How travel brands use messaging
First, messaging is making its way into the travel industry, often at the hands of luxury brands and startups. Startups are treating their customers like luxury brands would, with attentive personalization. Messaging allows for fast responses and personalization, thanks to context and conversation history. Travel and hospitality brands are placing messaging at various points in their customer’s journey, before, during and after the trip itself.
Second, messaging makes personalization easy for travel and hospitality brands to carry out at scale. Airlines, hotels and online travel agencies are using messaging to strengthen their relationships with customers. It’s not just about support, and it’s not just about sales — these brands have realized that messaging is a powerful tool that makes it easier to deliver convenient and memorable customer experiences.
Third, messaging is becoming more popular. There’s a sense that consumers want it, but confusion about how to implement it. Some brands have messaging at their core, while others are opening messaging channels for the first time. The groundwork has been laid for excellent, messaging-first customer experiences by industry innovators like Four Seasons.
American Express, for example, announced the release of a 24/7 travel concierge service available to Platinum and Centurion members. The original concierge service was phone-based and accessed from the Amex app. Now tapping on the number will prompt the client to chat with the concierge in iMessage, built on Apple Business Chat.
1. The chatbot debate
You can’t have a conversation about business messaging without mentioning chatbots, but travel and hospitality brands are still trying to find a fit for them. They’re most commonly used in the booking phase, automating sales or triaging support before making themselves scarce during hotel stays. A notable example includes Alexa for Hospitality, which allows guests to use the voice assistant as they would use room service. In this case, the voice assistant adds a layer of convenience and familiarity. A less talented bot might alienate the guest.
During one of my own trips, a rare in-stay chatbot created some unnecessary friction. Following the initial pleasant surprise of being greeted on Messenger, the bot didn’t do much apart from recommending I call the front desk when I asked for towels. After my stay, a live agent appeared in the same conversation to ask me if I still needed towels. The bot glitched and nobody ever saw my request. I understood why many purveyors of guest messaging are forgoing chatbots altogether.
Luxury hotels like Four Seasons, which deployed guest messaging across all of its properties in 2018, always engage the customer in a conversation with a real human. While automation might be layered on to add functionality like routing queries to specific departments, guests are none the wiser — and it works. Four Seasons Chat, which was built on Zendesk’s Sunshine Conversations platform, has won awards from Hotel Tech while Four Seasons properties have received more five-star ratings from the Forbes Travel Guide than any other brand.
It comes as no surprise, then, that when airlines and OTAs are using chatbots, they’re automating simple processes to help customers make purchases. SnapTravel, for example, aggregates affordable hotel rooms and sells them in a totally conversational interface. WestJet, Kayak, and Booking.com — just to name a few — similarly engage customers in messaging apps, allowing them to search for flights, hotels, or home stays in the conversation.