Skift Take

We haven't always been enthusiastic about travel apps. These five, though, have something that most others can learn from.

Colin Nagy, head of strategy at Fred & Farid, a global advertising agency, writes this opinion column for Skift on hospitality, innovation, and business travel. “On Experience” dissects customer-centric experiences and innovation across hospitality, aviation, and beyond. 

My last column advocated for a more human-centric approach to hospitality, and not caving to the cost-cutting temptations that artificial intelligence and easy automation brings.

That said, when thinking of the entire end-to-end experience in travel, it is foolish to ignore the importance of social and mobile as a key element to improve experience for everyone from airlines, to hotels, to trip planning and management.

Problem is, the user experience of many mobile apps is beyond dire — many booking sites haven’t evolved from 2005 in terms of design. This is oddly still happening even as more people ditch the desktop and spend their time on mobile and tablet experiences.

Following are some Northern lights for the travel industry when it comes to mobile apps that blend utility, user experience, and great design from a variety of sectors. Get inspired:

1. Airbnb

It’s obvious a lot of love and care went into the latest version of the Airbnb app; the design is fantastic, and its easy to both browse listings and administer listings for those who are letting out their apartments. They pay off their “live like a local” positioning by providing great, on-the-ground recommendations from hosts, that add to the personal feel and work well in a mobile context. Everything is smooth and it feels like a more premium experience than most hotel apps.

2. Citymapper

Now available in 30 cities, Citymapper ups the ante from Google Maps (the ultimate travel app), allowing for data that shows multiple ways of getting to your destination. For example, it shows recommended bike routes side-by-side with other options (car, train, taxi) and, in New York, also maps you to the local Citibike drop off if you need it. A recent update allows you a bird’s eye view of a transit system, with notifications for delays on specific lines: a godsend for commuters and visitors to a new city alike.

3. App in the Air

App in the Air serves as a repository for all of your travel itineraries and also gives you a helpful nudge, so you know when it’s time to leave for the airport, when your flight is boarding and where to find the best food and wi-fi when you’re at the airport. Though the name is a bit “eh” the functionality and intuitive design more than makes up for it. It plays nicely with both Tripit and also can grab itineraries from your inbox without a lot of fuss.

4. Four Seasons

The Four Seasons leads the hotel space with its mobile app, launched last summer. Customers can save very specific preferences about what they like during the say, once you’re checked in you can make requests, order room service, customize your bed and generally handle most tasks you’d be calling for with the touch of a button. There’s also solid local information and the ability to check out on your phone to skip the line and get moving.

5. Hitlist

Founded and initially bootstrapped by entrepreneur and adventurer Gillian Morris, Hitlist is focused on helping users track down bargain airfares for cities on their personal “hitlist.” The app does several things well: one, it allows people to save their intent to visit and notify them when there is an incredible deal that pops up. Two, it brings back the old school “travel agency brochure” experience, by blending editorial and branded content features about locations with the latest prices. This emphasis on the trip experience differentiates it from other transactional booking apps, and clearly resonates with the social/mobile/millennial audience who have started using it in droves.

Also worth mentioning is a clever growthhack they did, Wandertab which shows you a new amazing photo from around the world when you open a new browser tab, with the cost to get there right now. The extension wins bonus points for integrating seamlessly into your daily routine, repurposing dull utility space with an opportunity to expand your horizons.

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Tags: apps, On Experience

Photo credit: Citymapper's app for iOS. Frame

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