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Travel Apps on the iPhone Soar

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November 01, 2009
Mobile Marketing
Joe Buhler

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© 2009 Hospitality Upgrade. No reproduction without written permission.

For many years, mobile had been proclaimed as the next big thing for travel–but for a number of reasons, the predicted breakthrough never quite happened. A too-small screen, disappointing Web browsing, limited application availability, complicated navigation and expensive data plans have been cited as the reasons for this lack of broad-based customer adoption in the past. With the introduction of smartphones, many of these limitations were eliminated (except for the expensive global data plans). The most far-reaching effect, however, can be attributed to the iPhone™ and the improved overall user experience it offers.

At the beginning of May 2009, Apple’s App Store listed over 2,000 travel apps–about 5.4 percent of all apps–and ranked travel as the fifth largest category (behind games, entertainment, books and education). When adding some travel-related apps listed in other categories such as weather, reference or utilities, travel ranked in fourth place. The iPhone has had a significant impact not only on the mobile experience in general, but also on the travel experience on the small screen in particular. Its impact is felt worldwide –iPhone is now available in 81 countries, including the emerging BRIC markets.

While many smartphones offer Web browsing, a map application and GPS and camera functionality, the iPhone boasts a number of features that differentiate it from the competition–and make it an ideal place to start for travel companies wishing to enter the mobile space. In addition to iPhone’s user-friendly interface, easy application downloading and simple updating, it offers a multitouch interface, accelerometer, real-time 3D graphics and 3D positional audio, many of which can come in handy during multiple phases of trip planning. Right now the iPhone and other smartphones are largely relegated to the in-trip and post-trip phases of the travel planning process. That’s because the research and pre-trip phases are more involved and usually require multiple site visits and data collection, neither of which can easily be done on a mobile device.

According to PhoCusWright’s Mobile: The Next Platform for Travel, navigation assistance is the mobile device service that most U.S. leisure travelers use regularly (37 percent) and also the one that most travelers would like to use (55 percent). The iPhone’s native map application makes this functionality easily available, and its map and GPS integrates with most location-aware travel applications, including Hotels.com, Yelp and OpenTable.

As the space evolves, travel providers are likely to focus primarily on booking and re-booking of air. According to the PhoCusWright mobile study, 40 percent of survey respondents are interested in having air booking capability on their mobile devices. The most interesting new developments, however, will most likely be in location-, time- and context-sensitive solutions for in-trip use. Some early entrants in this local services arena include OpenTable, TripAdvisor’s Local Picks, Yelp and Urbanspoon (recently acquired by IAC). The last three offer not only listings but also social networking integration with instant review, information and photo-sharing features.

Additionally, a number of intermediaries (e.g., TripIt, Travelocity, Kayak, Hotels.com, AAA) and suppliers (e.g., Choice Hotels, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, British Airways) have introduced iPhone apps, and several destination marketing organizations have also put their hats in the ring, including Visit Holland, Tourism Queensland and Switzerland Tourism. Many more will soon follow.

The following are several useful iPhone apps currently in the travel space:

AAA Discounts
As the name implies, this app lets the user find discounted services by category: shopping, dining, lodging, entertainment, health, automotive, travel and services. A search filter is available to select or deselect the categories. The results are presented by distance from the user’s present location in a list indicating the percent discount offered to AAA members and the establishments’ locations on a map. Point-to-point directions are offered, as is a route map. For AAA members accessing roadside assistance, the app automatically sends the exact location for quicker service to the call center. Non-members can also use roadside assistance, but service is not guaranteed and the user must pay the cost of services immediately to the provider.

Simultravel GPS
Upon launch, the Simultravel app determines the user’s present location and presents a list of hotels and prices. Clicking a button then shows a map view of the listed properties (using an integrated map app). Clicking on an individual hotel on the map opens a bar with the name and the rate. From here, the user can view hotel details, including a photo, the address and availability for that day with rate. A map button opens the iPhone map app. Hotel reviews can be accessed from there and are linked to the property page on the Simultravel Web site, where users can book online. At the top of the hotel detail page is a bar that can be tapped to book the hotel by phone. The home page also has a button to select a location manually. The hotel offerings are powered by Priceline Partner Network.

This app is by iLoveInns.com, the site of American Historic Inns, Inc., which has printed a guide to country inns and bed and breakfasts since 1981. The home page has tabs for featured B&Bs, B&Bs nearby, search by city, ZIP, state or province and a recipe folder with a huge database of recipes categorized alphabetically, from appetizers to wild game. Each recipe is provided by a member property. Clicking the concierge tab shows tabs for bookmarked inns, gift certificate information and about. In the list of bookmarked inns, there are tabs to view ratings, number of reviews, location and distance, as well as information about whether the property participates in the gift certificate or free night programs. The inn details page shows a photo and the address and gives a detailed property description. It also features call, map, e-mail, Web site and pictures buttons, and includes a link to access and write reviews. Another button allows the property to be bookmarked for future easy access in the concierge section.

Yelp is a well-known app that lets users find a wide range of services near their present location and fully integrates user reviews. These reviews can be narrowed down to those made by friends in a personal network. Categories include restaurants, bars, coffee and tea, banks, gas and service stations, drugstores and many more, including Local Flavor, an eclectic range of items from farmers markets to famous prisons. The lists can be filtered by distance, price, business hours and neighborhoods. In addition to reviews, each establishment has a detailed page with a photo, address and phone number. Directions can be accessed via a link to the map app, and users can add a quick tip, a photo of the establishment if one is not already available, and a full review. Each listing can be bookmarked, and recently viewed items are accessible via a home page button. There is also a feed with the latest reviews of services near the user’s present location.

Taxi Magic
Taxi Magic connects the iPhone GPS location feature with available taxi or limousine companies. Users can connect directly to companies in 25 major cities through the app’s Magic Connect service, which allows for payment by credit card. The card data and recent locations can be stored on the site for future use. Once a reservation is made, the app sends live updates while the car is on the way to pick up the customer. The average hourly rate and maximum time until the car arrives are indicated on the listing screen prior to making the reservation. In addition, tap-to-call companies and their phone numbers are listed in over 4,000 cities, allowing users to just call the respective company.

Joseph Buhler is the senior destination marketing and social media analyst for PhoCusWright. He focuses on social media innovations and the latest Web technology developments and how they impact the way travel services are researched and purchased, the resulting effect on intermediaries and suppliers, including destination marketing organizations (DMOs) and how they can best formulate and hone their success strategies using the insight and analysis that PhoCusWright provides.

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