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How to build and launch a travel app

Mobile has opened a world of new ways for travel agencies and travel management companies (TMCs) to engage with customers. Think about it: 10 years ago, people walked into your agency or picked up the phone to book a trip. After that, you usually didn’t hear from them again unless they were confirming their details or calling to complain!

Now, travel agencies and TMCs are moving away from the old model of one-off booking transactions to offering meaningful engagement with travelers from the minute they book, right through to the end of their trip – all thanks to the evolution of mobile.

Having your own travel app is the best way to enhance the service your agency delivers to customers, but if you’ve never launched an app, it can be difficult to know where to begin. There will be lots of questions floating around your head – how much will it cost, how long will it take, who will build it, will it be a success?

To help you along the way, we’ve outlined the key factors to consider when building your first travel app. Read on to discover more about what the process involves and how you can ensure your app stands out from the crowd.

Why build an app?

When you are looking for internal buy-in to start developing your mobile app, you’ll need to be ready to answer one of the first questions your board will ask: “Do we really need an app?” When building your business case, there are some important factors to highlight.

Firstly, for travel agencies, mobile is critical because it is the only device your consumers carry at all stages of their journey; when searching and booking travel, as they go through the airport, when they’re at their destination and when they complete their return leg. Without a mobile app your agency has a limited presence in the traveler’s end-to-end journey.

Picture what an app could do for your customers. You can send a push notification to remind travelers to check in. At the airport you can let them know of any flight changes, cancellations, gate changes or what belt their baggage will be arriving on. When they arrive in their destination you can send information to make sure they stay within policy, like what’s included in their hotel package, preferred local vendors and what their daily expense limit is.


Here are some other points that will help you to convince your board that you need a mobile app.

  • Mobile significantly reduces the overheads associated with servicing the traveler by providing self-serve tools literally into their hands.
  • An app provides for additional revenue opportunities through more bookings and ancillary sales.
  • The shift to digital means agencies can be more competitive, winning new business in the corporate space in particular.

Mobile app versus web

At this point you might say, “I can do all of this through desktop, email or my responsive website”. This is true to a certain extent, but there are external factors at play that can prevent you from getting a message to travelers quickly through these channels. For example, if you are emailing your customers to let them know of a flight delay, you're depending on them having internet access and checking their emails regularly to get the message on time.

88% of activity on smartphones and tablets originates from apps

Mobile apps can deliver contextual, real-time messaging and information through push notifications, where websites and emails cannot. In the travel industry, email click-through rates are just 2%, while the open rate of a push notification can be up to 6% showing the impact contextual messaging can have on your overall engagement rates.  

A recent global study we carried out showed that 58% of people prefer apps to search for flights and 53% prefer apps to find accommodation. We found that consumers want a lightning-fast mobile experience, which they feel is best delivered through apps. Travelers also value the extra functionality and features that app platforms bring.  


Source: Travelport Digital, How people use mobile to search and book travel

The benefits of going mobile

Aside from the potential to engage with customers on the devices they use most, there are lots of other benefits to building an app, for both your agency and your customers.

  • Reduce traveler friction: Apps can help improve your customer’s experience and take the stress out of travel by making time-consuming tasks as easy and seamless as possible, providing them with a platform to manage their trip end-to-end, directly from their mobile.
  • Enhance your travel agency’s brand presence: It’s likely that your customers are already using other travel apps to manage the trip you’ve provided, so your brand awareness is being eroded if your travelers are relying on third-party apps to service their trip. With your own fully branded app, you can stay connected to your traveler throughout their trip by providing instant access to the content they want, when they need it.
  • Keep travelers engaged post-booking: Mobile provides opportunities for agencies to communicate with travelers after they have booked. A robust app can provide updated flight times, departure gates, hotel locations or car hire details that become part of the travelers’ daily online interactions.
  • Stay within policy: With over 68% of business travelers booking more than half of their corporate trips using non-approved consumer channels, out of policy bookings is a challenge for companies. By developing an end-to-end mobile experience, TMCs and travel agencies can easily identify itineraries that don’t have a hotel reservation, alert the traveler, and allow the traveler to simply click to make the reservation all from within the app.
  • Reduce agency service costs: By enabling travelers to self-serve through mobile, a travel agency can drive down global call volumes. The benefits for this are quantifiable as it leads to faster response time in call centers, reduced waiting times, significant saving in operational costs and allows travel agencies to focus their agents time on more complex, specialist enquiries.  
  • Deliver your duty of care: In an increasingly hostile global environment, protecting employees while traveling is a top priority for companies. Mobile apps can play a key part in this by offering security features like safety check-ins, messaging solutions that enable agencies to send real time alerts and notifications about any potential hazards to their travelers.  
  • Increase revenue: Mobile offers the potential for travel agencies to drive revenue in ways that aren’t possible through 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. For travel agencies there are multiple opportunities to market and sell content through their own branded app – for example hotel, car, rail and flight booking as well as seat upgrades, airport transfers and airport fast track.  
  • Attract new customers: Having a branded app allows agencies to start building a relationship with the traveler and helps create awareness of the work being done behind the scenes.  

