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Hostelworld’s new iPad app reflects shift from hybrid to native

Budget travel site Hostelworld has released a new native application for the iPad which recognizes the importance that mobile plays for its customers in extending booking to tablets.

Version 2.0 of the Hostelworld iPad app takes a customer-centric approach to design and was created with an intuitive and seamless user experience. With previous user behavior, customer reviews and feedback revealing that value and choice play a pivotal role for customers when it comes to making the decision to book, Hostelworld attempted to reflect this in the design.

“We have used hybrid technology for our iPhone and Android apps for the past few years, but we felt we had pushed these to the limit of what they could do both functionally and from a user experience perspective,” said Breffni Horgan, head of mobile at Hostelworld.

“With the growth in mobile we decided to recruit dedicated teams for each platform, one for iOS and one for Android. This enables us to create best in class apps built by people who really understand, and are passionate about, these platforms.

“Going native also builds a foundation for the future; when new features come out it’s easier to take advantage of these. Much of this development is still in progress but we expect to finish out 2014 with all new native apps across both iOS & Android,” she said.

Back to basics
Mobile continues to be a vital new frontier for most travel companies, with PhoCusWright forecasting $25.8 billion just for U.S. mobile travel bookings in 2014. Smartphones and tablets are on track to capture nearly one in five travel dollars. Travel companies would obviously be remiss to ignore the growth potential in mobile.

Hostelworld for iPad has tons of new features previously unavailable in its mobile apps. Customers can now review from within the app, save cards for faster checkout and connect instantly with persistent login. Included features that are unique to mobile include a current location search that will map customers from where they are right to their chosen hostel. And any booking made on iPad can be added to the native calendar, populating the check-in date and time for a handy reminder while on the move.

Filtering options from the more than 30,000 properties are also accessible right in-app, allowing users to find their perfect hostel in an instant, whether they are familiar with a city or not, highlighted by maps and sort central to the design.

“There were so many benefits when we looked at the technology of developing a native app,” Ms. Horgan said. “It wasn’t just about getting something to market quickly, it was about creating a unique experience that would bring customers back for more, and the native experience really lets us do that.”

Following suit, Hostelworld added subtle elements to the app which contribute to this. One such feature is parallax on the imagery so that when the user scrolls the photos glide transparently in the background. Pull to refresh animations and neat sliding of menus and dialogs all serve to enhance the customer journey.


The app will be made available in 10 languages over the coming weeks.

Travel fragmentation
The popularity of mobile apps has attracted new entrants to the travel landscape.

Apple’s App Store and Google Play are swarming with thousands of travel app options for consumers. While mobile offers the promise of ease and convenience, travel fragmentation (many suppliers, many intermediaries, and many apps) continues to plague the travel experience and crowd smartphones. Hyper-competition in the travel industry has led companies to focus on branding and increasing customer loyalty.

Driving traffic and customers to branded websites is key to establishing a sustainable business model. Thus, travel companies have applied this philosophy to their mobile strategies. As travel companies develop mobile optimized sites and native mobile apps as extensions of their existing web apps, travelers are becoming inundated with mobile travel options. While trusted brands and loyalty rewards are appealing, the potential ease and convenience of mobile travel is eroded.

Function-focused apps that allow travelers to check-in to any hotel or any flight would provide a better mobile experience for users. While the branded route makes sense for big brands to ensure a quality user experience and achieve corporate goals, it may not be the ideal experience for travelers. The big travel brands are not the only guilty ones. There is also a long tail of smaller brands developing niche apps in the travel space.

Airports, city travel guides, theme parks, and other travel companies have developed their own niche apps. This long tail exacerbates the problem. For example, when planning a family trip to Orlando, travelers shouldn’t have to download separate apps for their departure airport, the Orlando International Airport, their hotel in Orlando, Universal Orlando, Disney World, and other major attractions. Online travel bookers may be accustomed to visiting multiple sites before booking. However, regardless of where mobile content is consumed (at home or on-the-go), this comparison-shopping behavior is more challenging on mobile devices.

Horizontal, function-focused apps may be on the horizon. Moreover, developments, such as Passbook and mobile wallets, may be well positioned to provide the ease and convenience travelers need on mobile.

“Our first iPhone app, which launched in January 2010, was developed with a partner. At the time it was a fast route to market and helped us to understand what our customers wanted from an app,” Ms. Horgan said.

“Given the strategic nature of mobile for our business we decided by 2011 that it was suited to being developed in house as it gave us better control and flexibility. It also had the benefit of growing our mobile expertise organically from within the organisation which ultimately provided the best mobile solutions for our customers.”

“Many businesses take a responsive design approach to iPad which provides a perfectly good option but we think the native app experience provides a greater opportunity to engage and retain customers. If people are willing to give the Hostelworld brand a place on the home screen of their device then we should relish the opportunity to be there,” she said.

“This new app is the first of a series of launches that we are planning and we excited about our future in mobile.”

Final Take
Michelle is editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York