Defining the travel and tourism industry is a challenge, since it includes other industries offering various services. In a broad sense, the industry is about transportation and logistics. It’s also about catering to travelers’ needs for lodging, attractions, and dining after they arrive at the destination. Since 2006, the travel industry has been one of the greatest contributors to global GDP, contributing around 2.9 trillion US dollars in 2019, which is 79% more than 13 years before.

Below, you can see data on the contribution of travel and tourism to GDP over the period from 2006 to 2019.

travel and tourism industry
SOURCE: Statista

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Quick industry growth has required travel businesses to keep up with emerging trends to stay ahead of competitors. Digitization in the form of travel app development has increased workflow efficiency, improved customer service, and kept travel companies ahead of competitors. 

This article is your guide to the world of travel mobile app development in 2021. We’ll share insights about the impact of the pandemic on the tourism industry and show you what digital trends will help travel businesses rise again.

The travel industry was crushed by COVID-19

Most businesses and institutions have adapted to the new reality. Companies have allowed their employees to work from home. Online education has proven a possible substitute for in-class education. Telehealth and telemedicine are helping patients and doctors stay in touch. But what about the travel and tourism industry? In 2020, travel was brought to a standstill.

Back in 2020

According to the International Civil Aviation Organization, the US airline seating capacity fell by half in 2020. This caused financial losses of nearly $370 billion:

  • March and April 2020 brought the airline industry to a complete standstill.
  • The summer travel period was a short-lived time of recovery.
  • During the last four months of 2020, sectoral recoveries became vulnerable once again.
travel and tourism industry

Owing to the pandemic, three of the biggest US airlines — American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and JetBlue — reported combined net losses of $14 billion. 

The American Hotel and Lodging Association reports that US hotels were running at 44% capacity in 2020. This led to revenue losses, with total revenue down from $167 billion in 2019 to $85 billion in 2020.

The National Restaurant Association estimated that the restaurant industry in the USA ended 2020 with $240 billion less in sales compared to the 2019 estimated average.

The prognosis for 2021 and beyond

Even with new lockdown restrictions across the globe, the International Air Transport Association predicts a 13% airline seating capacity improvement in 2021 compared to 2020. 

Research published by the American Hotel and Lodging Association in January 2021 predicts that US hotel capacity will increase from 44% to 52% during the year, and to 61% in 2022.

Around 47% of global respondents are planning to return to international flights this year, and 11% have already booked their 2021 trips.

Indeed, a brief summer recovery in 2020 fueled hopes of a quick reconstruction of the tourism and travel industry. But this process may take longer than expected. 

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SOURCE: Statista 

Still, most travel businesses have started following new trends to redefine their workflow and customer experience.

Redefining the travel experience: 2021 travel industry trends

These five trends started redefining the travel industry in the second half of 2020 and keep transforming it in 2021.

  • Technological innovations

Lockdowns and the need for social distancing motivated travel businesses to speed up usual administrative tasks. Now, booking, checking in, and processing refunds can easily be managed through mobile solutions for the travel industry. 

Robot hotels are another trend in travel service automation. Robots have been installed in hotel lobbies in Japan and in Hilton hotels globally to substitute receptionists, concierges, and bartenders.

  • Online travel agencies

With the complexities of new regulations, travelers rely on online travel agencies. These agencies equip travelers with information on security and health measures as well as trusted accommodation. In 2021, advice from online agencies is expected to be a major competitive advantage. 

  • Extended loyalty programs

Special offers and loyalty programs are among the latest trends in the tourism industry. Discounts and new offers are expected to help hotel groups and airlines generate another wave of demand for their services.

  • Flexibility in travel planning

The first steps in this direction were made by the three largest American airlines — United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and American Airlines — all of whom eliminated change fees. This was a response to the fact that seven in ten travelers are now looking for travel flexibility. This includes trip protection, travel insurance, and a full refund on canceled transportation and accommodation. 

