Travel apps use smart techniques to retain users

The space on our phone screens is precious. If an app isn’t being used, most of us have no problem with hitting ‘delete’, and for the businesses behind those apps that simple action can be disastrous. For all the money spent on acquiring a user (some reports suggest $4.12 per install), there’s a 25% chance that they’ll disappear or uninstall completely. With each install costing so much, it becomes ever more important to work as hard as possible to keep those users in the app and maximize revenue per user. Failure to do so means negative ROI on those acquisition costs and trouble down the line.

Travel businesses face a particular challenge when it comes to engagement: purchases in this industry are less frequent but of high value, so it’s vital that businesses make it as easy and appealing as possible for users to complete transactions and build a repeat purchase pattern. Travel advertisers see conversion rates of just 11% on desktop, and only 4% on mobile web - but, in contrast, they see a conversion rate of 23% on apps. With app engagement boosting both purchase completion and loyalty, it makes sense to motivate as many people as possible to not only download but also to continue to use the app. I took a look at some of the leading travel apps on the market, and below share four smart ways that travel booking apps are doing this.

screenshots of travel apps show simple UX

1. The convenience factor

One of the biggest advantages of apps, for any vertical, is their convenience. Users go to apps as the shortcut to getting a job done. Good travel apps make complicated purchases feel easy and they take advantages of the unique possibilities of mobile. The Hostelworld app, for example, made filtering my search criteria simple with graphic buttons and sliders rather than endless drop down menus and fields to fill in. That’s a great example of a ‘native mobile’ experience - as opposed to the default approach of ‘shrinking the desktop’.

Focusing on reservation rather than search, Booking.com reminded me with a pop up that I could reserve without even having to pay - a small thing that can make a big difference. Many apps let you search travel options before having the hassle of creating an account, reducing the likelihood that users will churn straight away by allowing them time to find what they want, before confronting them with a sign up page when it comes to booking.

Screenshot of travel apps showing social sharing

2. Make it shareable

Because what’s the point in travelling if you can’t show off about it on social media? If customers have to exit the app to share a photo or idea with their friends, they’re more likely to get distracted and not return. Including social sharing buttons is one way to avoid this, but the Booking.com and Skyscanner apps have gone above and beyond by detecting when you take a screenshot and automatically giving you the option to share what you’re looking at directly to your messaging apps. Skyscanner even gave me the option to customize the image before I sent it (although as you can see from the screenshot above, my drawing skills aren’t up to much), with a handy overlay explaining the feature.

As well as the benefits associated with keeping users in the app, by making it easy for users to send suggestions on to their travel companions speeds up the to-and-fro of travel arrangements, meaning that decisions (and therefore purchases) are more likely to be made. Lastly, it also gives the brand more exposure, as people share their finds and effectively become brand advocates on social media.

Screenshot showing travel app with permissions

3. Secure Opt-Ins To Support Communication Outside The App

No two trips are the same - the combination of each traveller’s dates, destination, budget and preferences result in completely unique experiences. When it comes to spending money on something that is so personalized, we expect our booking process to be personalized too, and apps are able to deliver these experiences in ways that websites simply can’t. Whilst both platforms can save past searches and allow you to bookmark your favourites, where apps come into their own is with the features that result from mobile devices being in your back pocket, rather than sat on your desk.

Location tracking means that apps can suggest places to book that are nearby, and push notifications allow them to get in touch with discounts and alerts that you’ll want to know about. Skyscanner and TripAdvisor both explain this clearly in their permission requests, making it more likely that users will agree to give them this access. This approach can make a huge difference - we’ve seen customers enjoy increases of over 45% in the number of app users signing up for push notifications thanks to smart, informative opt-in requests.

Screenshots of discounts given travel apps

4. Build loyalty with exclusive offers

There are few more direct ways to encourage an action than by incentivizing it with cold hard cash. On opening for the first time, Hotels.com showed me an in-app message giving ‘secret prices’ if I book through the app, as well as immediately signing me up to a loyalty program that gives a free hotel night as a reward after paying for ten. Similarly, Booking.com encourages users to not just use the app but to create an account on it, offering member-only deals to those who sign up.

These discounts are designed to keep customers using the app as their primary form of interaction with the brand, preventing them from drifting back to the internet where they could be enticed by other companies instead. Partly, that’s because they’re giving customers a good deal, but it’s also because they build a sense of exclusivity. If users feel like they’re being treated as a valued customer when they’re in the app, that’s a positive experience that they’ll want to return to.