Our ever-growing reliance on smartphones in every aspect of our lives is, to no small extent, a result of the growth in app development. This universality of this trend has seen a growth in travel apps including those aimed at the luxury market and they come in three main forms – the utility (functional, provides a simple service), guide (digital guide book) and community (user-generated content and social networks).
Many of these utilities may have come from large, mass market companies – eg Avis offering an easy way to rent a car – but there are an increasing number aimed at helping with a somewhat more glamorous lifestyle.
These encompass, for example Groundlink through which you can order a private car to collect you from wherever in the world you find yourself, or, for the rock stars out there, Marquis Jets, a service that allows you to charter a private jet for a few hours.
With these apps largely about providing an efficient service the main area of differentiation between the ‘luxury’ and the rest is the product offered. As with utilities in other areas of our lives, if the service is there custom will follow.
Apps that provide travel guides are, in many ways, the natural successor to the dog-eared guide book and many have converted bringing content and loyal readers with them.
Digital providers have a few problems compared with their lo-tech predecessors – they need battery, often data coverage too (leading to moments of cluelessness in the middle of nowhere or being held hostage by exorbitant data roaming fees) and the potential for immediate bonding as two travellers’ eyes meet across a strange bar and a well-thumbed book.
With much of the information on destinations the same (museums, attractions etc) irrespective of budget and travelling ethos, differentiation between travel guides is down to whether the reader can relate and the trust the advice given, and that is largely down to whether they have been able to effectively build a brand identity. Lonely Planet, for example, has a loyal backpacker following and has become the go-to publisher for travellers of that ilk.
This use of brand identity is clear within the luxury sphere from the Louis Vuitton city guides. Here we have one of the most recognisable brands in luxury travel – it’s logo-heavy luggage a mainstay of business class lounges worldwide – tapping into the affinity its customers have for the brand as an indicator of their tastes.
Community travel apps themselves come in two forms, firstly the user-generated information site (see TripAdvisor) and secondly the travellers’ social network.
The first of these once again relies on users trusting the advice. With a wide-ranging service this is extremely difficult, how much do you have in common with commenters – possibly nothing, once more brand identity is essential. Amble with Louis Vuitton allows users to share trips and tips and, with a sense of who a Louis Vuitton shopper is, readers have more of a basis for comparison.
Social networks designed specifically for travellers have yet to see a break out product, Dopplr probably coming closest. We already have a dizzying number of social networks available to us and the need to remember to update another specifically when travelling is potentially one of the limiting factors.