  • Extended stays

After a year of partial isolation and being denied travel, travelers are likely to take extended stays, or workcations. They will be looking for agencies that can help them make the most of their first post-lockdown trips. Long-term accommodation planning is already available. Through Airbnb rentals, travelers can enjoy weekly and monthly discounts.

  • Growth of local tourism

Many tourist destinations have started reopening their doors. But this time, they’re opening them to local tourists too. Amid the pandemic, local tourism can help local economies get back on track. Through popular city guide apps, local businesses like delivery services, restaurants, gift shops, and tour guides can effectively advertise their services. 

As software developers, we will share more about the technological side of these travel industry trends.

Categories of travel apps that are in demand 

  • Train, bus, and flight booking apps

travel app development
SOURCE: App Store

Ticket booking apps are helping the travel industry recover and develop faster. With these apps, travelers don’t need a travel agency to reserve tickets. They can complete booking at any convenient time. A booking platform updates booking statuses and helps users avoid double bookings.



  • Access to a thousand airlines, train, and bus carriers 
  • Easy-to-use search tools
  • Flexible tickets with multiple carriers
  • Virtual global supercarrier
  • Global customer support in over 12 languages

  • Travel maps with entry restrictions and quarantine requirements
  • Flights filter by airline, number of stops, duration, departure time, and arrival time 
  • Alert feature to notify when prices change
  • No added fees


  • 95% accurate flight price predictions a year in advance
  • Color-coded calendar for easy search
  • Ticket prices from the world’s major airlines 
  • Personalized recommendations and deals
  • 24/7 real human support
  • Hotel booking apps
SOURCE: App Store 

Hotel booking apps allow users to compare prices and find the best deals. Through these apps, users can view their current reservations and modify them or place reservation details, such as a request for an extra bed or a high chair.



  • Large database of hotels, apartments, and  holiday homes
  • In-depth filter options
  • Map view for having a glance at a property
  • Ability to compare prices for saved properties

  • Quick search by country, city, hotel, or attraction
  • Filter by price and reviews
  • Large database of hotels, vacation rentals, homes, and apartments
  • Customer support in 40 languages
  • No booking fees


  • Filter by price, deals, and reviews
  • 25% to 35% discounts with mobile-exclusive hotel deals
  • Free cancellation on most listed hotels
  • Extra savings if travelers reserve both flights and hotels
  • Vacation rental apps
travel app development
SOURCE: App Store

With these apps, travelers can find alternatives to pricey hotel rooms. Vacation rental apps match travelers to the best locales and give access to rooms, apartments, houses, campsites, and condos from all over the world. Unlike hotel booking apps, applications for vacation rentals directly connect rental owners with travelers. 




  • Last-minute accommodation search
  • Save rental places to favorites
  • One-click invitations
  • Specify date and check-in time when booking
  • In-app messages
  • Booking notifications and real-time alerts
  • Real ratings and reviews


  • Search for vacation rentals in over 190 countries
  • Filter by price, location, amenities, and what’s important (pools, backyards, etc.)
  • Real property photos and reviews
  • Communication with a virtual assistant
  • Trip countdown and reminders


  • Search by rental type, number of nights, and number of bedrooms
  • Property listings with prices, number of guests allowed, and reviews
  • Online booking management
  • Help from travelers or owners
  • Shortlist with saved rentals
  • Trip planner apps
develop a travel app
SOURCE: App Store

Trip planner apps are innovative travel apps for those planning a perfect and headache-free vacation. Planner apps come in two types. Simple planner apps recommend must-see attractions and provide real reviews. Advanced apps can combine flight and accommodation booking features with detailed sightseeing guides.




