Report: Demand grows for smart travel apps in the world's fastest-growing economies

Fri, 2015-05-22 06:00 -- Doug Peeples

It's common knowledge that urban populations in several countries are swelling quickly as more and more residents choose to take advantage of the economic and other benefits of city living -- and that the trend is not likely to slow anytime soon. Cities overwhelmed with new residents are feeling it in a number of ways, particularly in transportation infrastructure.

A new report from Council Lead Partner MasterCard found that as residents abandon their cars in favor of walking, cycling and public transit to avoid traffic snarls, they are becoming increasingly dependent on services that help them get from Point A to Point B faster and more conveniently.

Gauging public interest in smart travel apps
The report, Connecting Cities: Unlocking Potential in Emerging Markets, says most residents in Brazil, China, India and Singapore are more than willing to share their user data to get those services. To illustrate, here are a few key findings in the report:

  • More than half of city residents are willing to share their data if it will make their urban trips easier
  • Less than one in seven (14%) do not want to share their behavioral data
  • 81% would welcome a service that monitors their travel routes and suggests alternate travel options as needed. Interest in that service is strongest in India (90%) with strong interest in Brazil (85%) and China (77%) as well
  • The use of travel apps is accelerating rapidly. The report noted that urban residents in India (37%) and China (34%) are now using smartphone travel apps at least once a month
  • Behavior in all of the markets surveyed has changed. The report says more than 60% of city residents are walking, cycling or using public transportation more to beat the traffic

Why it's important
It goes without saying that an efficient transportation network is critical to a city's ability to sustain a growing economy, not to mention enhance its appeal as a tourism destination. A statement in the report's executive summary contends "Traffic congestion arising from the use of private cars has become unsustainable. In emerging markets it is inevitable that cars will be taxed and regulated to curb their use." It also explains that while bus rapid transit (BRT) is an increasingly popular and cost-effective solution for many emerging market economies. "BRT can only work if all aspects of the journey are fast – there must be either pre-payment or contactless payments if buses are to be boarded quickly,"  the report suggests.

As Hany Fam, president of MasterCard Enterprise Partnerships put it, "Efficient transport networks are crucial for inclusive and sustainable economic growth. The findings of this report should encourage cities and transit operators across emerging markets to unlock the power of data when developing new services."

Smartphone travel apps aren't exactly new
Several cities offer smartphone travel apps to help residents and visitors find what they're looking for, whether it's a restaurant, a hiking trail or other attraction. Here are two featured in the Smart City Council's Apps Gallery to give you an idea of how those apps are used today:

  • Vic-Heritage explores the histories of the most important and unusual places in Melbourne and regional Victoria, Australia. Users can search the 2,200-plus places on the Victorian Heritage Register and discover the history around them with the "near me" feature. It includes houses and mansions, bridges, trees, gardens and more.
  • Hike Salt Lake City offers trail locations, driving directions, GPS coordinates, points of interest and other features for those who want information on hiking options in and around the Salt Lake City, Utah area.  

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Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.

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