nicole neuberger

How to inspire more women to travel alone?

Travelhapp – A web app for solo travelers

Travelhapp Mobile Web App for Solo Travelers - Nicole Neuberger, Service & UX Designer

Case Study: Summary

  • Problem: Traveling alone is great, but it can be challenging, costly or even dangerous to do certain activities alone, especially for women
  • Solution: Travelhapp is a responsive web app (PWA) which allows solo travelers in Colombia to team up for tours and other activities. It also provides tailored travel inspiration and information for solo travelers. 
  • Goals: Inspire more women to travel alone, enable women to travel with a light heart and give them the means to realize their dreams on the spur of the moment.
  • Client and approach: Travelhapp is my startup project that I addressed with a human-centered service design approach. 
  • My role: I’m the founder, project lead and sole Service & UX designer. My responsibilities encompassed everything except graphic design and web development.
  • Activities and Deliverables: Competitor, Trend, Domain & Market Analysis (Competitor Positioning Matrix), User Research (Affinity Diagram, Personas, Stakeholder System Map, Experience Map), UX & Service Design (Moodboard, Pen & Paper Sketches, Adobe XD Wireframes & Prototype Traveller & Provider UI, Customer Journey, Service Offering and Value Map), User Testing (Prototype Testing, Service Evidencing – Future Service Probes)
  • Outcome: Travelhapp is up and running! Check it out. Women are thrilled whenever I talk about the project. The biggest challenge for me as an introverted designer now lies in marketing and business development. I am gradually becoming more comfortable with these tasks.

How it all began: Traveling alone is great, but...

Years back I was lying in a hammock in a small village on Sumatra island, listening to the sounds of the nearby river while waiting for some more travelers to arrive in order to be able to do a jungle tour which required a minimum of 3 participants. They did not come. So, I negotiated a special price for a solo tour with a local tour guide to be, but it became quickly clear that he had only started his training when we got totally lost and ended up in a spot with armed men. In that village, it ocurred to me that there must be some other lonesome traveler around facing the same challenge as myself and it must be possible to find her/him. 

I also remember the Lonely Planet saying things like “It’s an amazing 2-hour hike through the forest to get to a mesmerizing waterfall, which is totally doable without a guide”. Great, but will these 2 hours feel safe for me as a woman on my own?

I presented my idea on how to address the problem to a jury responsible for deciding pre-seed funding for highly innovative projects in the Creative Industries. To my great joy, while traveling through Ecuador, I received notice that my idea would be funded! Of course, I proceeded to conduct some participant observation and contextual interviews with other travelers immediately…

Female Solo Travel, woman traveling alone

Undertaking certain activities alone can be challenging, impossible, costly, unsafe – or sometimes simply boring.

Meet Anna, a passionate solo traveler

When talking to female solo travelers it quickly became evident that the type of women I had in mind as Travelhapp users were not very interested in a female-only travel network. Indeed, Travelhapp became an inclusive platform: designed primarily with women’s needs in mind, yet welcoming everyone. More important than the gender of the company was the possibility to decide when to seek company, with whom and what for. 

Anna is the main persona for Travelhapp and represents a large part of the target group. It’s important to note that the main target group of Travelhapp is not young backpackers in their 20s, but “flashpackers” aged around 30 and upwards.

Persona - Nicole Neuberger, Service & UX Designer
Persona - Nicole Neuberger, Service & UX Designer

Is there room for yet another travel service?

The first thing I did upon returning home from my trip was to intensify my initial analysis of the competitive landscape and identify differentiators for my niche.

Competitor Positioning Matrix - Nicole Neuberger, Service & UX Designer
Positioning Matrix, Competitive Analysis

Some differentiators

Getting to know tour providers in Colombia and their challenges

After I had verified that the problem I encountered is indeed a problem for many women and other vulnerable groups traveling alone, I needed to check economic viability. Will the service be able to sustain itself?

My idea was combining a solo traveler network with the promotion of interesting tours by small local providers while addressing the “minimum number of participants”-issue. But are solo travelers an interesting niche for tour providers? And how can I create a service that fits into their lives and provides value to them? I chose Colombia as a pilot country because of its great potential as a travel destination and existing contacts. Then I started off for what turned out to be one of the most exciting research experiences in my 20+ years career…

I was lucky to be able to partner with the chambers of commerce of the Huila region in Colombia who were at the time conducting activities to empower local tourism providers. We organized several service safaris in different locations, followed by experience mapping workshops to extract and visualize insights on both the current traveler and provider experience. Based on these maps we identified opportunities for innovation and improvement (both for Travelhapp and for local provides). I digitalized the post-it maps and shared them in a low-threshold spreadsheet format so that local tourism providers could easily continue working with them. 

Additionally I conducted in-depth one-on-one contextual interviews with dive shop owners, tour agencies, hoteliers, and other relevant stakeholders to understand their day-to-day tasks and challenges. In this occasion I also collected feedback on simple sketches of early feature ideas. In my experience, visualizations help even in very early phases to get more solid and tangible design input.

Back home: What to do with all the insights???

