Envisioning Travel’s Super App: Part 2 - What will it look like?
- In the second of a three-part series, Impala co-founder and CEO Ben Stephenson looks at what travel’s much-anticipated Super App could look like - examining the insights of a panel he hosted at WTM London 2022.
I recently had the pleasure of hosting a discussion at WTM London 2022. The topic, “Super Apps: it’s all about UI”, offered a lot of ground to explore. And I couldn’t have hoped for a better-qualified panel to shine some light on the topic: Tara Reeves, Managing Director at Eurazeo Ventures, Jambu Palaniappan, Managing Partner at OMERS Ventures, John Boulding who’s CMO at Vox, and Alex Barros who’s Chief Marketing and Innovation Officer at Beonprice.
A few weeks ago, I recapped their thoughts on where travel’s Super App could come from, looking at everything from the legislative and commercial environments that could give rise to one, to the products in other sectors that might hope to expand onto travel’s turf. So if you haven’t read it yet, start there.
But spoiler alert: if someone cracks the market, it’s likely to go one of two ways. Either the “all travel in one place” product (so Hopper goes huge’), or “travel as an ancillary service” in an app from another sector (so ‘Uber does hotels, flights and everything else’). That’s why today, I want to take a look at what these apps could look like - and what might influence the shape they take.
Travel-makers vs troublemakers
Super Apps are a delicate topic, because their arrival could herald significant disruption to well-established travel businesses and commercial models. But I’d bet that if most of us could choose between a new or existing travel-first product expanding to become all-encompassing, or someone coming in from outside, we’d pick the home-grown option. We all want someone who understands the complexity of our space, respects the challenges of each individual part (lodging, transport, experiences etc), and earns our pride in the sector’s talent being able to create a breakout success.
It’s attractive to imagine a fully-fledged product, that includes everything from booking transportation, to selecting somewhere to stay, to exploring a city in one single app - a mega-hub that makes piecing together and enjoying your trip easy. And I think John from Vox explains the status quo well: “Players from outside travel have come at it from a specific angle. The fintechs and taxi companies are missing the ability to deliver a true experience on the ground. I’m sure that they can develop this capability, but it’s missing right now.”
Equally, I’ve seen some attempts to create apps that cater deeply for specific trip types - business or pleasure, beach or city break. Jambu’s experience echoes that “we’ve started to see some people reorient around the experience, rather than the commerce. Especially in niche sectors like winter sports and golf, but there are big challenges to overcome.” Of course, there’s a discussion to be had about whether this really counts as a true “Super App”.
For years, Expedia and Booking have been racing to offer all of the trip components a traveller needs. I won’t repeat the word that some panellists used to refer to their efforts, but it’s fair to say they have some way to go. That’s because fundamentally, travel’s infrastructure is a mess, so bringing together multiple elements to offer a smooth booking journey remains an unsurmounted peak. If travel is to succeed at building its own Super App, we’ll need to overcome this infrastructure and collaboration problem together.
Beware of strangers
So what would the alternative be? Well, Uber has given us a glimpse with its recent Omio tie-up: an app that people use for other things - from ordering pizza to renting a scooter - takes on additional features, like booking a rail journey or a hotel. In considering whether this could work, I can think of a few barriers that newcomers will need to clear - things like building a competitive inventory.
And according to Jambu, “it starts with trust. The question is whether people will come to trust apps to do the same things they currently do with Booking and Expedia.” Tara thinks it’s possible: “it’s easier to start by building a product people use every day, and many people don’t book travel for leisure more than once a year.”
Some parts of travel, like lodging, can offer relatively good margins. So it makes sense that Super Apps are attracted to the sector. But the risk is that rather than meaningfully reshape the consumer experience, Super Apps from other sectors simply absorb inventory that’s widely available from distributors, offer it at more or less the same price, and hope that they have earned enough trust and offer enough convenience that they’ll start stealing bookings from elsewhere. After all, who likes typing in their credit card details? Price, trust and all other things being equal, you’d pick the retailer that’s already stored your payment information.
If I had to bet, the next big disruption to how travel is sold will come from TikTok
Chief Marketing and Innovation Officer, Beonprice
The one thing that could change the experience is taking a content-led approach. Alex cites an example: “I was at a travel startup competition recently, and seven of the 10 participants were using content as an entry point to selling. If I had to bet, the next big disruption to how travel is sold will come from TikTok or another content platform.” This seems plausible, but things will need to change for this to become truly viable. For starters, content platforms will need to build trust, competitive pricing - and most importantly, find out how to show users a product when they want to buy it - not when they want to be distracted by pictures of it.
Everything looks the same
If the booking process, pricing and inventory is much the same, it’ll be harder to tear people away from their existing loyalties to travel companies
With deep enough pockets, building a Booking.com-like booking experience into products from outside travel is not hugely complex. And it’s helpful for consumers: they can manage a lot of their life in one place. But it’s also not that exciting: if the booking process, pricing and inventory is much the same, it’ll be harder to tear people away from their existing loyalties to travel companies. Is an app with an interface that sells the same product you can buy elsewhere really a Super App?
Delivering a richer experience, be it content-led or some kind of “all-your-trip-in-one-place” solution, could be a lot more disruptive. But a lot of work needs to happen on travel’s plumbing to make it possible.
And that’s why we’re currently seeing a bunch of different efforts, and some combination of consumer behaviour and commercial factors will decide who comes out on top - or whether nothing really changes. So with a future that’s so hard to predict, how can travel business leaders make sure they’re ready? That’s what we’ll look at in part 3.
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