These New Travel Apps Are Making Luxury Accessible to Everyone

Editors' pick: Originally published Sept. 14.

Hanging out poolside is a significant part of life in Los Angeles.

In terms of importance it ranks somewhere between eating, sleeping and surfing.

And in L.A. (unlike in many other parts of the country), glamorous pool settings are a large part of the equation.

So it should probably come as no surprise that one of the most intriguing new travel apps to hit the market was developed to facilitate this very activity - lounging at a glamorous pool.

Created by a 26-year-old Los Angeles native who has spent a fare share of time by the pool himself, Dip aims to give non-guests access to the posh amenities at luxury hotels.

In other words, entrée to swank swimming pools, fitness facilities and more, without having to pay for a room.

Sounds pretty great right?

"We really wanted to ease people's ability to access those kinds of experiences," says app creator Dylan Bushnell. "There are plenty of hotels in Los Angeles that have been experimenting with this model (of allowing non-guests to access to their amenities), but there wasn't any system supporting that."

Enter Bushnell with his new app, which allows users to purchase passes for such things as daybed rentals, cabana rentals and, of course, pool use. App users select from a curated list of hotel destinations and gain entry to specific amenities in exchange for a fee.

But before getting overly excited about the possibilities, it's important to note that Dip is still in the earliest stages. It launched in late July and for the time being, is only available in Los Angeles and New York.

On the West Coast Dip's first partner is the the Hotel Shangri-La, a stellar art deco property perched on a bluff in Santa Monica.

"It's a real luxury experience," says Bushnell. "Getting to hang out by a pool at luxury hotel is pretty novel. You can't get access to this quality of pool normally, and add to that the fact that you're being waited on while you're there."

The cost for all of this luxury, through the Dip app, is as little as $25 for a weekday pool pass and $45 for weekends.

Dip is just one of the latest offerings in the rapidly evolving and expanding travel technology space. It's a fascinating time for travel technology. Nearly every week new companies are establishing profiles on AngelList, a platform for early startup investing.

If they make it through the financing and beta phase, many of these start-ups are poised to significantly disrupt the travel industry as we know it, in much the same way as Airbnb and Uber have done.

Several of the newest apps are aimed squarely at the luxury travel market and providing access to once rarified experiences. In addition to Dip, there are new entrants such as Velocity, which is focused on securing reservations for its users at the planet's most exclusive restaurants and Recharge, which allows for renting luxury hotel rooms by the minute (in case you just want to take a quick nap or use the shower).

"In the travel technology space, there's a lot of dinosaur companies that are older, established companies and their technology is outdated. But what is really interesting is that there are all of these new start-ups popping into the industry that are not constrained by size or by an established business model, so it's a very exciting time," says Marina Janeiko, founder of Travel Tech Con, an independent conference in San Francisco focused on emerging technology in travel.

As someone who works closely with travel tech start-ups -- helping them to get to the next level in disrupting the industry by assisting with funding, mentorship, accelerator and pilot programs -- Janeiko has a unique bird's eye view of the landscape.

At Travel Tech Con's most recent conference, in May, the discussion among attendees covered everything from artificial intelligence to virtual reality and self-driving cars, all of which will dramatically impact travel in the coming decade, she says.

"It's exciting because these start-ups are open to collaborating with each other and to embracing new technology that's not necessarily made for the travel space but can be used there," says Janeiko.

Recharge is one of the new apps Janeiko finds particularly promising. It provides a frictionless experience that's hugely beneficial to the consumer. By booking through Recharge, users bypass the need to provide credit card information at a reception desk. They can simply breeze by to pick up the room key and be on their way.

Perhaps more importantly, it's yet another example of an app that's unlocking new luxury experiences and opportunities for travelers.

"What's interesting is these apps allow you to do things that were not possible before," Janieko continues. "Recharge allows you to book hotels by the minute, for just a few hours. So if you're in between meetings or need a quick nap and shower, now you can do that."

And now you can do that at a luxury hotel for around 67 cents a minute, or $40 an hour, according to a TechCrunch article about Recharge.

Barely a year old, Recharge recently secured $2.3 million in seed funding.

Still, much like Dip, its footprint remains limited, currently only serving the San Francisco area. Which means those wanting in on such luxury amenities and fun, will have to wait a little longer.

FlyingYak is another recently launched app that seeks to reinvent the travel experience. This fascinating offering is based largely on an interactive map that allows users to enter their daily travel budget and compare the travel costs for more than 1,000 cities. Filters allow for searching and comparing detailed specifics in each city such as cost of living, weather, nightlife, transportation, beaches, festivals, coworking opportunities, and more.

To this wealth of information Flying Yak adds a key social component. Users can search for fellow "Yakkers" in a given city and connect with them by messaging them. The profiles of Yak users highlight how many countries and cities they've been to, what their interests and areas of expertise are and provide a feed of posts from the user about their travels.

The site also has an ambassador for each city, a local expert who posts information on an ongoing basis - updates about new events, as well as things to see and do, and insight regarding how much visitors should expect to spend.

"Flying Yak combines the info you would need when visiting a different city and also the social stuff that people are posting," explains Britanny Carter, Yak's head of marketing. "We look at this as a resource for travelers, expats and digital nomads, ultimately they're all running in the same circles."

The site and app were created to assist those with the question - how far will my dollar stretch in a given destination? In the past, answering that question required searching through a variety of online sources and travel forums. But Flying Yak is a one stop shop for such questions.

More importantly, Flying Yak is aimed at a generation of travelers (Millennials primarily) who are not necessarily interested in the TripAdvisor approach to obtaining information about what to see or do when traveling, says Carter. In other words, they're not interested in Top 10 lists detailing the best museums or other high traffic tourist haunts.

"Millennials are the most tech savvy, and they're the most interested in connecting," Carter says. "They're more interested in the local café and the local people and what their lives are like. They aren't interested in group tours of 40 people." 

Launched at the end of March, the site has about 2,000 Yakkers.

There are countless other new travel apps as well, according to both Carter and Janieko. Apps such as Couchsurfing and Roam, HelloScout and Hitlist. Perhaps too many to keep up with.

The bottom line for travelers, however, is before you head off on that next trip, remember there may be an app that can radically improve your travel experience. The challenge may just be finding it, amid the flurry of travel tech offerings.

"There's a lot of noise in the space right now. A lot of entrepreneurs are trying to scratch their own itch," says Carter. "Travel is something people are naturally interested in. It's a vertical people are comfortable with and there's a lot of people out there who are passionate about traveling."

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