Today’s travelers are getting more independent: they don’t need a travel agency to plan a trip. That’s why there’s a growing number of travel marketplaces that offer flights, hotels or other experiences online.
How does one build a viable platform that aggregates everything necessary for a trip? In our new article, we will tell you the exact steps of building a travel marketplace and share some successful examples.
What is Online Travel Marketplace and How Does it Work?
Before answering the question of how to make a travel marketplace, let’s understand what it means. A travel marketplace is a platform that connects industry providers and consumers. Travel providers sign up to display their products and services (sightseeing tours, holiday packages, hotel and flight booking, etc.). People who want to travel also sign up and browse around these marketplace offerings and make their choices.
A travel marketplace is advantageous for both buyers and sellers. On the one hand, it is the most convenient way to search for products and services. On the other – it is the most effective distribution channel for suppliers. If someone’s travel assortment is not featured on a travel marketplace, the chances of being noticed are very slim. That’s why such platforms are in demand now.
Source: Travel Carma
And the last but not least point in favor of launching an online travel marketplace: digital travel sales continue to grow from $ 470.97 billion in 2014 to $ 755.94 billion in 2019 and is expected to reach $ 817.54 billion in 2020. Tempting, isn’t it?
How to Make a Travel Marketplace
Without any further ado, let’s study the steps to an effective and convenient marketplace with your customers (travel providers and consumers) in mind.
Step 1: Choose your niche
Choosing your niche is the first step to set up an online travel marketplace. A particular niche makes your platform suitable for target customers.
Your travel niche doesn't need to be rare or super complicated. You can limit your services to certain criteria:
- Type of travel, e.g., weekend breaks or long holidays.
- Budget, e.g., luxury or budget travels.
- Specialization, e.g., language learning tours.
Having a niche allows you to narrow down your target audience and also become an expert in a certain segment. For example, one of our customers, Rhlah, decided to fill a niche in the travel market of Saudi Arabia with an innovative user-friendly travel portal for planning trips, booking tours and hotels and for communicating with fellow travelers.
It would have been very hard for the customer to compete with such travel marketplaces as Booking.com, HomeAway or Airbnb without narrowing the area of interest to the Saudi Arabia market. As a result, the platform holds a well-thought user experience strategy which helps to increase tour sales and user conversions.
Step 2: Gather a great team
We recommend launching a minimum viable product (MVP) to check if your idea is viable. This means you shouldn’t invest a lot into the platform and make it a top-notch at the initial stage. This will help you validate your marketplace idea without having to take a big risk. And this is what the corporations like Airbnb do. It started out on a site designed with WordPress. Most of their current features were built when they had already proven that their basic concept works.
What specialists do you need in order to build an MVP? A standard team includes business analysts, UX/UI designers, software engineers, software testing engineers, and a marketing team.
Step 3: Make a business plan
You need a business plan to make sure your startup is both financially and conceptually viable. Here are things to consider:
- Who are the customers?
- What is your value proposition?
- What are your goals and objectives (e.g., improve customers’ interaction, expand the range of services a travel provider can offer, upgrade payment system)?
- How much initial investment does your platform need?
- How many specialists should you hire to launch it?
- What income do you expect from the marketplace?
- What is your monetization strategy (subscription, transaction, listing fees, premium listings or advertising)?
- How can you reduce the risk of failure?
In all probability, you won’t be able to plan the exact time and money costs. Be ready to multiply the final numbers by 2. Yet, with a structured document, you’ll understand how feasible your idea is.
Step 4: Build a travel marketplace
Start by creating a strong architecture that corresponds to users’ needs and behaviors. Consider cognitive psychology principles; plan the navigation system and visual hierarchy, and then decide on the sections and features your marketplace will contain.
We’ve analyzed major travel marketplaces and selected core features for your own travel marketplace development.
The focus of your homepage is a search engine. This feature should be as powerful and convenient, as possible. Make it predictive to provide results based on hotels, cities, and airlines in case travelers don’t remember their names.
Another important aspect is filters which narrow the search and make quick choices. Here are the most popular filters on travel platforms:
- Location and dates are the most important filters since travelers start their search from the destination and the period of their travel.
- The number of guests/ passengers.
- Price. Let users check products within the specific price range. Provide two options: low to high and high to low.
- Rating. The rating of the place or airline may be as important as the price for some travelers.
- Keywords. This filter helps to find activities in a certain location.
- Categories. Divide activities into groups, such as food, entertainment, walking tours, culture, and extreme.
Another feature, inseparable from a search engine, is a calendar. Make calendars easy and idiot-proof. Take a look at Booking.com. Its calendar pops out of the check-in and check-out fields and marks selected dates with a different color. The ‘Find’ button also has a distinctive color that is immediately noticeable.
Apart from a search field and filter options, this page should display either tour or lodging thumbnails and their short descriptions with the price.
Tour or lodging page
This page should have several high-resolution images and a detailed description of the place or tour.
Google Maps integration will allow travelers to see available places to stay laid out on a fully interactive map. It lets travelers see the details of the destination selected with a high-quality image.
The first thing a user will do on your travel marketplace is to register and create a personal account. To make the process easier, offer registration via email and social media (Google+ or Facebook, Twitter). But don’t make it the only way to register, leave a manual registration option.
Enable the choice of languages and currency. Sometimes, travelers choose their native language but want to see the price in USD.
Allow users to easily update their profile data and change avatars. Users’ interaction involves financial transactions, so it’s important to make the platform secure. Users should confirm their identities by verifying emails and phone numbers, linking social network accounts to travel platform profiles and sending digital copies of their IDs.
‘Favorites’ option will help to make a shortlist of offers and make the final decision easier.
Once a user has chosen a suitable accommodation, tour or any other activity, they should be able to contact the host on your marketplace. It’s extremely inconvenient to use a third-party messenger. Communicating through the same platform is safe and makes it easy to find and reference important reservation details like a listing’s address, itinerary, and check-in details.
Make optional push notifications that will inform users about their new messages, offers or travel dates. Enable both hosts and travelers to receive them. You can also remind users to leave a review of their traveling experience.
Integrate a payment gateway such as Stripe, DWOLLA, PayPal, or Braintree. There’s a great variety of purchasing methods to choose from. Don’t forget that integrating a gateway’s API will place the responsibility for credit card data security on your platform.
Keep in mind that nothing makes a visitor more frustrated than unexpected charges. So no hidden fees, please. Be like Airbnb: You can see the services you’re paying for and find out why you are paying for them.
Reviews and ratings
Travelers should be able to leave reviews and check the ratings of tour operators and places. Based on this feature, you can build some kind of community where travelers share their experiences.
Step 5: Add content
Quantity and quality are both important in creating a popular travel marketplace. Your marketplace should enable travel providers to show a sufficient number of large high-quality images, as well as a row of thumbnails.
Many operators offer holidays and tours to identical destinations, and hosts can rent apartments in the same building. So stand out from the crowd with some well-written descriptions.
Step 6: Testing
The first users of your marketplace should be a target audience—those who have a tour to sell or a place to rent and those who want to book them. Let them assess every feature of the marketplace from various points of view: security, convenience, and aesthetics.
Step 7: Launch and promote
This is where you need your marketing team. SEO specialists will find the most effective keywords, copywriters will start a dedicated blog and SMM specialists will promote the platform via social media.
We hope, the question of how to open an online travel marketplace is clear now. Choose your niche and enrich the platform with the core features listed above. Agente will help your marketplace become popular among travel providers and travelers.