The Evolution Of Travel Apps And Solo Travel

Jelena Vukadinovic, Head of Mobile at Hostelworld explores…

Travel has always been empowered by technology, and coming out of a global pandemic is no exception – sparking behavioural changes for many.

As we learnt more about our evolving audience and their motivations for booking, we recognised that 60% of our app bookers are solo travellers, looking to meet like-minded people. It’s the human connection that hostels offer and the ability to form lasting friendships and memories that keeps them coming back.

We took a step back and asked ourselves, what more could we do to satisfy our audience’s need for connection? How could we use tech to enhance the sociability of their travelling experience? In response, we’ve evolved the Hostelworld app, to be as much about meeting people and having those connections as it is about finding a great hostel.

To support our solo travel community, we launched The Solo System – a social travel toolkit within the Hostelworld app which enables solo travellers to connect. We’ve been travellers’ go-to site for hostel booking for over 20 years now, with around 17,000 hostels to choose from, in 180 countries, so it’s awesome to create the next chapter of our platform.

Travellers can now see who’s staying at their chosen hostel before booking, and once booked they can scroll through travellers’ profiles and start chatting safely – all in our app. We’re experimenting with chat groups focused on travelling interests and it’s also possible to direct message other travellers and start private chats.

We anticipate demand for social travel to increase, with more than half of our travellers planning a solo adventure in 2022. There’s also a rise in those looking to live and work as digital nomads, so freedom is top of the agenda!

Why social connection is more important than ever for solo travellers

Meeting new people while exploring the world has been pretty off-limits for most people over the last two years – for reasons we’re all aware of! It’s not a stretch to say there’s pent-up demand for real-life connection after endless hours spent on video calls.

And while this journey begins with an app, our goal is to enable travellers to connect with those who share similar interests, and plan adventures together.

Finding a group of like-minded people before you’ve even started your journey, gives you a group of friends to explore with, which can make the solo trip less nerve-wracking.

We don’t see solo travel slowing down at any point soon, as 85% of our app users book a dorm bed on their first booking. The Solo System is a game-changer for our community, particularly for the 35% of solo travellers who say their top concern is feeling lonely on a trip.

How my own experiences inspired The Solo System 

Joining Hostelworld has enabled me to merge my passion for travel with social communities in one ambitious role. If someone asks what gets me out of bed in the morning, it would be the opportunity to make meaningful connections happen, whether they last a lifetime or turn into a lifelong story you tell at parties.

I’ve shared so many experiences with people I’ve met travelling. From meeting people on a walking tour in Madrid, which rolled into late-night tapas and wine, to meeting others over tea in a Marrakesh square, who ended up plotting out my road trip in Mexico as they used to live there. And once I learned through social media a friend just landed in Dublin while I was boarding a plane there – this huge coincidence enabled a 6-year overdue coffee date and was the best part of my journey!

How has the new app been received by travellers so far/engagement?

Just a few days after rolling the new features out, we started seeing tags on social media from travellers who connected in our chat and then met in real life and explored cities together – and those are exactly the moments we were looking to create.

And we’ve only just begun! There’s plenty more in this travel social space to come, with another new feature being rolled out this summer and lots more planned for the future.