Lifestyle

Hitlist update positions it to challenge heavyweight travel apps like Kayak and HotelTonight

Above: A screen shot of the Hitlist app.

Image Credit: Jordan Novet/VentureBeat

TripCommon, the startup behind traveling app Hitlist, gave its iOS app a slick revamp earlier this week. Now Hitlist looks poised to become an all-in-one social network, discovery tool, and booking service for globe-trotting travelers.

The app has already racked up more than 50,000 users, but TripCommon believed they could make it better.

“We weren’t really seeing the kind of retention we wanted to see in the product,” Gillian Morris, TripCommon’s chief executive and a co-founder, said in an interview with VentureBeat.

“It’s sort of like in the old version-one experience is like playing through a video game. Once you see it once, there wasn’t a reason to come back to it.”

So the team went to work improving the search mechanism and other components in Hitlist. Their efforts could help the app become useful for more people who are looking for places to go — and stand out in the world of travel apps.

And it is a crowded world, with lots of competition.

Kayak and SkyScanner, Morris said, can help if you know where you want to go — but if you don’t, then good luck. Plus, on those apps, it takes time to go through search after search. HotelTonight has a nice way of presenting hotels, but good luck spotting good flights through it. Flying has a notion of a community of travelers hopping aboard flights, but it has admittedly “encountered some brief turbulence.”

So at least for this moment, Morris thinks Hitlist is in a good position to take off in a big way.

The original app came out in November, after developers built it with the PhoneGap mobile development framework. Now they’ve taken development into their own hands and dropped design elements like the Tinder-style swiping through destinations.

“[Y]ou were forced to say whether you were interested in a city before you got a new suggestion,” Morris explained in an email. “This was fun for some people but not as useful as the way we’ve structured things now.” Now cities stack up vertically; you can see a whole bunch at a glance.

When you first sign up for Hitlist and connect it with your Facebook account, the app shows you the top cities where your Facebook friends live. With the push of a button, you can select the cities you want to visit. At that point, Hitlist can start looking out for good-priced flights to those cities.

The user profile page calls out the percentage of the world, the number of countries, and the number of cities you’ve visited.

In the new version of Hitlist, you can check out the places where your friends have been. That might sound like a cute gimmick, but it can actually be helpful.

“Sometimes looking at who’s been to a place gives me a much better sense than any Google search can possibly do of what the place is like and whether I’d like that,” Morris said.

The five-person team based in New York has worked on version two for the past six months. It hit the iTunes Store on Monday. A new version of the Android app should ship next month.

The startup is working with airlines to see about providing discounted fares to Hitlist users.

TripCommon has raised $325,000 to date. Investors include former Orbitz chairman Jeff Clarke and JetBlue co-founder John Owen.

The startup receives a commission every time someone books a flight through Hitlist.

Meanwhile Morris and her colleagues would like to make more of the data the app collects about people and their destination preferences.

“For example, when airlines are evaluating their marketing strategies, it might be useful to know what demographic is interested in what flights,” she said.

“Even potentially having direct lines to these people — you could imagine it would be very simple to do some basic surveys in our app that would be fun for users to do and also improve user insights.”

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