Travel apps in particular face the challenge of irregular and unpredictable use, giving marketers a real head-scratching time when it comes to building user engagement, and mobile strategies can often resemble pie in the sky, rather than (groan) passengers in the sky.

It can be very easy to forget about an app if it’s not being used regularly, instead it’s just lying there in the fallow field of unused apps, nearly entirely useless and hoping that it’ll be opened one day soon…waiting…hoping. These apps are prime candidates for deletion to make more space for holiday snaps to bore colleagues with at the coffee machine.

The problem of laying dormant on a user’s device for months at a time isn’t necessarily as hard to overcome as you’d think, however. Here are a few tips to keep users engaged and thinking of you when the time comes.

Make Sure They Board Your App Safely

Onboarding is one of the most important parts of your mobile strategy. Explaining how to use and get the most out of your app in as few screens and with as little friction as possible is a fine art, and one that you must get right. If your user gets confused and frustrated during their first time in the app, they are likely to delete it and download a competitor’s instead. Don’t overwhelm them during their first session; instead continue to educate users in successive sessions, particularly if you know they haven’t used certain features - for example checking into a flight through the app.

The onboarding phase is also when you request permission from users to opt in for push notifications and location information. Being able to communicate with your users via push notifications is hugely powerful, and particularly so in travel as it is the number one way of reminding your users that your app exists! This should be one of your top priorities. You only really get one shot at asking them - so make sure you communicate the value they’ll receive by opting in, e.g. flight information updates, or special promotions. This step really is essential for unlocking future engagement and should be optimized by A/B testing to discover the most successful way of doing it.

“Hey there, it’s been a while since you’ve booked a holiday…you deserve one”

So you’ve got them on board safely and they’ve had a good look around - it’s now vital to really get to know who your users are, what stage they’re at, and what to say to them. This way you can build a strategy to keep them engaged long term.

Segmenting users based on their behaviour in your app enables you to send contextual and personalised messages that can drastically increase engagement and ultimately boost conversions and revenue. Send a push notification linking to those puzzlingly cheap flights to a party city they’ll need another holiday to recover from, or deliver an in-app message with some money off the super-cute boutique hotel you’ve noticed they’ve looked at 12 times today, and they know they still can’t really afford it, but heck, they’ll put the money back in their savings account next month - honest. After all, people always like a good deal.

And don’t forget them once they’ve caved-in to your subtle hints, taken the last of their holiday days from work, and embarked on one desperate (but successful!) last ditched attempt to find their passport. After the hoo-ha has calmed down, start it all over again, suggesting a location or activity that is similar to their previous booking(s).

Be a Helpful Travel Companion

Travelling can be quite lonely, stressful, and let’s face it, somebody is going to forget something aren’t they? This gives your app an opportunity to help out, so bear in mind that your app can be a service channel as well, rather than just a sales and marketing channel

Have you checked in? Have you booked a hotel? Sorry, the gate has changed, just checking you know this? Can we help you book a taxi at your destination? Have you packed enough socks for the week? Don’t forget to get your mother that expensive anti-aging cream in duty free. Ok, some of these are more realistic than others, but you get the idea - your app should be about more than just booking; it should be a valuable travel companion. This will give users more of a reason to spend more time in your app, and less of a reason to delete it. Building this kind of relationship can only increase brand loyalty, which is hugely important in the travel industry - particularly for airlines. And anything that makes travel that little bit more enjoyable can only be a good thing.

And since your app has been so helpful, and your user has had such a great trip, you may as well ask them to rate the app, which is essential for app store rankings, or get them to fill in in a quick customer satisfaction survey. Geo-location technology can trigger push notifications linking to a survey as soon as a plane has landed - completion rates are far, far higher on mobile than email or other more traditional methods because of this.

In short, it’s important to create a great mobile user experience for your users, as this transfers itself to their overall travel experience. Becoming a part of this, with an easy to use and helpful app, will set you on your way to increasing engagement and ensuring that you won’t become one of those dusty, forgotten apps.