Still eating

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The guys at Tourvest’s Travelit believe the new app they’ve developed is something unique and ground-breaking in a South African context, so editor Dylan Rogers popped into their offices in Johannesburg for a demonstration, with CEO Philip Katz and CIO Barry Painting more than willing to oblige.

“You’ve got to take off bite-sized chunks and keep eating,” says Painting.

That’s what Painting, Katz and their development team have discovered since embarking on the Travelit app development journey roughly nine months ago. The goal, at that time, was simply to develop an app off the back of their existing online travel management solution, with all the research pointing to this as the next step in the evolution of Travelit’s corporate travel tech offering.

Philip Katz CEO & Barry Painting, CIO of Travelit, with Dylan Rogers (left)

“We’re just following global trends,” says Katz, with he and Painting spending time abroad to see what those trends were.

“At the beginning of last year, all anyone was talking about was apps,” says Painting. “Now, this year it’s moved on to Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, although apps remain hugely topical.”

So, what was the overall goal? Well, quite simply, to develop the app and migrate all 360,000 of their existing Travelit customers to the new platform. And they’ve got off to a good start, with Katz and Painting claiming that roughly 1,000 customers signed up in the first three weeks. The ultimate goal is to have all of Travelit’s existing customers signed up before the end of the year.

“We wanted to create a seamless experience for our customers,” says Katz. “But the whole travel process is quite bitty and drawn-out, so we wanted to spoon-feed them as much as possible. We realised that the easiest way to do this was to create an app that fitted properly into our booking platform.”

So, how to do that?

A good starting point was Katz and Painting drawing on their own experience as business travellers and identifying all the different touchpoints along the corporate travel journey that might require a technical solution and provide for the integration into an app. And then to build something that was user-friendly for its customers, with a focus – like all modern day, relevant online solutions – on producing something that required as fewer ‘clicks’ as possible.

And the app itself, which works for both Apple and Android, and is only available to existing Travelit customers?

Well, it starts with the traveller’s profile and that covers everything from personal information and contact details to preferences, loyalty numbers, policy group, card in pocket, and copies of ID, passport, visa, vaccination and car licence documents.

Additional functionality includes all the traveller’s trips and itineraries, and an easy-to-use expense claim section. Here, for example, the traveller can take a picture of a particular slip – in any currency – and file it away.

There are a couple of other key features of the Travelit app. Firstly, its extension from the online portal means that it’s customizable to specific corporates and their travel policies, which was the main reason why Katz and co couldn’t – or didn’t want to – take a white label app solution off the shelf.

“Ours is that corporate, that traveller, that policy group, those vendors,” says Painting. “It’s the same as Travelit does, and it’s very specific to the individual traveller, the company, and the company’s policy group.”

Secondly, it’s intuitive, meaning that the app charts all the steps in the travel journey, and as the traveller progresses, either sends relevant notifications or pushes the relevant documentation to the screen, such as a boarding pass popping up an hour before boarding.

“Our vision is that travellers should never have to print out a single document,” says Katz.

Thirdly, the Travelit app is set up for online and offline functionality, meaning that if the traveller finds himself or herself without an internet connection, they can still work in the app. Think a long flight and the opportunity to consolidate all saved expense claims.

So, where to from here? Currently, the app is set up for the traveller, the booker and the approver, with a focus on notifications/alerts and the approval process.

“Booking is the more complex piece and the next logical step, and we wanted to gain the trust of our users first,” says Katz. “So, we started with the travel documents and approval processes, and we’re just leading them very slowly down this journey.”

That journey has proved more complex and detailed than Katz and Painting could have ever imagined, with new issues to solve popping up almost daily.

So, safe to say they are still “biting off chunks”, and it looks like they are going to be doing that for some time to come.

As Katz says, “we believe it’s exactly the future of where travel is going.”