  • Millions of flight, resort, hotel, and restaurant reviews from real travelers
  • Hidden gem travel recommendations
  • Price comparison tool to find the best deals
  • Planning tool to save and organize travel ideas 
  • Online reservation, tour modification, and cancellation functionality


  • Articles and videos from local influencers and top publishers
  • Mapped points of interest with photos and tips from travelers
  • Personalized recommendations based on travel dates, budget, or interests
  • Offline access to avoid paying data fees


  • Inbox of all travel details, from flight booking confirmations to restaurant reservations
  • Map views tool to check the entire trip on a map
  • Built-in navigator for driving directions
  • Nearby Places tool to locate ATMs, restaurants, and attractions
  • Helpful reminders to make the most of trips
  • Private car rental apps 
travel app development
SOURCE: App Store

The popularity of car rental app development increases in direct relation to the growth of the travel and tourism industry. Through apps, travelers can locate the nearest car rental locations and filter their search according to date, car type, and equipment. Then they can book a car and get an in-app confirmation. For vacationers, these services are a must to solve transportation issues quickly.




  • Search nearby rental locations 
  • Useful vehicle filters
  • Reward points balance for upcoming trips
  • 24/7 on-trip customer support
  • Gas station locator 


  • Car search by time, make, and model
  • Car reservation by hour or day
  • Cancellation, changes, and extensions on the go
  • Local Zipcar team support


  • Unique, locally-owned cars
  • Ability to book cars directly from local hosts
  • Contactless check-in options
  • “Book Instantly” badge
  • Chatbot for better communication
  • Taxi service apps
travel app development
SOURCE: App Store 

Online taxi apps have started surpassing traditional cab services. In 2017 alone, Uber and Lyft completed 35 million more rides than regular New York City cabs. And this number will grow. This is why developing a taxi app makes sense both for existing businesses and startups.




  • Cars in over 600 airports and more than 10,000 cities 
  • Price estimates before booking
  • In-advance scheduling
  • Door-to-door safety standard
  • Location and trip status sharing
  • Cash and credit card payments


  • Health safety requirements to protect drivers and passengers
  • Professional drivers only
  • Up to 9 ride options
  • Real-time driver tracking
  • Promos section


  • Upfront pricing
  • Price comparison features
  • Fully insured rides
  • 100,000 drivers around major US metro areas
  • Contactless payments
  • Referral programs to earn free rides
  • Virtual reality apps for traveling
VR in travel app
SOURCE: App Store 

VR technology is the most powerful means of transportation. With it, users can go to sandy beaches or rocky mountains without needing to leave their living room. Those with a VR headset and one of the apps below can spend days exploring the most stunning locations for free.



Sites in VR

  • 360-degree high-quality panoramic images
  • Exceptional VR settings
  • Virtual tours of hundreds of landmarks 
  • Screen rotation as if holding a camera
  • Stereoscopic 3D and space panoramas

Within VR

  • 360-degree panoramic mode
  • VR documentaries, music videos, animations, and more
  • Real and animated worlds
  • Ability to share, download, and stream

Steelkiwi’s note: VR travel apps appeared in response to the global pandemic. The question is if they will remain as popular as they are now. 

  • Health passport apps

The IATA app is a digital platform originally created for passengers to store COVID-19 test and vaccine records and share these records when crossing a border. 

The platform also includes four modules. Each features pandemic-related travel information.

travel app development
SOURCE: Steelkiwi

You can find more details about this platform by watching the IATA Travel Pass Briefing below:

How to create a travel app: Four steps to development

  • Define your target audience

You can’t create a travel app for everyone. But you can start developing a travel app for a certain group of people sharing the same demographics: age, gender, location, language, education, occupation, marital status, interests, devices. They will become your target audience, or the group of people you build your travel app for.

Once you’ve identified your target demographic, put your data together and create a user persona profile:

How to create a travel app
SOURCE: App Radar 

Five or more user persona profiles will help you visualize and humanize your target audience.

travel app development
SOURCE: App Radar 
  • Add killer features

If you look at top travel apps, you’ll see that most of them have common features:

  • Travel planning
  • Travel journal
  • Search and filter tools
  • Navigation and geolocation functionality
  • Hotel or apartment booking 
  • Reviews, ratings, and recommendations
  • Transportation services
  • Notifications

Tourism app development in 2021 requires the implementation of killer features that will get your new application spotted in the crowd:

  • Offline access
  • In-app translator
  • Weather forecasts
  • Currency converter
  • World clock time converter
  • List of location-based emergency services
  • Washroom/restroom finder
  • Social media integrations
  • Choose your app’s monetization model

Most travel apps are free for users. But they’re also a source of income through one or a few monetization models. Apps in the travel and tourism category make money from fees for transportation or accommodation services they provide as well as through advertising, in-app purchases, subscriptions, and sponsorships.

