The Full Guide to Travel App Development: Revenue Models, Features, Cost
When it comes to planning a trip, travelers rely on their mobiles more than ever. According to, 80% of travelers used a mobile app to research trips in 2018.
So travel app development is a perspective niche to bring investments in. But if you want to build a big-time travel app, you need to carefully choose the business model, features, and decide on the budget.
In this guide, we’re sorting out travel mobile app development – from how they work to how to make a successful travel app. And how much it’s going to cost you.
Let’s get started.
How Travel Apps Work
Agencies create travel apps for much more than listing hotels and restaurants. Still, providing useful and engaging travel content remains their best lead generation channel.
The content travel companies rely on often includes:
- travel guides
- reviews and ratings from travelers
- exclusive tours
By developing a travel app, companies offer a more convenient tool to search for tickets and check their cost, rent cars, and so on.
Same with accommodation search and booking. With extensive filtering options, reviews system, and other travel app features, users won’t spend tons of time choosing the right place.
Industry giants like Expedia and TripAdvisor allow doing all that from a single app.
Finally, some platforms work with upsales – they make custom propositions to clients, according to their preferences. Like offering specific tours, insurances, and additional services.
How Travel Apps Make Money
Next, we’re finding out what keeps travel apps like Expedia, TripAdvisor, Booking.com afloat.
There are three revenue models for tourism app development:
- merchant model (Expedia)
- commission fees (Booking.com)
- advertising (TripAdvisor)
Expedia makes most of its profit following the merchant model. Their gross bookings increased toin the second quarter of 2019.
Here’s how it works: the platform buys hotel rooms and then resells them to guests. As Expedia rents rooms in bulk, hotels can offer the cheapest deals to its customers.
Besides, merchants bundles often extend to airfares, car rentals, and other services.
Expedia buys 100 rooms at $50 per night instead of $90 (the best available rate). Customers are happy as they get rooms cheaper than the hotel initially offers, hosts – because of the number of rooms booked and the income.
Small hotels don't have advertising budgets as huge chains do. This means their best chance to attract travelers is to get listed on large resources like Booking.com.
In turn, companies that created travel apps may set commission rates from each transaction. For instance, Booking.com charges from 10% to 30% of each booking made.
Want to repeat Booking.com’s success? Check how in ' How to Create a Hotel Booking App' guide.
Booking.com sets the rate at $100 and, if sold, the guest pays, $100 but the hotel gets only $75. The remaining $25 goes to the platform as the commission fee for customer service, marketing, and so on.
The advertising model is the most affordable one and works best for small agents who want to build a travel app.
You can show relevant ads like hotels, tour operators, airline ads, and more. Or sell advertising space to firms in the relevant industry.
TripAdvisor is driven by it.
It earns money from flights and hotels by charging cost-per-click to the OTA and supplier sites. In plain words, they get paid for redirecting the customer to third-party websites.
Sure, the listing doesn't guarantee a boost of bookings (after all, reviews and rates remain the same). But a hotel ranked last can greatly increase its traffic with the sponsored placement.
TripAdvisor offers sponsored listings options and allows paying hotels to show up in the top of users' search results operating on a cost-per-click basis. Clicks on these sponsored listings cost around $1-$3.
Core Features of a Travel App
How to start a travel app development? By picking the MVP features.
Here are the must-haves most travel apps share:
- Sign-up/profile management
- Searching system
- Chat with hosts
Let’s take a more detailed look at each.
1. Registration and Profile Management
Sing up is the core feature of any application, including travel apps.
It would be great if you allow users to browse the app without logging in each time. But when it comes to bookings, saving payment details, or chatting with the host, registration can’t be skipped.
Most platforms use email/phone number+password combination for sign up.
But social login is also a must-have for travel app development. It allows reusing login details from social media accounts (like Google, Twitter, or Facebook) in just a few taps. The faster, the better for user experience.
Hosts should also have personal accounts in the app to list their property.
In terms of safety, they shouldn’t skip the registration step at all. Plus, becoming the platform’s partner usually takes more time than plain user registration. At least hosts need to provide documents confirming their ownership, agree to the terms, and so on.
Travel app UI: registration panel by
2. Search and Filters
Any travel app should help users to find a place to stay. According to their preferences, the number of people, budget, dates, and so on. The more complex filters users have, the more precise result they get.
Here are the primary filters users should have access to:
- Number of people
- Additional services (parking, Wi-Fi, and so on)
Travel app design concept by
3. Listing Information
Let's imagine users have found a hotel or a restaurant according to their preferences. Naturally, they’d want to find out more about the place.
Usually, travelers get access to the following information:
- Available booking dates
- Customers' reviews
- Rules and cancelation policies
Another good idea is to show listings on a map. That's how users will see how far the hotel or restaurant is from the city center or the nearest subway station.
To create itinerary apps, developers use Apple Maps or Google Maps, depending on the platform (iOS or Android).
Next, hosts should also have an option to add their place and its description to the list.
They need to enter:
- available rooms
4. Messaging Channels
You may also think of adding a chat between customers and hotel representatives when developing a travel app. If users won't find an answer to their question in the application, they should have an option to ask staff members directly.
