An Open Note to Indian Travel (App) Startups : “Better to Travel Well Than to Arrive”

“It is better to travel well than to arrive.” [Buddha]

During the last bigMobilityConf demo selection process, we came across a whole lot of travel startups. Not that it’s a new trend (we see a whole lot of travel startups also apply for UnPluggd launch stage), but we see a common thought process in these startups. That is of providing information, but very little actionable information.

Here is a trend I have observed:

green_travel_search.jpg

1. Most of the travel products (apps/startups) think of themselves as a front-end business. That is, the focus is NOT on data collection, but on data rendering.

There are different phases in travel – right from planning to execution; and most of the travel startups prefer to stay in planning phase.

2. The Focus on Social Travel : i.e. share your trip etc etc. Of course, the (assumed) social infrastructure is ONLY Facebook (and nothing else).

3. Information, Information and Static Information

There are quite a few good looking travel apps that provide you great information on ‘nearby places to visit around city <x>’. There is hardly any information on weather, road conditions etc etc.

That is, mostly static data which defeats the purpose of an app – they are better off staying on the web, get some SEO juice and figure out the phase 2 of the product.

What Travel (App) Startups Need to Answer:

1. Why App?

How will the app get discovered, given that travel is one of the top search keywords i

n Google. Do you expect people to go to app store and search for travel apps?

2. If it’s app, then do you expect users to retain the app? Why?

App consumption is all about finding a place in a user’s home screen. If you are not there, you are just not there.

Given that the app users is not thinking about travel all through the day, do you expect him/her to retain the app in the device (even when they are not thinking of any travel plans)? What’s your retention + engagement strategy, when the user is not really planning a travel?

3. Is Social = Facebook?

WhatsApp has certainly proved that social is beyond Facebook. Even traders have started using WhatsApp to exchange details with peers.

What does that mean? There is an intent-driven social network which is NOT on facebook. Same can apply to travel, if you make it work.

4. Are You Really Out There to Help a User Plan and Execute Travel?

Are you doing a travel app because you enjoyed writing that ‘Hello World’ program OR you want to do an app because you believe that the app/product will really help users plan (and execute) their travel.

If it’s the latter, then start collecting data which isn’t even available publicly. This is your IP. Static information is best suited for web1.0, but travelers need a lot more than that.

What’s useful data, if you ask me?

Here are some random ideas (during pre-planning stage):

1. Is the place kid-friendly?

2. Network connectivity?

3. Weather info? (there is an API for that).

4. Road conditions (and shortcuts)? Petrol bunks? Restaurants?

5. Of course, hotel bookings. Realistic pictures of hotel rooms (and not the photoshopped ones).

6. Last mile queries (vegetarian food, anyone?).

7. What kind of travel are people even looking for? Weekend/2 week vacation/work+leisure/adventure/relax only/etc.

Decides whether its one or multi location, destination or activity based, and hotel focused or region focused, experiential or traditional, right?

Tripadvisor and others have taken a SEO friendly approach to content – they want you to quickly finish off your planning (click on buy). But, traveler’s pain points span far beyond planning.

But a company like Trip38 has taken a very different approach to trip planning – the app kicks in only when you are done with the trip planning and are ready to visit the place.

If you are an app-only product, then understand who is helping you with the discovery (of your app)? Is it the travel agent? Is the agent going to promote your app to their customers (well, you take off the headache of answering ‘how is the weather there? how do I reach there?’. Are you competing with them? Or complimenting them?

Importantly, ask yourself if you are creating value in the food-chain or just playing your own beat? Value is not about ‘what you can do (i.e. build an app)’, but ‘what needs to get done’.

Think! Let’s go fish!

“It is better to travel well than to arrive.” [Buddha]

Whether you are building a mobile app or a webapp, keep the user and his/her needs at the center of your solution. Keep Traveling!!

Do Read : Travel needs Technology needs Real Travellers!