What I most love and most dread at the same time is the amount of insights and ideas ethnographic user research produces. You could easily envision a 10-years project based on an intense 2-weeks research phase. For me selecting ideas (and discarding others) is maybe the most emotionally challenging part of a design project, especially if I have to work alone. In fact, in a team this is much easier and more fun, but when it’s your own project and you are on a tight budget you have to manage your resources very carefully… 

In the case of Travelhapp, it helped a lot refocusing on the core problem to solve and sketching out ideas to understand their complexity. Luckily it had turned out that “minimum number of participants”-issue also from provider view was a problem worth solving.

Small tours operators often guide their tours themselves. What does this imply?

Many small local tour providers face challenges in managing a real-time inventory of tour slots for instant bookings due to a lack of resources. On the other hand, standard booking sites usually don’t address the solo traveler’s struggle to get a group together. To tackle both issues, we facilitate direct communication between travelers and providers before booking, creating also room for personalized, on-demand offers.

How to "design it right"? Prototype, test, repeat

After defining the feature set for the MVP I engaged in rapid prototyping and user testing cycles both with travelers and tour providers to make sure Travelhapp would be easy to use. 

What was the most shocking feedback?

The most shocking feedback came from an introverted woman in her late 40s – in my eyes 100% my target group. She found that the language, especially in the Onboarding, sounded like Travelhapp was made for a young backpacking crowd. This comment worked as an eye-opener for me and I went on to change the tone.

Additionally to testing the Travelhapp interface, I also wanted to continue testing the economic viability of my service offer. So, I presented the service in Colombia’s most important tourism fair even before it was actually up and running, an approach called “service evidencing”, “archeology of the future” or “tomorrow’s narratives” in Service Design. The offer proved to be very interesting to tour providers and I made a lot of contacts. The card set was designed by the amazing graphic designer Gaby Lucano.

Implementation and System Thinking

After validating the initial design concept, we transitioned to an Agile Development approach with sprints, supported by a Trello Kanban board, to bring the Travelhapp web app to life.

As Travelhapp is an entirely new service and business, systemic thinking was crucial from the beginning. Starting with a simple pen and paper mind map, I utilized various service design tools to structure both the service and business, including Stakeholder and System Mapping, and the Business Model Canvas, among others.

Mapping out the key phases and steps of the customer journey is, in my opinion, one of the most flexible and useful methods in both Service and UX Design. It can identify opportunities in early phases or uncover issues, extend to become a Service Blueprint, and be used for Organizational Impact Analysis, among other applications. I also found it valuable for structuring and communicating my cooperation with local tour providers.

 

Early Mind Map Service and Business Concept - Nicole Neuberger, Service & UX Designer
Early Concept Mind Map Travelhapp (formerly "flashtours")
Cooperation Model - Nicole Neuberger, Service & UX Designer
Cooperation Model

Outcome: Experience more on your Solo Trip!

The minimal viable product (MVP) focuses on the core value proposition to help solo travelers (especially female solo travelers) experience more during a solo trip by being able to team up with other people when needed or desired. It also provides detailed information on things to do nearby and suggestions for trusted places to meet up. Travelers can specify their current location and next travel destination and will get notified whenever new traveler activities or tours are published in these locations.

 Planning a solo trip to Colombia? Check out Travelhapp!

Travelhapp, Traveler Activities - Nicole Neuberger, Service & UX Designer

Traveler Activities

Find other solo travelers to share experiences and save money. Go for a walk together, have dinner, share a taxi or form a tour group.

Travelhapp, Tours - Nicole Neuberger, Service & UX Designer

Tours & Experiences

Discover interesting tours and experiences offered by small local tour providers (many of them led by women).

Travelhapp, Inspiration - Nicole Neuberger, Service & UX Designer

Inspiration

Discover interesting things to do and see near you and find out, if it's easy to go on your own.

Service Value Map: Functions and Benefits - Nicole Neuberger, Service & UX Designer
Service Offering and Value Map

Thoughts on mindful entrepreneurship, the slow startup and organic growth

I’m not only a strong advocate for slow travel; I also believe in the slow startup and organic growth. While developing Travelhapp, I received and survived a breast cancer diagnosis. This experience taught me the importance of following my intuition while growing Travelhapp. When working on your own business, you may encounter standard suggestions that often represent common views in a male-dominated tech world. I think, it’s important to question these assumptions and conduct your own experiments to grow something authentic, aligned with your vision, and respectful of your needs as a human being. 

Acknowledgements

Special thanks to my team, comprised of freelance collaborators and an external consultant:
  • Gaby Lucano (Graphic Design, Visual Design)
  • Juan Carlos Salazar, Camilo Marín & Oscar Parra (Full-Stack Development)
  • Stefan Theissbacher (Business and Marketing Consulting)

The birth of Travelhapp has only been possible thanks to the pre-seed funding received from Austria Wirtschaftsservice (aws) and the Austrian Federal Ministry of Digital and Economic Affairs for conducting a feasibility study and proof-of-concept in the context of the aws impulse XS program.

I’d also like to express my gratitude to the Austrian Chamber of Commerce for helping me get started in Colombia through their Go International program, and especially to the fantastic team at Advantage Austria, the Commercial Office of Austria in Bogotá (who even managed to arrange a meeting at the Colombian Ministry of Tourism for me when I was just starting the project).

Many thanks also to the CCB (Camara de Comercio de Bogotá) for their assistance with my first Go To Market campaign and helping me refine my Business Model.
logos aws austria wirtschaftservice & Federal Ministry of Digital and Economic Affairs Austria

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