There’s no need for complex solutions with audio or video-calls. A plain chatbox will be a good job too.
Most travel apps allow the booking of tickets, hotels, tours, and other related services. To implement this functionality, developers use various technologies and APIs – like Booking.com, Skyscanner, and other widely popular tools.
What is a travel API, and how it works? We've spelled it out! Check out our '15 Best Travel APIs to Help You Build a Great Product' to see them.
But platforms like TripAdvisor or Booking.com rarely collect the payment from travelers; they prefer to leave it to the hosts.
Travel mobile app design sample: booking feature
6. Reviews System
The reviews system helps users to find out what travelers think and discover the pitfalls.
Here's how it works: when the users check out of the apartment (or the payment goes through, the system will show a notice asking them to rate their experience.
Recommendations from travelers will help other guests understand whether the place is what it seems.
Push notifications are great for informing about updates, discounts, or sending reminders before the trip. Especially if you’re developing a travel app that is rarely used on an everyday basis.
Push notifications work for:
- showing new offers, discounts, price changes;
- reminding customers about the services left unchecked
- improving customer experience by informing about booking changes or sending reminders
That was the list of MVP features required for any travel application at the start.
But later, you can always add some sophisticated features like:
- weather forecasting
- currency converter
- in-app payments
- language translators, and so on
Weather feature concept by Cleveroad
How to Create a Travel App
Finally, let’s figure out how to make a travel app, both engaging and must-have useful.
1. Work for Your Target Audience
Ask yourself who you’re developing a travel app for.
Dealing with young travelers on a budget? They are easy to win over with discounts, assistance with finding hostels and push notifications about upcoming sales and free activities.
Aiming at big spenders? They have expensive tastes and want high-quality offers. Deliver top of the line experiences with unique offers they'll never forget.
Finally, it’s a good idea to add some personalized offers when developing a travel app. And there’s no shame in peeking at competitors and studying their offers.
Vice versa, you’ll see their week and strong points and may get a few great ideas about what their apps are missing.
2. Pick the Right Team
Done with planning? Time to start looking for a reliable travel app development company.
It may be a good idea to outsource the development abroad. Usually, software development services in Europe or Asia are cheaper than in the USA or Canada. And the quality is often the same.
We've made deep research on European pricing. Check it in our ' European IT Services Market: Cost by Region' guide.
To pick the company, I suggest using one of the leading review and rating platforms:
On these websites, you'll see the list of companies by countries, hourly rates, and check what their clients have to say.
Top travel apps development companies for android and iOS
3. Collaborate with the Hosts
No fancy travel app design or smooth performance will work for customers if there are no good offers provided. So collaboration with hosts is one of the key points of travel application development.
That’s a large amount of data, and hosts are more likely to manage it from an easy-to-use app.
Appearance matters! Order top UI/UX design services for building a cunning app.
From their account, hotel managers should be able to monitor the bookings, general information, and other details.
Another point is a smooth notifications system.
Besides, customers are likely to blame the app if anything happens during their trip. Make sure you’re choosing trustworthy partners that will follow your agreement.
How to make travel app: main steps
Tech Stack For Travel Application Development
Modern technologies come handy for making travel apps run smoothly and load fast.
If want to build a travel app for iOS, the most popular programming languages are Swift and Objective-C. As for Android, engineers may choose Kotlin or Java.
Besides, no application can run without third-patry tools and integrations.
Here’s an example of a project development stack (iOS, Android, web):
- Java 7
3-rd party services
- Google Signin
- Google Maps API
- App Store
- Google Play
Still, remember that any set of technologies always depends on your project and business requirements.
Cost of a Travel App Development
Building a travel application for two platforms (iOS and Android apps) may cost about $103,600. It's an APPROXIMATE number based on $50/h rate (Eastern Europe, Ukraine).
The exact number fully depends on your needs and expected functionality.
How I got this number? It's simple: the more hours devs will spend on the mobile app development, the more it's going to cost you.
Our business analysts estimated that travel app development for both iOS and Android (including the hosts’ part, backend and admin panel), will take 2,072 hours.
Besides, the total price of travel app development depends on your vendor's country of residence.
Here are just a few examples with different regions:
- Eastern Europe. $103,600 (based on $50/h)
- Central and Western Europe. $207,200 (based on $100/h)
- USA. $310,800 (based on $150/h)
- Australia. $207,200 (based on $100/h)
Finally, we’d like to introduce one of our travel-related projects.
Meet oMap – a search-and-discovery app targeted on the Polish market. We had to provide fast real-time searching and build the full-featured map.
For the mapping feature, we used Google Maps APIs, aiming to deliver a top-notch experience of using online maps. With their help, we've managed to place all the services from oMap’s database on the map.
By the way, there’s a chatting system in the app, so that customers can get in touch with service owners in no time.
Travel apps help users to research destinations, find good flight and accommodation deals, and book services. Apps like TripAdvisor also offer travel guides and allow users to check reviews and ratings from travelers.
- Step #1. Define your target audience and come up with unique offers for them.
- Step #2. Hire qualified developers to build a travel app.
- Step #3. Collaborates with the hosts (hotels, restaurants, and so on).