Guest Post: Planes, trains and automobiles: Why Uber’s ‘super-app’ strategy works as a scalable solution

Guest Post: Planes, trains and automobiles: Why Uber’s ‘super-app’ strategy works as a scalable solution

J F Grossen, the VP, senior group creative director, experience, travel and hospitality of Publicis Sapient, talks through why Uber's new super-app could be the way forward to tap into a industry with scalability potential never seen before

Last week, thousands of passengers in Europe were stranded due to technical issues in incoming flight data. When the unfortunate reality of airline disruption occurs, passengers are forced to find alternative modes of transport to get to their destination or alternative arrangements while awaiting a resumption of services. 

Enter Uber’s new business proposition: a ‘super-app’ adding trains, buses, planes, and car rentals to its existing services. 

A super-app is a multifunctional application that would offer users - namely, travellers, partners, or employees - a range of fundamental features, along with the ability to access an assortment of mini-apps designed for specific tasks or services. Providing an end-to-end experience in one place.

This is an idea the company has been developing since 2018 and is a natural next step: Uber Eats has already opened up the wallets of millions of people so far and lubricated the idea that they can provide well beyond just ride-sharing.

There is debate over whether US and UK customers will take to this idea. The fragmented nature of existing services in these markets, combined with complex data regulation, and the fear of ‘feature bloat’ – where the addition of too many features could make an app slow – means developers have been less keen until now to engage with super-apps.

However, examining the success of this approach in other markets, and what benefits digitalisation brings to travellers reveals that not only could these markets embrace the idea of a travel super-app, but they would flourish from it.

How Asia’s app adoption phenomenon bodes for the travel industry

When talking of the idea of ‘super-app adoption,’ the WeChat craze in Asia gives a clear indication of potential success. The world’s first super-app, WeChat was launched in 2011, and by 2013 had started supporting digital payments and business applications. Today, it has around 1.3 billion active monthly users. 

The Asia-Pacific region as a whole boasts 2.14 billion active social media users, and the most popular apps now enable brand communications and value-added services off the back of the success of WeChat. 

Behind this craze is the principle to create frictionless transactions in pretty much any situation, across banking, communications, and more. Taking this principle of digital ease of use could lead to Western adoption. 

When Elon Musk bought Twitter (now “X”), the intention was to create an “everything app,” even explicitly stating the platform could become a “WeChat equivalent”. The data is there to support this idea: a 2022 consumer survey by PayPal and PAYMNTS found that 72% of US respondents would be interested in using a super-app. Gartner expects that by 2027, more than 50% of the global population will be daily active users of multiple super-apps. 

If a travel super-app were to take this approach, it could tap into a $2.91 trillion global industry on a scale potentially never seen before. 

The reasons for travellers adopting this kind of super-app

The truth is, digitalisation is really about one thing for the consumer: convenience. Travellers want to get to their destination with as little stress as possible. Instead of downloading multiple apps for different needs – car rental, airline updates, food delivery – a super-app could house all these services in one accessible place. 

That requires the provider to step up and supply an improved user experience. If talking about super-app for airport services, for example, an integrated approach means putting flight information, gate changes, luggage tracking, food ordering services, transportation services, and more, all in one place. 

Understandably that requires a lot of work and data collection from the provider, but the incentive for the customer is massive. A super-app saves space on the user’s device, avoiding multiple downloads and sign-ups, which makes it more likely for a customer to engage with digital services. 

Data collection allows for personalisation, meaning travellers could customise the app to their preferences. For example, some might need more information about on-site amenities, while others may focus on transportation options or flight updates. 

By providing a singular app to cater to customers’ needs, companies have the opportunity to incentivise and make their services exclusive, becoming the ‘go-to’ place for all travel needs.  

Benefits of companies adopting the super-app 

Incorporating multiple services within one app would result in shared resources, such as user authentication mechanisms, data storage, and Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). This could potentially decrease the overall system complexity and enhance performance, avoiding the ‘feature bloat’ developers fear.

Within airports, a super-app could streamline operations by integrating various functions like maintenance requests, security protocols, and communication within teams. 

As users interact more with multiple services, the host could collect more comprehensive data on user behaviours and preferences. This could result in improved personalisation, and more accurately targeted communications. 

Finally, retail and restaurant integrations could allow for seamless partner and affiliate content. The setup of a super-app allows for the incorporation of various mini-apps, each representing a partner or affiliate. Uber is already doing this, on top of all the food delivery services, providing groceries from supermarkets like Sainsbury’s, Asda, and Co-op in the UK, and Albertsons Companies in the US. 

Building on global trends in mobile digital experiences, travellers' experiences could be hugely improved using the super-app framework. It would offer users – travellers, partners, employees – the ability to access an assortment of tools for specific tasks or services. 

Ultimately, a super-app would function as a platform that customises the needs of the user, ensuring consistent and personalised interactions to result in a holistic digital approach to the travel industry.