Super apps on travellers’ list

American ride hailing behemoth Uber recently took a leap toward what is called a travel super app. The company rolled out flight booking services in its United Kingdom app, allowing consumers to book the entire leg of their travel on a single platform.

A travel super app does have an allure as it makes the process of travel hassle-free by doing away with the need of hopping from one app to the other for different operations.

Notably, the latest one is not the only attempt by Uber toward the super apps direction. A year after chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi first spoke about Uber becoming a wider travel platform in 2018, the company rolled out a chopper ride-booking service in the United States. It allowed users to book $200 helicopter rides between Manhattan and JFK Airport. However, the Uber Copter service was naturally impacted by the Covid pandemic.

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This time, the rollout of flight booking service in the UK can be seen as a test drive as it is among the biggest markets for the company outside North America. Also, it has already launched a train and coach/bus booking service in the country.

Uber is not the only company delving into the wider travel space. Although still a nascent segment, makers of several travel apps and platforms are displaying super app ambitions.

“We have become somewhat of a travel super app,” said MakeMyTrip co-founder and group CEO Rajesh Magow in an earlier interview with FE. The platform started out in India in 2005 as a flight booking platform, but quickly evolved to include rail and hotel booking, along with holiday packages. Currently, the platform hosts myPartner, a B2B travel agents’ platform, and myBiz, a small and medium enterprises platform for corporate clients. It has also built an API (application programming interface)-based platform, MyAffiliate. An interesting product is Where2Go, an inspiration section with curated travel content for users. There is also a fintech platform called TripMoney. When it comes to travel super apps, south-east Asia stands out.

Malaysian low-cost airline AirAsia launched its super app in the country in 2020. The platform hosts a range of services, such as travel insurance, online duty-free shopping, and food delivery, among others. Beyond Malaysia, the AirAsia super app is also operational in Thailand, the Philippines, and Indonesia.

Conventionally, super apps are apps that offer a wide range of services. China’s WeChat is considered the biggest and most popular one. It offers services including messaging, video conferencing, photo sharing, e-commerce, and online payments, among others. Alibaba Group’s Alipay is another Chinese super app. Last year, Tata Group launched India’s first super-app called Tata Neu. Indonesia’s Gojek is another super app. It started out as a ride-hailing and courier delivery platform but now offers other services, such as food and groceries delivery, and e-commerce too. This can be seen as an example of a travel app morphing into a super app. Another Indonesian app Traveloka is moving towards the travel super app direction. It offers services including hotel bookings, online payments, along with tours, ticketed tourist attractions, etc. Last year, it also added ride-hailing to its product portfolio.

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Steering towards the West, Germany’s Lambus can also be put into the travel super app category. It offers services including planning travel and expenses, booking documents, and photo sharing, along with an interactive map for navigation. “Your whole trip in your pocket,” the company’s tagline reads. Although well-made travel super apps can make the process of planning, booking and travelling a lot easier, it is still a nascent segment. It is safe to say that in the general travel super apps space, the east appears to have an upper hand over the West. And how this space pans out will be interesting to watch.