different outsourcing options for airlines and other travel brands there is real value in outsourcing to a dedicated travel industry partner. One of the biggest benefits is the significant reduction in resource required as the solution is ready-made for the travel industry.
Some of the benefits of choosing a specialist mobile travel app developer include:
- Experience: You’ll benefit from the experience a mobile partner can bring in terms of design, development and usability
- Domain expertise: Gain from the track record, experience and expertise a partner brings from working with other industry brands, truly understanding the nuances. A travel mobile specialist can also keep an eye on market and user trends.
- Speed to market: An accomplished partner has the teams, experience and expertise in place to hit the ground running, which reduces the time it takes in getting your app to market. Your app could be live within 12 weeks rather than 12 months.
- Value add: You’ll benefit from other areas of support your partner may be able to give you such as help submitting to the app stores, how to market your app and other consulting specific to your industry.
- Lower risk: A partner understands how to manage and deliver mobile software, with a tried and tested deployment and QA process specifically for mobile applications.
- Maintenance: Once an app is launched it needs to be maintained and updated with new features and functionality, it’s an ongoing project keeping it up-to-date. A good partner will keep on top of all new innovations on your behalf.
- Support: Most partners will offer 24/7 support should there be any issues with your app. Dedicating this time can be tricky when supporting in-house.
- Control: While your app development might be outsourced, you still have control over what is being produced, with the added benefit of being guided by experts.
One of the disadvantages of outsourcing in general is there is always an element of risk when it comes to confidential information. Third parties often need access to your back systems. This risk can be easily mitigated by the signing of an NDA.
When outsourcing you always have to relinquish some form of control but regular, robust communication and clear project plans can ensure that the control still remains in your hands.
Going back to our original point, it will all depend on the features you want to include. However, a good development partner will work with you at the discovery phase to ensure you’re building an app that your customers will use and will deliver ROI for your brand.
The cost of doing nothing
Whatever way you look at it, building an app can be expensive, but it’s nothing compared to the cost of not having an app. Our recent end traveler research found that 78% of travelers are downloading travel apps, so if your brand doesn’t have a mobile presence, you’re missing out on an enormous pool of potential customers.
Mobile offers the potential to drive revenue in ways that aren’t possible via other channels, with apps leading the way. An average of €111 ($127) is spent in-app, versus €87 ($100) on desktop and €79 ($91) on mobile web. With mobile, there are more meaningful touchpoints to encourage repeat business and increase customer lifetime value, as well as drive ancillary revenue.
While budget is an important factor in any app build, ‘How much will it cost?’ isn’t the question you should be asking. The most important thing is to build a product that customers will love and that meets your business goals. Focus on creating that minimum viable product first and foremost and once it’s launched, evaluate where your digital strategy needs to go in the future to remain relevant to customers.
Having a partnership with your mobile platform provider is essential to delivering an app that’s tailored to your business needs. If you’re ready to start building your mobile platform, at Travelport Digital we have solutions that will help you get your app to market quickly and we provide support and consultancy at every step of the process.
- Travelport Fusion is a native app solution to allow airlines to grow revenues, streamline operations and extend digital engagement.
- Travelport Trip Assist allows TMCs and travel agencies to bring their brands to life through a mobile platform and incorporates key features like contextual messaging and self-service itinerary management. Find out more or request a demo.