But first, cookies

We use cookies to improve your experience and for marketing.
Learn more in our cookie policy. Website Data Collection Policy

Ben Stephenson leads the panel at WTM London

Ben Stephenson leads the panel at WTM London

Ben Stephenson leads the panel at WTM London

Ben Stephenson leads the panel at WTM London

November 24, 2022 - 5 min read

Envisioning Travel’s Super App: Part 1 - Where will it be born?

Ben Stephenson

Co-founder and CEO

  • Fresh from the technology stage at WTM London, and in the first of a three-part series, Impala co-founder and CEO Ben Stephenson examines his panel’s views on how Super Apps are shaping the future of the travel industry.

We’re all hearing a lot about Super Apps. If you believe the hype, they’ll do everything from change the way you buy a loaf of bread, to turn traditional banking on its head. And let me tell you, when it comes to how they’ll impact travel, there’s no shortage of hyperbole either.

Now, there’s no doubt that a lot of the dominant apps that have emerged in the last few years are eyeing moves into travel. In fact, we can be certain of it, because we’ve spoken to some of them. But just because they’re doing stuff, that doesn’t mean it’ll be successful. Amazon has entered the travel battlefield only to retreat. If this eCommerce giant can’t make it work, who’s to say the likes of Revolut or Klarna could?

Meet the experts
Left to right: Ben Stephenson, Tara Reeves, John Boulding, Jambu Palaniappan, Alex Barros

Left to right: Ben Stephenson, Tara Reeves, John Boulding, Jambu Palaniappan, Alex Barros

Left to right: Ben Stephenson, Tara Reeves, John Boulding, Jambu Palaniappan, Alex Barros

Left to right: Ben Stephenson, Tara Reeves, John Boulding, Jambu Palaniappan, Alex Barros

Well, if anyone can predict the future, it’s the panel I had the pleasure of moderating at WTM London 2022. We were tackling the question of “Super Apps: it’s all about UI”, and had an all-encompassing conversation on the technology stage about how this trend might impact travel. The group had very broad and absolutely fascinating perspectives to share, so I’ll be recapping our chat over the course of three blog posts: this first one looking at where the travel Super App could come from, the second examining what it might look like, and the last predicting how it might impact the travel industry at large.

But first - the panel. I was joined by 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. Collectively, the panel spans everything from deep travel industry knowledge, to a very broad understanding of the global trends impacting consumer behaviour, and how they’re influencing the startup ecosystem.

Travel insider or outsider?
An Uber Eats bicycle rider

Jambu's experience at Uber Eats showed that building on top of existing high density and high usage platforms is "relatively easy"

An Uber Eats bicycle rider

Jambu's experience at Uber Eats showed that building on top of existing high density and high usage platforms is "relatively easy"

The first question to consider is where a Super App that disrupts travel could come from, and the panel had a lot to say on this topic. First, let’s consider which sector could produce a Super App. Jambu, with experience earlier in his career holding senior roles at Uber Eats during its meteoric growth, talked about the question of whether the travel app would likely come from within or beyond the industry.

“At Uber, building on top of our existing platform was relatively easy. We had high density and frequency of usage, meaning regular traffic from users concentrated in small geographical areas. But travel is the opposite: the audience for an airline or hotel is inherently dispersed, and frequency of usage for most customers is low.”

“There is a huge opportunity for a player to become the de facto travel app, but it’s going to be very difficult to achieve.” I think this argument holds water: it’s fundamentally much easier for an app that people interact with every day (for example, as part of their commute, to manage their money, or to contact their friends) can expand into fulfilling tasks that users complete less frequently.

East or west?

Asia is leading the way, with players like Grab, Wechat and Alipay emerging fast

Where in the world will a Super App that disrupts travel come from? Asia is leading the way, with players like Grab, Wechat and Alipay emerging fast. And Hong Kong-based Klook is attracting big investment to create a travel-specific product. Why is this part of the world ahead of the curve?

Tara sits on the board of an Indonesian insurance company, and she shared a few insights: “Their technology is architected around partnership, whereas in western markets, our tech stacks are often closed by default. Of course, different data protection regulations make this easier in Asia, but this general approach to technology reveals a more partnership-led approach to doing business.”

It’s hard to disagree with these macro-level perspectives. But when talking about the best place to develop a travel Super App, Alex’s view was clear: do it in Spain. “Spain’s travel infrastructure is highly developed, there’s great talent available, but the market isn’t so consolidated that it’s impossible to break into.”

So here’s what’s clear: across the world, from all sorts of different sectors, a huge range of people are trying to crack building some kind of travel Super App. Everything from government regulations, access to talent, the whims of each market and the state of legacy technology will influence who’s likely to succeed - if anyone does at all. But there are two likely outcomes: the “all travel in one place” product, and travel as an ancillary service in an app from another sector. So in part 2, we’ll take a closer look at what these apps could look like.

The future is open

Discover the new travel industry that's emerging as its technology is reimagined

Room Sellers
Hotels

In distribution tech, we need to walk before we run

Impala’s co-founder Charlie Cowley reflects on why blockchain, metaverse and web3 trends might need to wait their turn in hotel distribution

Ben Stephenson on stage at the Travolution Start-Up Summit
Inside Impala

Travel needs innovators. Here’s our CEO’s advice to help them.

From finding investors to how to think about your competitors, get Ben Stephenson’s perspective on starting a travel business - and succeeding - as shared on stage at the 2022 Travolution Start-Up Summit.

question marks and speech bubble
Room Sellers

Infrequently asked questions: OTAs, it’s time to rethink how you evaluate supply partners

Here’s our guide to the most common questions we hear, and what we’d suggest asking instead to make sure you're getting the most from Open Distribution.