Travel by definition is not static — it's being on the move, with changing locations and changing perspectives. In a new series, Travel + Leisure is profiling some of the game changers in the travel sphere that are taking innovation on the road.
Purchasing airplane tickets has long been one of the most frustrating aspects of travel — but websites and mobile apps, like Hopper, are working hard to take the guesswork (and yes, the agony) out of the process.
Since 2007, this farecasting app has been collecting troves of historical data (several trillion airfare price quotes) to tell you precisely when to buy those tickets you’ve been watching. Today, they can predict future flight prices with 95 percent accuracy, even if you’re planning a trip six months in advance.
Four years ago, Maggie Moran joined the team at Hopper. “[Their] goal has always been to utilize big data in order to make travel planning easier. I knew from my own personal experience how frustrating that process could be,” Moran told Travel + Leisure. “I felt like there was a big, exciting challenge here: changing the way people plan and book travel.”
Today, Moran is Hopper’s Head of Product — meaning she’s responsible for “driving the direction” of the Hopper mobile app. She works with various teams to determine what, precisely, Hopper needs to build next to improve the user experience.
T+L spoke with Moran to learn how she continues to innovate a product that has already seriously disrupted the way travelers book airfare — and how she understands and unravels the “unique challenges of the travel industry.”
T+L: What do you find exciting about working for a relatively young company that is innovating in a legacy business like the airfare industry?
Maggie Moran: "It can be such an outdated industry, but it means there are limitless opportunities to make this ancient, painful task — booking flights — better. It’s nice to be the young, upstart, creative company! We can move from concept to design to release fairly quickly and test out ideas and listen to our users in a way that older, bigger companies can’t.
Hopper tries not to think: 'This is how things are done, so we should keep doing that.' We think: 'This is how things are done, so let’s do it totally differently.'"
What iterations have you seen Hopper go through since you joined?
"Many, many. The biggest was, of course, pivoting from being a web-based product to a mobile-only app in 2015. That was a gutsy move that was pretty rewarding to see through, validating that users want to research and book flights on their smartphones.
I’ve also learned a lot about how much users are really attached to the Hopper brand and all these playful, user-friendly elements that we introduced to support our core predictions, such as the color-coded ‘when to fly’ calendar and even the bunny [mascot] himself.
For every new feature and new iteration, I think, ‘How would the bunny say this? How would the bunny introduce this feature to the user?’ To users, Hopper is the bunny. He’s become an integral part of the Hopper universe! Seeing how we’ve built more brand identity with each new release has been pretty rewarding — and we have many more exciting iterations to go with him."
How do you see the airline industry changing when it comes to technology? What role do you think Hopper plays in that?
"Mobile technology has really let Hopper get to know our users in a much more personal way. Not everyone shops for flights the same way. Not everyone looks for the same things when choosing a flight. Different price points and destinations appeal to different users.
Hopper is able to personalize the research and booking experience and find users flights they want, for prices they want, to places they want to go. Our push notifications and feedback loops create this personalized communication. We’re making smart recommendations, just like a travel agent would, instead of relying on, say, display ads that may not be relevant to a traveler and don’t work well on a phone.
There’s a lot of competition in the airline industry, so that ability to find, talk with, and be relevant to future travelers — especially those on mobile — is going to be important."
How does travel inspire you, personally?
"Booking and flying is pretty helpful when working on a travel app! There’s no better way to get a sense of your users' needs and pain points than experiencing them yourself.
I think that happens to a lot of us at Hopper. Any time we fly or check into a hotel, we’re thinking, ‘Ooh, this could be so much better if’ — or ‘Imagine if I could do this thing on my phone instead!’ This means there’s a lot of sketching The Next Big Idea on cocktail napkins in airport bars.”
What do you think the future of travel booking will look like? How will things be different for travelers in the near future?
"Mobile booking gets more popular every year, but a lot of it hasn’t been optimized yet. There’s plenty of opportunity to speed up and customize the rest of the user’s travel-booking experience, whether it’s functional but annoying tasks like checking in for a flight, or more fun stuff like ordering meals and choosing hotels.
I do think we’ll see technology replacing things like boarding passes in favor of facial recognition, and new mobile payment technology making checkout faster and safer. Once users realize how fast and easy it is to book travel on their phones, they don’t go back."
This interview has been lightly edited for length.