In-house or outsource: the pros and cons

So now you know why you should build a mobile app, it’s time to consider how you’re going to do it. One of the biggest decisions you’ll make before starting your app project is who is going to design and develop it. Do you outsource the app development or undertake the build in-house?

There are lots of factors to consider such as cost, expertise and resources. Speed to market is another key consideration and the route you choose will have a severe impact on how quickly you’ll get your app up and running. These are the average speed to market timescales:

  • Outsource to a travel industry specialist: 2-3 months
  • Outsource to a generic app developer: 6 months
  • In-house app build: 9-12 months

Inhouse_Outsource_Pros_Cons_Thumbnail (1)

Click on the image above to view the pros and cons of in-house vs outsource

Download our eBook, Getting started with your first travel app to find out more about choosing between in-house or outsourcing.

Building the right team

When starting to build your first travel app, getting the right people behind it is critical. Whether you’re building in-house or outsourcing, you will need to form the right project team to ensure its success.  

Your project team will include many people who will be involved in different phases of the project: initiation and product demonstration; contract negotiations and commercial approval; integration and app build; launch; and ongoing maintenance. But before the project is even signed off, it will need support from board level down so that everyone in your company knows the importance of the investment you’re making.

If you’re developing in-house, you will need to put a team of 15+ people behind the build of the app. This will include a team lead, iOS developers, Android developers, QA testers, product managers and UX and UI designers, to name a few. It’s also important to bear in mind that sending the app live is just the beginning. The app team also need to factor in the development of future features, as well as promoting and marketing the app. 

Taking all of this into account, the cost of building a whole internal mobile team could be in the range of $1.5-2 million.

If you’re outsourcing the build, the size of the in-house team required reduces dramatically to around three core people, for example a mobile technology specialist, marketing professional and eCommerce/Digital function.

Key functions

Once you have your team in place, you need to start looking at what your app is going to do for your customers. When launching your first mobile app, it’s vital to get the basics right. There are core features and functionality that make up your minimum viable product (MVP).  

For travel agencies and travel management companies, the key features you will need to incorporate include: 

  • Sophisticated trip management
  • Contextual trip-based messaging capabilities
  • Self-serve functionality
  • Localization
  • Analytics and reporting 

By incorporating these key features, you can start to drive engagement, enhance brand presence, reduce service costs, improve customer experience and justify the spend.  

Don’t forget that as well as key functionality, the importance of good UX and UI can’t be underestimated. Every tap and click needs to be slick and seamless to avoid user frustration – which ultimately leads to app abandonment. We explain more about each of these features in our eBook Getting started with your first travel app.

Launch plan

Did you know that 1,000 new apps are released every day? On the day you launch in the App Store, your app will become 1 in over 6.5 million, so it’s critical that you have a comprehensive launch plan and marketing strategy to promote it.  

Your strategy should consider pre, during and post launch tactics to ensure you give your app the best chance of success. This includes comprehensive testing before go-live and an integrated marketing campaign to promote it during and post launch.

Here’s what a typical app launch timeline looks like.


Measuring success

So now the excitement is building as you prepare to launch your first travel app, but how will you know if it’s a success?  

Before launching, you should set KPIs that align with your business goals. As an agency or TMC, you might be interested in improving service for repeat customers, reducing costs by promoting self-service or driving brand awareness among large corporate clients. No matter what your goal is, be clear about what you want the app to do for your business and how it can be measured.  

A robust data analytics platform will help you to analyze the way your app is being used. You can study user interactions to detect trends, measure performance and discover the most popular and useful features. It is important to measure all touchpoints in your app to get a rounded picture of what’s working and what isn’t. 

Working with a partner who can offer you a robust analytics and reporting platform can help you determine how you can leverage data to improve your app and your business.  

How to get started

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.

  • 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.
  • Travelport Fusion is a native app solution to allow airlines to grow their revenues, streamline their operations and extend their digital engagement.

If you’re looking delve further into the process of building your first travel app, we’ve put together the ultimate guide to building your first travel app to help you along your journey. Our 43-page eBook is full of useful tips and tactics that any travel agency can adopt, particularly those who have never had an app or mobile presence. By following our proven path to success you’ll deliver a seamless mobile travel experience that will drive traveler engagement, have downloads thriving, social media buzzing and brand awareness soaring to help your company stand out in a crowded market.

Delivering a mobile app is no longer a ‘nice to have’, it’s a necessity that can transform your travel agency. The time has come for your mobile journey to begin, are you ready?

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Eric Booth - Product Marketing Manager

Eric has 13+ years experience as a digital & product marketing specialist within the online services, entertainment & travel sectors. With experience working in both B2B and B2C environments Eric’s key focus at Travelport Digital is to bring new products to market, articulate product value propositions and drive product demand by connecting customer the needs to product capabilities.

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