Mobile Technology Enriching Digital Travel Experience
By Michael Kubasik, Executive Vice President & CIO, Travel And Transport
Like all good innovation, our mobile journey started eight years ago in a gastropub, with wire frames drawn on a napkin and the idea to enhance the travel experience through an app. We built on this initial idea, constructed in that dim-lit pub, to set an initial scope for our mobile plan: to create a strategy to digitize our traveller itineraries. Remember the piece of paper you carried around to see all the details of your trip? We wanted to eliminate that.
In addition to digitizing the itinerary process, the ultimate goal was to create an exceptional mobile product, where we travel with you, wherever you’re going. At that time, mobile apps were still new. Our original product was built-in native mobile language to support Blackberry, Windows, IOS and Android. As you can imagine, we had challenges along the way, such as understanding the user experience for each type of device, creating seamless app flow based on ‘how’ the traveller uses the app and even if we needed to support diminishing technology. However, even with these challenges, we invested in this development process because it gave us the flexibility to listen to our client’s needs and make feature and functional developments as needed.
To transform our business and make an impact on our industry, we needed to ensure the user experience and user interface were appealing, easy to use, had simple navigation and offered added value to the traveller. We utilized one of our partners, a leading research and consulting company, to help conduct user studies and surveys. We picked 100 travellers of various types (road warrior, novices, etc.) and observed them using and working within the app to understand the user experience and what our travellers really wanted and needed. The UX/UI was as vitally important as the feature set—70+ percent of an app’s success is attributed to UX/UI. Much of the feedback from the study relayed the app “gives a traveller everything they need, without all ‘the junk’ that’s not needed and gets in the way.”
In addition to digitizing the itinerary process, the ultimate goal was to create an exceptional mobile product, where we travel with you, wherever you’re going
After our first research, initial development and extensive beta-testing, we launched our enhanced 3.0 app in 2016 that featured updated UI/UX and still provided the basics of our app; itinerary information, web check-in and seating information. With mobile being relatively new at the time, many wondered why we made the decision to build our own product versus utilizing a third party. We felt our competitive edge existed in our ability to change as our industry changed, and just as quickly. For example, we can now add and develop proprietary features to enhance our app pro-actively, before our travellers know they want such a feature. Our Click to Call Agent and delay/cancellation notifications are huge successes with our users. Timely updates area value add to the traveller, which only builds upon our vision of travelling with you.
This vision carries over to all aspects of a trip, not just reservations and itineraries. Via API integrations, we are able to work with key partners like Hilton and Flight Stats to provide all trip details within the app. Through deep linking, users can pick a room at a Hilton, check in and download their room key—no more waiting in line at a counter. We want our app to be indispensable throughout all stages of the trip—not just the parts spent travelling. With features such as language dictionaries, phrasebooks and tip calculators, our goal is to be there for the traveller and whatever curveballs their trip might throw at them.
Today, our product focus is past the digitization phase and has moved on to create a mobile tool that is predictive and contextual, sending key alerts to the traveller and offering the tools they need while en route. Part of this focus is to continue enhancing our global capabilities such as supporting multiple booking solutions for air, car, rail and hotel, all in one location.
Another core piece of our vision is growing app-to-app interfaces. The average traveller could download and manage hundreds, if not thousands, of different traveller apps. We want a one-stop process—a one-stop travel app. By continuing to partner with other travel vendors, we hope to be the traveller’s only app needed for a successful and stress-free travel experience.
Today, the product is available via a new cross-functional, code-based platform called Xamarin. To keep our innovation moving, we utilize focus groups and internal stakeholders to enhance our product and create a roadmap for future development. Looking into the future, we are evaluating new emerging technologies like chat bots and artificial intelligence to take our product to the next step and continue its evolution.
Eight years ago, we started with a drawing on a napkin and the goal to bring our travellers a mobile solution. We’ve kept that innovative spirit at the forefront of our efforts by bringing superior enhancements to our app. We created an agile process through stakeholder groups to ensure key features would be in place for the end user. While the technology will change, we believe mobile is one of the key strategic initiatives for us and will drive continued success for our company.