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PWAs and the changing face of mobile travel

Mobile apps offer huge benefits over web in terms of usage (85% of time spent on mobile is using an app), speed and of course user experience. But how to do travel brands provide this great user experience to people who don’t want to download their app? And what other mobile solutions will go mainstream in 2018? In this trend we examine the pros and cons of native apps and examine new solutions available to travel brands.

Travel brands that rely on users interacting with their traditional website via mobile can result in disengagement and booking abandonment. Progressive travel brands have recognized the importance of having a dedicated mobile app to service their travelers.

61% of users are unlikely to return to a mobile site they had trouble accessing and 40% will visit a competitor’s site instead.”  Google. 

The benefits for investment in native apps are huge with the ability to access device hardware like the GPS/NFC antenna to deliver value add services, bespoke mobile design booking and search flows, which result in higher conversion, and the ability to engage with the user on a device that they always have on them. However, developing a mobile app is difficult; you have to address multiple form factors and platforms, manage the approvals process of the app stores, support users on older app versions and build teams with bespoke skills in mobile UX and development.

New innovations in web technologies might make app development easier and more efficient for companies. Enter the Progressive Web App (PWA), a mobile applications built using these latest web standards that deliver near native mobile user experiences. Consider them apps that combine the best of the web and native apps with zero friction for the users. Your customers can visit your website and with just one click you have your app on their home screen.

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With PWAs you don’t have to invest in the creation and management of a website and mobile apps (and the inherent device compatibility issues). By building a new SEO-friendly and PWA enabled website you’ll reduce your operating costs and your travelers will get a rich, dynamic and mobile app experience without being asked to download, install or register anything.

There are a number of advantages that PWAs offer over mobile websites or native apps.

  • Offline data access - PWAs will work when travelers don't have data access
  • Maintenance - Every user will get the latest version when they visit the app so there are no maintenance issues supporting users on older versions of the app. Better still your PWA will adapt to work on tablets as well as mobile and desktops. 
  • Accessibility - There is no need to drive users to visit an app store to discover your PWA, they are as discoverable as any website
  • User Experience - PWAs will live on the phone like an app, have lightning response times and you won’t lose the benefits of native apps (ie the ability to send push notifications, presence on phone home screen etc.)
  • Security - PWAs connect via HTTPS so there won’t be any security or data privacy concerns.
  • Performance - 53% of users will abandon a mobile site if it takes more than three seconds to load (average page loads is 19 seconds). PWAs often load in under one second due to the underlying page caching technology.

In more developing markets like India and China the majority of users don’t have phones with memory to store many apps. With these factors in mind it further advances the merits in investing in PWAs which are easy to access and have low storage requirement.

PWAs as a technology was introduced about 2 years but it looks like 2018 is when we will see a tipping point in companies migrating to this new technology.

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Early adopters in 2017 have seen some tremendous benefits from their experiments with PWAs. Visit the Twitter website on mobile and you’ll get their PWA which requires less than 3% of the storage space of their old native app. This new speedy web app has resulted in 75% more tweets and visitors looking at 65% more pages24.

So is the native app dead? Absolutely not!

App store downloads of travel apps are still increasing every year and PWAs are still very much in their infancy. Furthermore there are still some limitations to PWAs, especially when it comes to Safari which doesn’t yet fully support PWAs, more specifically some of the more interesting components such as push notifications and offline mode.  

More generally PWAs still have limitations using device hardware such as NFC or Bluetooth support. As a result, you might not be able to deliver all of your desired app use cases. Converting your apps and web code bases to support PWAs also isn’t a simple or quick task. Apple confirmed in August of this year that they are planning to support PWAs and it will be interesting to track their pace of development.

If you have a native app continue to build upon the rich UX and functionality that it offers and look to expand your audience engagement via PWAs. If you haven’t launched a travel app yet, plan to start off with a native app but look to include a PWA roadmap as part of your longer-term strategy.

To find out more about the changing face of mobile apps and the other key trends that will impact the mobile travel industry in 2018, as well as findings from our research with industry professionals and end travelers, download our Mobile Travel Trends 2018 free report now.

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Aisling White - Head of Marketing

Aisling has over 16 years’ experience in marketing, brand, and PR. Prior to joining Travelport Digital, Aisling worked at Hostelworld.com and Sage Software. At Travelport Digital Aisling manages the marketing strategy, content, communications, and digital platforms, to drive customer engagement.

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