How to Build a Mobile Travel Application in 2020

12 minutes

Being in the travel business, or in any business really, there is a constant need for some kind of change based on the realities of today. For travel businesses, it is not a new thing – it has become essential. So, going mobile it is not something that can surprise your customers it is what they expect from you. And if customers expect something, they should get it. Here’s our tour guide to mobile travel app development.

In this article, you’ll learn…

Benefits of a travel app

Needless to say, most businesses today are going mobile, but why exactly should the travel industry follow suit? Here are some key benefits that come with the mobile travel app development for tourism:

  • Instantaneity. Mobile travel apps give people the opportunity to instantly access the available information without coming to the agencies or talking on the phone and explaining what it is that they want. Businesswise, automation of bookings, invoicing, billing, etc leads to saving time and efforts.
  • Excellent maintenance. Mobile technology lets businesses manage and maintain all the content on the mobile application and keep a track and record of clients’ interests and bookings in the most convenient way.
  • One-stop solution.That’s where travel application development shines. Travel planning becomes easier and faster as everything you need is provided to you in an app. Your clients can book tickets, hotels, sightseeing, rent cars, and even do travel-related shopping.
  • Customization. With today’s advanced technologies in travel, mobile app development is not an exception. People are used to everything being customized for their needs, and travel apps are no exception. Customization can be expressed in different tour packages for different purposes like corporate trips, fun, or a family holiday. Mobile apps can be designed to meet the needs of different groups within your target audience.
  • Convenient marketing tool. Mobile apps give you an amazing opportunity to interact with your audience and find out what they want from your services. Just enhance your application with social media buttons and you are up-to-date with your customer’s lifestyle and habits.
  • Brand recognition. By creating a mobile app for your travel business you give clients an opportunity to access your service while being on the go, at any time and in any place. This can increase brand recognition.

The most important features to build in travel applications

Travel app development

A question of how to build a travel app starts with what’s out there on the market. There are tons of different travel apps out there today with all kinds of interesting features. Let’s say that an app is a cookie jar, then features are the cookies of different flavors, which makes an app tastier and more appealing to users. Below you’ll find a list of most important and convenient features for a travel application.


Navigation and maps are essential for a travel app. Statistically, 52% of all mobile app users adopt one or other navigation app. Among the tourists, this benchmark jumps to 85%. So, a map is a base of your application, but if you want clients to use a map in your app and not to switch to a different navigation app, the travel map apps have to work offline. And the way to do it is to have a geolocation feature. It is no secret that it will affect the cost of developing a travel app, but users need this feature even in an MVP and beta-version.

Here are a few useful tools to consider when you create a travel app: Google Maps SDK for iOS and Android provides the app with the map itself; Google Places and Facebook Places APIs give access to an enormous database of services and sightseeing, etc.

Booking/buying services

A travel app is nothing without a booking or buying feature. Users expect a travel app to provide them with an ability to book hotels, restaurants, tickets, and sightseeing tours. Do not forget about transportation within the trip. Cabs are usually one of the most important parts of a trip. Whether you need a transfer from an airport to a hotel or to a certain tourist area. So a cab-booking service is a must-have.

This way app gives its users everything they might need for a trip with a few quick clicks. Among the apps for international travel are very popular booking services for tickets and accommodation. A user can find the best deals and set up notifications for price changes.

Travel planner

If you are going for a travel mobile app development, do it the right way! All the described tourism app features above can be used in a single app, but they have to be presented in a structured and lean way. Give your users an opportunity to view their trip from start to finish, from the flight to arriving at a hotel, exploring sights, and going home – a smart pocket guide. So users could have an opportunity to see the whole picture of their trips.

Reviews and recommendations

Do consider implementing customer feedback, review, and rating block into your travel mobile app. People want to be able to review places and share their experiences with others.

It can become a great foundation for building a trustworthy relationship and show that you care about your users and their travel experiences. Also, as usual, customer feedback gives you everything you need to know about the ways to improve a travel app.

Weather forecasting

Weather conditions always have a massive effect on the traveling plans. So a weather feature in a tourism app is a smart solution. A real-time climate forecast can let users book their trips without concern about the weather conditions or the need to leave your app for a different one to check the forecast.

Currency converter

When developing a travel mobile app or any app at all, you need to think from a user’s point of view. When traveling to a different country people want to know the currency exchange rates, and as always, we can’t let them leave your app, so a currency converter feature is quite important.


In the not so distant past, people traveled with vocabularies and phrasebooks, so they could understand the language around them. Now, the time has changed and mobile apps are here to give a hand. But, do not just implement a regular translator, try to think bigger, and keep up with modern technologies. You can use augmented reality, so users could translate everything around them in a second.

