Travel is being made easier and more streamlined through technology and its applications across all facets of travel, from on-the-go research, to accommodation and flight bookings, and itinerary building and management.

“Travel is all about experience now,” says Tiaan Theron, Digital Marketing Manager of Wetu, “so anything that makes travel easier, safer, smoother and more convenient from the traveller's point of view, and in terms of what travel professionals need to do or offer to facilitate that, naturally encourages more tourism.”

Travel apps are leading the way, he continues, by empowering travellers with better control over what's to come on their trip, how to prepare for places and cultures, and what activities to do in-destination. “Connecting travellers with dynamic content that helps them prepare for each aspect of their travel experience places control of each aspect of their journey into the travellers’ hands, enhancing the experience far beyond what tourists of old had with their inflexible paper documents.”

Gavin Rennie, Director of Off 2 Africa, adds that social media is enhancing travel significantly. “The ease of posting or sharing experiences has made travel extremely ‘fashionable’. Watching other users on these platforms whilst they enjoy fantastic safari experiences, makes those who aren’t doing so, more interested and likely to do the same. This is a positive for most travel and tourism businesses as more people want to experience the magic of travel.”

Rennie does, however, add that a balance between technology and the personal touch of a travel agent or tour operator is essential, especially when it comes to travel in Africa. “The personal touch is still very much required to seamlessly put together off-the-beaten track and hidden gem itineraries. Itineraries created by such professionals often include experiences that define an extraordinary journey, be it culture, community or conservation experiences.”

And the irony of implementing more technology in travel operations, says Theron, is that their time-saving results are allowing for more human contact, which is precisely what modern travellers value. “Businesses are also using technology to get operational functions running more smoothly, like Wetu's Consultant Portal and Calendar, in order to free more consultation time with clients.”

Experience management

Managing an itinerary used to be done by a travel agent, but the power of technology has placed this function in the hands of the traveller. Wetu, for example, has created an online/offline itinerary management app called TravelKey. “It not only contains a convenient run-down of what destinations have to offer, but it also presents the user with push notifications and practical info that leaves the traveller with a sense that they know exactly what to expect,” says Theron.

Apps like these are impacting businesses for the better, says Rennie, as they are able to present ideas and examples in an informative and interactive way.

“The latest addition to the tech family in Zimbabwe is the Accoleisure App,” adds Rennie, “which has very recently been launched. The app is there for travellers – local and non-local – to find attractions, experiences and eateries in the area in order for them to get the best out of their trips.”

Round-up of top 18 travel apps

Top travel apps should keep their users informed in real time, offer advice, insights, tips and warnings, leading to the best all-round experience for the traveller.

Tourism Update has put together a list of some of the top travel apps on the market, which have been rated highly by millions of travellers worldwide.

Skyscanner

Searches for the most affordable and best options for flights, hotels and rental cars via its partners. The app offers rate comparisons at a glance, sends price alerts, and allows the user to record frequent flier miles. The ‘top deals’ feature also allows one to search for the best deals from the nearest airport, and offers a curated list of destinations around the world.

Kayak

Like Skyscanner, Kayak searches across numerous travel sites for rental car, hotel and flight deals. It acts as a trip planner, displaying important details like hotel confirmation or gate number at a glance, and allows the user to set up Price forecast to ascertain whether one should buy now or wait.

Hopper

Hopper tracks flight prices then uses push notifications to recommend when to buy tickets, searching out the cheapest possible price for a air ticket. A simple user interface makes it easy to buy tickets (in 60 seconds or less, according to Hopper), with the app winning various Apple App Store and Google Play awards.

Airbnb

The Airbnb app offers ‘authentic’ accommodation options at highly affordable prices, be it in a local home, apartment, or other unique options such as treehouses, trailers or boats. The ‘Trips’ feature offers experiences to choose from during a stay, which can include curated events led by local guides, classes, workshops or excursions.

Hotel Tonight

Hotel Tonight offers last-minute deals on empty rooms that can be booked in under 10 seconds.

Uber

Uber is a ride-on-demand app that allows users to request a pick-up car within the app after choosing from an assortment of different vehicle rates and fare quotes. A driver’s arrival can then be tracked, the journey followed by the passenger and their selected loved ones or colleagues, and payment made without the need for cash or credit card on hand. Rides and fares can also be split. Uber operates in over 84 countries and 800 cities.

Google maps

One of the most well-known navigation apps, Google Maps offers directions for those travelling by car, foot, public transport, taxi or bicycle. Certain areas can be downloaded for offline use, and the app also allows users to find places of interest, and see how busy a venue is in real time.

Waze

Also a navigation app, Waze is community-driven, with other travellers driving, walking or riding, sharing traffic and road condition information. While Google Maps reports official problems and general traffic, Waze drills down to the location of details such as police on the road and potholes.

Flio

This global airport app collects information about airports including WiFi networks, services offered, lounges available, transport options, flight schedules, and restaurants at a given airport. Discounts are often offered on food and beverages and duty-free shopping, and hints and tips are offered on need-to-know information such as where to charge a mobile phone or laptop.

LoungeBuddy

LoungeBuddy allows a user to explore private lounges available at an airport, and often buy discounted day passes. It also suggests lounges where certain credit cards permit access.

Roadtrippers

Sharing one’s starting location and destination, dates of travel and things that would be of interest along the way, allows RoadTrippers to plot a highly experiential and fulfilling journey for a traveller. It can find off-the-beaten-track attractions, museums, restaurants, amusement parks, campsites and more, with the option to add stops to the itinerary. A route can be shared with friends who can suggest additional destinations to stop at.

TripAdvisor

TripAdvisor offers information on hotels, restaurants and sites to visit, with in-depth reviews and photos uploaded by other users to achieve a full picture of a site from an unbiased point of view.

TripCase

This app allows a traveller to keep track of flight times, hotel addresses, client meetings, transportation, and all other details necessary to a trip. A digital interface between a travel organiser and the traveller, changes to flight schedules, for example, can be shared with the traveller directly on their smartphone or wearable device. Friends, family and co-workers can be kept up to date on trip details through the app, which also interacts with other service apps such as Uber, Instagram and Samsung.

Viator

Viator allows a traveller to explore tours and packages at a destination, including daily excursions and week-long adventures within the app.

AccuWeather

Weather can have an impact on travel plans, especially outdoor activities such as beach vacations, safaris, and other outdoor excursions. AccuWeather provides 15-day weather forecast summaries, five-day forecasts, and the hyper-local MinuteCast, which pinpoints a traveller’s location via GPS and provides minute-by-minute rain forecast for the next two hours.

Packpoint

Not sure what to pack for a journey to Africa? PackPoint is a travel packing wizard that assists users with packing the essentials for a journey, depending on the nature of their trip. After creating a user profile, destination, length of stay and purpose of travel, PackPoint creates a customised packing and luggage checklist that takes into account whether one is travelling for business or leisure, type and amount of clothing to pack based on weather forecast and other factors. It also comes with premium features such as TripIt integration for automatic packing list creation.

Encrypt.me

The Encrypt.me VPN encrypts data and routes it through a virtual private network to provide an added layer of security and protect a user’s private data on open, unsecured networks – very important when conducting transactions or sharing travel plans over public WiFi, for example.  

ChoosyTravellers.com

This app offers a filter and search function to find a venue in a desired location, with amenities that suit the unique needs and budget of a traveller. It is currently available for travel in South Africa.