Breffni Horgan, director of product at Hostelworld Group, explains the company's approach to mobile, and how it has made its app much more than just a booking platform.
As the world’s leading hostel booking platform, and with a core audience between the ages of 18 and 35, staying ahead of technological innovation has always been part of our DNA. We launched the first Hostelworld iPhone app eight years ago, in January 2010, back when few were considering developing apps for travel, and we haven’t looked back since.
From a mobile perspective, 2013 was a pivotal year for us. While we had invested in mobile products previously, we hadn’t gone for best-of-breed, instead opting for solutions that would help us build a single product to support both Android and iOS. But we came to a point that year where the cracks were starting to show, and it became harder to build products that performed and felt like a native experience. And as newer devices and larger screens became the norm, our mobile website couldn’t keep up.
I’ve been lucky to have worked with inspirational and supportive leaders at Hostelworld. They could see that falling behind the curve from a mobile perspective would be detrimental to the future of our business. Our customers are digital natives; they’ve grown up with access to mobile devices, and offering a best-in-class experience was mandatory for them. So, we hired a fully native iOS team and a native Android team, and began rebuilding the Hostelworld apps from the ground up. At the same time, we resourced our web development team to focus on rebuilding Hostelworld.com to be responsive.
Our initial app products were developed with a seamless booking flow in mind, and we now had access to wonderful native capability; from using the camera to scan a customer’s credit card for faster checkout to authenticating their Hostelworld account using their fingerprint.
The next step for us was to turn our attention to engagement and retention. We needed to ensure that if our customers gave us precious screen real estate on their phones, we would be deserving of it. To start the process, we thought about the in-trip experience in more detail and felt perfectly positioned to help enhance the customer’s travel experience. We knew where they were going, lots about the hostel they were staying at, and what a hosteller would seek out in terms of authentic experiences. To ensure we were building something people would use, we held many customer interviews. Here’s what we launched:
MyTrips was created to give customers another reason to use to the app before, during and after their trip by showing the local weather and providing them with a recommended list of the best places to see and eat based on travellers just like them. It was the first move to give our customers a reason to use the app for more than just booking a room.
Hostel Noticeboard enables our hostels to promote local events and activities taking place on a virtual noticeboard. Hostels are unique, authentic places to stay, so what better way to #MeetTheWorld than by attending events run by the hostel itself? On the Hostel Noticeboard you can find a wide variety of events – from pizza-making classes to pillow fight competitions. Customers receive time-based push notifications of the events relevant to where and when they are staying.
Tapping into the insight that people often stay in hostels to meet other people, and with over 60 per cent of our audience travelling solo, we knew there was an opportunity for the app to truly bring people together. Hostel Chat enables travellers who are staying in the same hostel to connect with each other through the app, chat in real time and make plans.
Speak The World
Hostel travellers are an open-minded, spontaneous and energetic bunch who want to immerse themselves in unknown cultures, not just observe them. So we launched Speak The World, an in-app, real-time translation feature that translates up to 43 different languages, enabling travellers to speak to someone they perhaps otherwise wouldn’t have. Speak The World has proved to be incredibly popular. In the first two weeks following launch, it sparked over 2m conversations!
As a result of our focus and investment, our mobile business has gone from strength to strength, with over 50 per cent of transactions coming from a mobile device in H1 2017. The year ahead will see us continue to innovate and differentiate our products, both mobile and beyond. New and emerging technology brings with it endless opportunity, and we are well positioned to use it to build compelling products for our customers and deliver mobile moments that matter.