Payment gateways

Allowing a user to make mobile payments within your app is really important. To do that, you can integrate fast, easy, and trusted payment methods like Paypal, Paytm, Google Wallet, Apple Pay. It will help to decrease the number of abandoned transactions and engage customers who prefer to make the payments in their native language that leads to good user experience.

How to prioritize a travel app feature list

When prioritizing a travel mobile app, always take into consideration what your users expect from the app and what are their basic needs. For example a standard travel app user needs some sort of map and the ability to access it anytime anywhere, hence geolocation is a must. Booking services are the second most needed feature after maps, users need to be able to book a hotel room or a plane ticket. The other very important feature that is worth mentioning is payment gateways, letting users do the payment through your app to save their time.

Now, here’s the prioritized travel app feature list:

Travel app feature list prioritized

How to make a travel app

Now that we know why it is a good idea to create a mobile app for a travel agency and which features to implement in it, it is time to find out how to build a travel app. But before jumping into the development process, consider answering the following questions:

  • Which tourist app features are your users going to need?
  • What kind of app to go for: web, hybrid, or native app?
  • What is the main objective of your app?

After these are answered, we can move on to explore the world of travel app development. There are three core ways to make a travel app.

#1 From scratch

Developing a mobile application from scratch directly depends on your team’s programming, design, and marketing skills. Even with the use of available APIs and SDKs, you still need a team of high professionals. This method proves to be the most time-consuming. At a low cost, you’ll get complete freedom and control over the development process, but be ready for a big difference between your expectations and results.

travel application development from scratch

#2 App-building platforms

An easier way to develop a travel mobile app is to use available app-building platforms like These kinds of platforms provide you with ready templates and allow you to build your app much faster. It spares you from bothering much with UI, and coding for both mobile platforms and ease API integration aspects. This method is relatively better than doing it on your own, but it is still won’t be as good as the ones that are done by professionals.

travel application development on a platform

#3 Outsource

Last but not least is hire a high-quality team of professional app developers that can develop an app for you. It is the most optimal choice in terms of expenses and quality. Look at companies’ portfolios, their terms of work, their rates by asking a quote, talk to them to understand what they can offer, and what experience they’ve got developing similar software. Even though the price of a project can be a bit more, it is a good investment. You’ll get a more complex app with the functionality you dreamed of. Everything you had in mind can be implemented. Also, this way you’ll get your travel app as fast as possible.

travel mobile app development outsource

Travel app business model canvas

There is a great variety of travel mobile apps with different business models. Let’s map a white label travel app on a business model canvas.

Travel app business model

Travel app monetization

You might be wondering: how to monetize a travel app? Back in the early days, travel apps like Expedia and Priceline charged airlines a commission for offering tickets on their platforms. Later, when airlines started selling tickets directly from their own websites, they dragged their customers back and this revenue stream dried out. Most revenue comes from selling hotel reservations.

Today travel app monetization can be performed in three different ways: the agency model, the merchant model, and the advertising model.

Agency business model

So, here’s how the agency business model works. An OTA (Online Travel Agency) plays the part of a middleman between customers and industry operators, very much like in a multi-sided platform business pattern. It makes a commission on every transaction.

This is the way Expedia operates. Its commission rates range from 20 to 25 percent. Even though the price is high to pay, being shown on Expedia pages can increase some hotel’s occupancy. But going for this model can be fairly risky for a relatively new app. It’s probably better to start with a smaller commission, gain trust first, and only then consider going the same path as Expedia. Priceline sells hotel reservations primarily according to the agency model.

Merchant business model

The merchant business model, basically, makes an online travel agency a merchant of record. People book and pay for services like hotel rooms and flight right via the agency’s own mobile app. For this model to work, online agencies need to buy up quite a large number of hotel rooms at a wholesale rate. Then these rooms get marketed to users at the agency’s rate.

Expedia combines agency and merchant models but mostly relies on the latter one, which offers higher margins.

Advertising business model

The third model for the travel app monetization is advertising. For example, Priceline earns 0.3 percent of its revenue from advertising fees, which is a pretty small amount. On the other hand, TripAdvisor is driven by advertising.

Travel applications like Kayak and Hipmunk earn their revenue on flights and hotels by charging cost-per-click to OTA and supplier websites. So, they get paid to redirect customers to airline and hotel websites.

This model is the most affordable, so it can be a great match for a small travel agent who wants to make a travel app.

Also, there are a few additional ways to monetize travel apps, like in-built purchases and subscriptions. With in-built purchases, you can sell premium features or even your own traveling merchandise. Make your users subscribe and get invaluable traveling insights, tips, and life hacks via your app.

Find out more about different kinds of mobile app pricing models: How to Choose the Best Pricing Model for Your Mobile App – Tactics and Strategy


To sum up, travel apps are becoming essential for most of the tourists and travelers. If, you want to be closer to your target audience and stay relevant to technologies, going mobile in travel app development is a good decision.

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