Here are some suggestions on how to differentiate your travel startup or travel app amongst an increasingly crowded field.
Focus on Benefits, Not Features
I could write a whole blog post on this alone because it’s so critical to success. When talking about differentiation, it’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing on features. While features are important, customers don’t always understand the feature nuances. In fact, I just assume they don’t and focus entirely on benefits. I don’t care if it’s a 200 MB F2.4 camera (the feature), I care I can take videos of my kids underwater (the benefit). Instead, focus on the benefits your travel app and travel startup provide for a given hyper-niche (see below).
One way that travel apps can differentiate themselves is by researching and then deeply focusing on a super-niche or surgically researched segment of the travel market. For example, many travel apps may focus on budget travel, while others may cater to luxury travelers. Gone are the days where is broad approach is commercially viable. A much much much deeper niche is required — highly intuitive group bookings for for middle aged women who are looking for upscale or luxury health & wellness away from their families within 60 minutes of their home. By focusing on a lucrative yet small segment, travel apps can communicate their unique value propositions more effectively and attract customers who are looking for solutions that are tailored to their specific (hyper-niche) needs. You can always grow your market to, for example, serve women travel segmented by age (rather than just middle-aged women in your initial hyper-niche) while continuing to religiously be catering to their unique pain points and needs in a way a generic travel app can never even think about addressing.
Focus on the User Experience Tailored to a Hyper-niche.
There are countless times I say to myself “the person that designed this app has never used it because it clearly lacks intuitiveness and ease of use”. Solving this will involve heavily investing in user testing and feedback, to ensure that the app is intuitive and easy to use for hyper-niche travelers you are focused on. You may be from that segment and therefore can uniquely speak to the wording, needs, wants, desires and challenges customers feel in a way that other travel startups & travel apps simply cannot or do not. By prioritizing user-centric hyper-niche focused intuitive design and functionality, travel apps can differentiate themselves from competitors who may not have the same focus or are overly broad in their appeal and feature set. What do (continuing my above example) middle aged women looking for luxury health & wellness want from their app, what filters do they want to search within, what wording & prompts do they want, how many choices do they want (100 or just the top 5?) and so on; these are just some of the questions you have to identify, research, test and then roll-out. When describing the benefits of a service, use language that hyper-niche customers will understand. Avoid technical jargon and use plain language that anyone can understand. Use real-world examples and stories to help illustrate your points.
Unique Proprietary Datasets & Integrations
Travel apps can also differentiate themselves by offering unique data sets to their users. that unique combination of integrations that others do not have. Pulling Wikipedia data is universal, nothing special there. Pulling data from Expedia or TripAdvisor is important but available to everyone. You may take a few key niche datasets and provide that to the customer in a way nobody else does for your hyper-niche. In many cases you will need to curate your own dataset of (for example) curated family friendly restaurants in Northern California — that will take time and money but will be a distinct advantage versus your competitors. You can, dare I say even, use a very specific niche focused ChatGPT request resulting in a very niche response that you can provide to your customers in a way that no other travel app does. A generic ChatGPT request will result in a generic response but a targeted one for your segment(s), I believe, will be better and more unique.
Highlight your Unique Selling Proposition
What sets your service apart from your competitors? Be very very very clear in what you offer that others don’t (for your hyper-niche). It’s rare that a customer can tell you how one travel apps differentiate from another so it’s very important to have a hyper-niche focus and to communicate your unique selling proposition (USP), and it’s what makes you stand out from the crowd. You’re not just a travel exploration app, you’re the go to app for first time expectant mothers looking for a babymoon or maybe you’re the go to app for curated family friendly cruises under 1000 USD spanning 3 generations (where the kids, parents and grandparents are catered for) rather than a generic cruise site. This hyper-niche requires a very different approach and end result that not only must be identified, marketed towards but actually provide at the end of the day. You’ll need to research, you’ll need to create your own database, you’ll need to filter ones that do not apply, you’ll need to use AI or ranking so just the top 5 options are displayed (for example).
Innovation is crucial in the world of travel startups and travel apps. Customers want to know that their travel startup is staying ahead of the curve and continuously improving their service. Not just benefits YOU think are important, benefits YOUR niche finds important and it’s often an exercise in deleting benefits/features/tasks/offerings. Continuously innovating also helps to differentiate your service from competitors who may not be as proactive in improving their offerings. Solicit time of purchase / time of use feedback from customers and use that feedback to drive innovation and improvements. Communicate your improvements ad-nauseum so customers know you are innovating and what those innovations are and how it benefits them (see benefits not just features).
Excellent Live Customer Support
I’ve always said that customer support is a revenue item in addition to being a ‘cost’. Customer support can be a SIGNIFICANT differentiator in the world of travel (where customer service is often underfunded and ignored as simply a cost rather than an opportunity). I remember how important customer service was when I had my online travel agency. Offering excellent customer support can help to differentiate your service from competitors who may not offer the same level of support. Solving a customer problem will often earn you a customer and garner brand loyalty in a way a purchase will not. Make sure that your customer support is easily accessible and responsive. The advent of smart bots and off the shelf AI tools makes customer service considerably easier than ever. A customer should be able to buy, change, cancel and conduct other top 10 most popular requests without any human intervention. That will simultaneously increase customer satisfaction and reduce customer support requests. Look at how responsive Amazon customer support it; time and again over the last 20 years they have come through when I want to return, change, request a refund, track an international shipment with complex taxes and duties and a host of other common scenarios before during and after purchase. There have been times where Amazon PROACTIVELY offers a refund because of a delay resulting in a ‘wow’ moment (and increased loyalty).
While it can be challenging to differentiate travel startups & travel apps from a customer viewpoint (the most important of viewpoints at the end of the day since they are paying all the bills so say), it’s an essential step in identifying, attracting, and retaining hyper-niche customers. By focusing on unique value propositions, user-centric design, excellent customer support, continuous innovation, and unique strategic data sets, travel startups and travel apps can set themselves apart from competitors and communicate their unique strengths to customers. For travel apps, focusing on a particular segment of the travel market, investing in user experience, and forging strategic partnerships can help differentiate the app from competitors who may not have the same focus. With the right approach to differentiation, businesses can thrive in even the most crowded markets.