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How Travel Companies Can Leverage Mobile to Survive — and Thrive — During COVID-19

Katarina Borg
Author Katarina Borg
Published On Apr 01, 2020

Travelers might be playing it safe, but they’re far more likely to take a chance on your app.

Hiring a killer team. Growing your user base. Refining your product. Finding a north star. These are the building blocks of creating a successful travel start-up — all of which are now compromised by a historic pandemic.

But travel companies don’t have to suspend all operations. Rather, they should adapt nimbly to help define the new normal, all while doing their part to encourage social distancing.

One way is by leveraging apps. As a mobile product consultancy building sustainable innovation in design and technology, we’re seeing encouraging numbers from our own clients. Those are being validated by the market: During the first quarter of 2020, average weekly time spent on apps rose 20% when compared to the previous year, according to global data on Android phones collected by the analytics firm App Annie.

Downloads also increased — by 15% on iOS and 5% on Google Play — as consumers with extra time on their hands explored new ways to keep busy. People might be playing it safe when it comes to travel, but they’re far more likely to take a chance on your app.

All of this amounts to a defining moment for any travel company. Engaging users when they’re not traveling should be top of mind even after Covid-19. Those who see this moment as an opportunity will be the ones who survive — and thrive — when the sector recovers.

Research Consumer Behavior

The coronavirus is accelerating seismic shifts in habits and beliefs. Travel companies should use research to inform their direction.

The spike in app downloads is a good reason to focus on acquisition and retention. If your app has a paywall, consider removing it. If users are signing on mostly to request refunds, offer them not only their money back but also something extra: for instance, a digital credit that can be saved for future trips.

When asking forward-looking questions, look to your own data for guidance. Revisit your personas, and invest in user interviews to validate your assumptions and potentially retarget them. Consider Covid-19’s impact. When consumers are booking hotels in 2021, will they expect a virtual video tour of a property? Will they continue to prioritize safety and flexibility when it comes to reservations?

Pivot To New Features

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Travel companies tend to build apps centered around functionality. But social distancing means that efficiency is suddenly less important to consumers than emotional resonance. Apps who have the capital should pivot to invest in features that emphasize human connection.

Consider prioritizing content, or at least leveraging your user data to resurface relevant past content. Airbnb, for example, recently unveiled virtual travel experiences amid a drought of reservations. Consumers can take virtual bike tours, see comedy shows, and watch Korean makeup tutorials from locals around the world.

From a product standpoint, consider integrating new social experiences. Could your app prompt users to create bucket lists of places they want to go, and share them with loved ones? What about debuting a destination trivia game, or a contest for free tickets?

Optimize your Product

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Perhaps the most practical opportunity provided by the pandemic is time. Startups are leveraging the momentary ebb in growth to improve their app’s speed and reliability, all while reconsidering strategy.

As the CEO of Omio, a European booking start-up, told TechCrunch, Covid-19 is an “opportunity to really build scalability. All the underlying architecture, campaign structures, whatever data flows were not perfect before, product messaging, etc.”

Engineering talent is currently plentiful — and particularly effective at working remotely. Take this time to tackle tech debt. Revisit your user and data flows to ensure that the assumptions you made when you debuted are still relevant. Tailor your app’s search keywords to at-home use.

The Takeaway

Travel is an industry that revolves around connection and cultural exchange — values that will only become more important after the lockdown ends. Right now, it’s doing its part to weather the storm. But undoubtedly it can emerge stronger.

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