Travel companies, like businesses in any other industry today, are facing a crucial test – innovate or die. One could argue that has always been the case in any competitive market, but there is competition and then there is transformation.
While the first half of this decade was somewhat of a gold-rush to set up mass booking platforms and everyone wanted to be the next Kayak or Expedia, something that got easily overlooked was the customer – yes, you. There was so much emphasis on providing the most number of options and pushing as much transaction volume as possible, that businesses in this space didn’t focus on the number one thing that mattered – yes, you again.
That isn’t to say that there are no companies trying to disrupt travel and make you, the customer, the center of the story. One such startup recently caught our eye – Symphony. A travel concierge app based out of Barcelona, which is approaching the mass-offerings personality-less travel problem from a new angle.
After signing in to the app, you’re shown a series of images across a range of categories – and your response to these images – simple four-way swipe gestures, help the app learn about your personality. Once you’ve swiped through a few images, the app starts recommending relevant tips to you. So if you swiped “like” on a picture of a cheese platter, the app recommends you try out their curated list of restaurants that specialise in and are known for their cheese selection. And then, using their inbuilt concierge – Ludwig, you can book a table at the restaurant.
We find this a very interesting approach. First, the app seems to turn search on its head. While search requires you, the user, to seek out relevant results, their app pushes the right content to you. Search is reactive, this is proactive. Second, unlike trawling through TripAdvisor for restaurants and experiences, going through countless subjective reviews written by people you may have nothing in common with, Symphony curates the quality options in various categories and then suggests them to you based on what your tastes are. They’ve completely done away with the review system, because reviews are subjective by nature. While this seems counter-intuitive at first, it makes sense when you looks at their curated selection.
In our test run, we found the recommendations spot on. The extension of taking the Tinder-like binary swipe idea and adding more nuanced options like “love” and “try” really works. We found ourselves more invested in how we responded to each image – which in turn gave us more accurate recommendations. We also love the fact that the app respects user privacy and doesn’t go diving in to our Facebook information – this may not be completely altruistic, since they’re getting a truer picture of who we are by “asking” the swipe questions rather than using our public personas that we create on social media.
Lastly, their concierge service is what really won us over. While this has been a long time coming, very few apps have actually adopted this approach. As a traveler, you already have a million things to take care of and the last thing you want to do is call up a restaurant and make a booking in a language you might not speak – their built-in and free concierge service (Ludwig) takes care of that. You simply open the chat, give a few details and it’ll do the rest.
Although Symphony takes a big step in the right direction of what we expect from the next generation of travel apps, it is currently only useful for recommendations in Barcelona. They do have plans to expand to major European capitals in the coming months, but for now that is a limitation. We’d love to see other apps take similar approach and put the user back into the center of the equation.
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