The bargain-travel shopping app Hopper has risen from relative obscurity to prominence over the past two years: In 2021, its 15 million downloads trailed only Uber, Google Maps and Lyft in the U.S. travel market, according to Apptopia.
But Hopper CEO Frederic Lalonde has a far more ambitious goal: to emerge as the primary travel "super app" in North America.
"We think that there is no good North American travel app that is designed to exist as a starting point," Lalonde said during a recent interview. "And we think that the core thing you need to offer is not necessarily discovery or all these weird theories that have been tried and failed, such as more social network connectivity. It's that when you use this app, you know you get the lowest price all the time. So, we are building a full ecosystem where our customers can just launch the app and do everything they need there."
Super apps, which offer a single entry point to a wide range of services, got their start in the Asian market with such major players as WeChat, Alibaba and Grab.
Hopper has begun moving along such a course within the travel space by offering bookings for air, hotels, vacation rentals and car rentals, all via app only. The company also acquired the digital tours and activities marketplace PlacePass last fall and is aiming toward integrating tours content into the app sometime this year.
But what especially excites Lalonde is the company's suite of unique technical solutions. Hopper is well-known for its price-predicting algorithm, which advises travel shoppers on the best time to purchase airline tickets. More recently, the company has added financial technology, or fintech, solutions that Lalonde says have enlarged the pie within the North American OTA market.
Those solutions include the option for travel shoppers who aren't ready to make a purchase to freeze the price of an airline ticket, hotel room or car rental for a fee of generally 5% to 15% of the underlying product cost. Then, if the price of the flight, room or car rises, Hopper covers the difference up to a predetermined cap.
Hopper also sells a product called Flight Disruption Guarantee, which enables customers who miss a connection or have their flights canceled or delayed by at least an hour to receive a full refund or rebook for free via the app.
For hotels, Hopper just released Leave for Any Reason and Cancel for Any Reason solutions. Leave for Any Reason enables customers who are dissatisfied with their lodging to pick another hotel of the same star category and Hopper will cover the costs of the new booking.
Hopper says that 60% of its customers currently purchase at least one fintech product, accounting for half of its total revenue. The products produce a profit margin of at least 50%, Lalonde said, far exceeding margins for travel bookings.
Lalonde says that, fundamentally, people will pay for security, especially when it is coupled with convenience. On Hopper, he added, customers on average spend an extra 10% for travel than they do on other OTAs.
"That's because they add these products, which we are the only ones to offer," he said.
Lalonde said he expects ecommerce in North America, including travel shopping, to follow the pattern of Southeast Asia, where mobile purchases dominate over desktop purchases. When that happens, he said, North American travel shoppers won't be willing to do research via dozens of websites. That's why a super app will emerge.
"So the question is, will it be an ecommerce app that sells travel?" Lalonde said rhetorically. "Will it be a travel app that does ridesharing? Will it be a ridesharing app that does travel? But somebody's going to win."