Monetization model



Premium app 

  • Easy to implement
  • No extra investments
  • A paid version of an app should offer really advanced functionality or premium features
  • Advanced marketing tools are required to promote a paid app version

In-app advertising 

  • Works with other monetization strategies
  • Can mix various ad networks (Google Ads, InMobi, AdMob)
  • Unsuitable for categories like taxi service apps

In-app purchases

  • No partners
  • Direct revenue from purchases
  • Strong marketing skills required to support the interests of users and increase purchases

Affiliate programs

  • Small investment
  • Positive user experience
  • Takes time to build relationships with partners


  • Small investment
  • New and less competitive monetization method
  • High versatility 
  • Takes time to build relationships with partners
  • Sign a contract with the right travel platform development company

There are several factors that define what outsourcing development company is the right one for you:

Travel app development cost. Among all regions, Eastern Europe (Ukraine and Poland), Asia (India), and South America (Argentina) are the three best known for their value for money.

travel platform development company
  • Travel-based projects in the portfolio. Find a company with case studies that showcase the team’s experience in travel app development. In case studies, pay special attention to sections about technical solutions, user roles, and results.
  • Feedback from present and past clients. Reviews and feedback from previous clients are easy to find in a company’s profile on Clutch, GoodFirms, TopTal, or Upwork.
  • Interview with the team. During your interview, define your requirements and assess both technical and soft skills of team members. Concentrate on responsibility and planning, problem-solving, and communication.

Steelkiwi’s note: If you’re not a software engineer, leave all technical questions to a hired technical consultant.

Travel guide, social travel app, and more: Steelkiwi’s travel expertise 

Over the past ten years, the Steelkiwi development team has completed dozens of projects in different industries. We are now partnering with healthcare, education, finance, retail, restaurant, and entertainment businesses. Our competencies also cover travel app development. Browse our travel and transportation projects here.

A travel app to connect Georgian tourists to local guided tours

SOURCE: App Store 

Working alongside the Expago in-house development team, we developed a travel application for iOS and Android. Through the Expago app, travelers can easily find tours led by locals and learn about the beauty and history of Georgia firsthand. When signing up for Expago, tourists can:

  • create their profiles by adding personal information and preferences in terms of food, music, sightseeing, and more
  • search for tours by preferred type of activity
  • preview tours, save them to favorites, or book them
  • chat with guides for details
  • pay for tours right in the app

A social travel app to get travel tips and share your own travel experience

SOURCE: App Store

Unlike TripAdvisor, 2B Local gives users direct access to travel tips and suggestions from their friends, friends of friends, and locals they’ve reached out to for recommendations. No sponsored content is included. Through personal 2B Local profiles, users can:

  • subscribe to their friends or locals to get insider travel recommendations
  • learn about new tourist destinations and save them to favorites
  • create travel posts with their own photos and videos
  • invite friends
  • search through different categories
  • read reviews and leave feedback

A social media app for travelers to discover new travel destinations

travel app development
SOURCE: App Store

The idea behind the Spotvice iOS app was to build a platform where travelers could find new travel destinations based on advice from their friends and create a list of locations they want to visit. Using the Spotvice app, users can:

  • create posts about any place they’ve visited or anything they’ve tried
  • add locations to their posts
  • follow friends and their journeys
  • discover new travel spots through friends’ posts and recommendations
  • save destinations to favorites 

Got a travel app idea? Make the most of it!

At Steelkiwi, we believe that a good idea that’s developed and launched is more important than a perfect idea that exists only in the mind. Whether you have only the intention to build an app or you have your idea written down on paper and ready to share, get in touch with one of our sales team representatives. We’ll show you how to make a breakthrough tourism app.