The launch of WhatsApp Business API solution, as well as the emergence of smart conversational marketing tools, has brought messaging to millions of companies around the world. One of the industries expected to benefit the most from this trend is travel & hospitality. And so, today, we’ll look into the possible applications of WhatsApp API and their role in the impending WhatsApp travel revolution.
The messaging apps your customers use to chat with family and friends are becoming places of business. And, despite being more and more concerned about privacy, users are rather welcoming brands using messaging.
The main reason?
When it comes to travel, that convenience translates into personalized services, immediate answers, up-to-date information and a sense of control… All that delivered by a channel where the user feels at home, no matter how unfamiliar their environment.
In other words, travel companies using WhatsApp (or any other relevant messaging app) have been given a chance to offer a frictionless customer experience, at scale, in situations that were, once upon a time, hard to control.
So, without further ado, let’s check out the potential use cases of WhatsApp Business in the travel and hospitality industry.
Our journey following WhatsApp Business in travel and hospitality starts pre-trip.
When the internet empowered people to look up information on their own, planning holidays became a largely independent venture. Traditional travel agencies lost a great deal of their value for customers. However, while the wealth of information gives travelers the power to choose the best and most tailored options, the decision process has become a more stressful event filled with doubt and indecision.
In other words, the more options travelers have and the more they jump between devices to find these options, the more anxious they are the harder it is to commit to a decision.
So, where does WhatsApp fit into this mess?
During the primary search stage, WhatsApp integration can allow for a very swift and precise search. Instead of losing time navigating through menu options or filters, travelers can voice their requests with your bot or agent using natural conversational language and receive the results they are looking for instantly.
This way, instead of adding to the noise, you focus on the points relevant to each individual user. Moreover, the transition from desktop to mobile or vice versa becomes significantly smoother.
For instance, by enabling clients to start conversations on the web and transfer them through to their favorite messaging app, agents can respond when they’re available without losing leads because of frustrating waiting times.
Many companies are already taking advantage of WhatsApp. For instance, SnapTravel, a Toronto-based startup in the hospitality sector is one of the first among messaging-first companies that put conversational commerce their core value proposition.
Users can choose hotel deals via SMS, Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp after sharing details like city, dates, and budget preferences with SnapTravel’s chatbot.
2. Booking/Payment Channel
While searching for travel and accommodation deals and receiving booking confirmations are catching on quite quickly, completing bookings directly via messaging app is still relatively uncommon.
Companies were reluctant to exchange and pass sensitive personal information via channels that lacked end-to-end protection or made payment authentication difficult.
However, the situation in China is very different. There, the most popular messaging app, WeChat, allows travel and hospitality businesses to drive direct bookings across Asia using a special feature called Mini Programs.
In the west, WhatsApp is soon to change the game. Besides the end-to-end encryption that allows for the transfer of sensitive information, WhatsApp is officially launching its first payment system on its most active market, India, by the end of 2019. WhatsApp Pay is set to make payments a matter of sending a message.
As if that wasn’t enough, Facebook also announced its debut in the world of cryptocurrency by unveiling its own global digital coin, Libra, managed by Libra association.
So, while you can quite yet process transactions via WhatsApp outside India, the feature is likely to go live globally in the coming months. Today, your users step outside WhatsApp to complete the payment but not for long.
Perhaps that’s something to keep in mind when preparing your 2020 messaging strategy.
3. Itinerary Designer
Besides choosing accommodation, booking flights and arranging rentals, people spend hours looking for authentic activities and experiences to make their trip unforgettable.
From searching for top sights, guided tours, thrilling local activities to the best restaurants, bars, clubs, and cafes, digital travelers leave little to chance. After all, nobody wants their long-awaited holidays spoiled by mediocre experiences.
Hence, itinerary builder/designer/concierge is most definitely on top of the list when it comes to WhatsApp travel use cases.
For instance, asking for traveler’s basic preferences, your WhatsApp bot or agent can recommend (and even proceed to book) tailored activities, things to do and places to eat in the chosen destination…
My SWFT, UK startup build its business concept on the messaging-based itinerary designer. The company focuses on helping people organize group trips through WhatsApp or Messenger.
Interested clients interact with bots as well as agents in order to create a complete travel itinerary while allowing each member of the group to have their say.
4. Content Channel
You don’t have to be a huge online travel agency with connections in every sector to be able to offer extra value through messaging. Any company can find a way to use WhatsApp to make a difference to both customer engagement and overall experience.
One of such ways is sharing useful or inspiring content not on your website or social media accounts but via WhatsApp, in the moments when the content is relevant to your customer.
You can use the channel to go the extra mile and answer questions before they are asked. Send users tips on things to do, food to try or even cultural rules to be aware of before and during their trip… WhatsApp allows you to share images, gifs, locations, weblinks and videos giving a free hand to your creativity.
Thanks to the end-to-end encryption, WhatsApp enables you to send and receive sensitive documents and information such as invoices, payment details, passport copies, copies of rental agreements, liability disclaimers, proof of age and more.
6. FAQ & Customer Service
Not all use cases of WhatsApp Business travel industry have to be fancy and complex. Sometimes, giving travelers a fast and convenient way to answer the most common doubts is the best you can do to keep them happy.
You can use the WhatsApp integration to design a simple FAQ bot that answers the most commonly asked questions. But you don’t have to stop there.
Taking an example from the use of WhatsApp in the eCommerce, you can use the FAQ bot as a first touchpoint. The bot will either answer the query or classifies it to be sent to the right live agent for handling.
The issue with making plans in advance is the probability of forgetting all about them; remembering the details incorrectly or simply not bothering to cancel the reservations even though it’s clear we won’t be able to make it.
Whatever the case, either the client or the company will have to cut their losses.
Neither is good for business.
When traveling, communication with customers gets more complicated as they are on the move, not always checking their email or answering their phone. Messaging apps, that is a whole other matter… SMS messages have over 90% open rate and stats proof WhatsApp users to be even more enthusiastic.
You can use your WhatsApp Business API integration to send travelers real-time reminders about schedules and rules (luggage, dress code, etc.) or, alternatively, send them inquisitive messages to remind them to cancel on time or confirm their attendance.
Travel is an unpredictable endeavor and changes, delays, reroutes are a rule rather than an exception.
Since Wi-Fi is almost at every corner, cellular data coverage is getting better by the minute, and instant messaging open-rates are enjoying their golden age, sending WhatsApp notifications regarding sudden changes is probably your best shot at delivering the news.
This use case will hardly surprise you. After all, among the first travel companies using WhatsApp Business API were airlines.
The very first airline to have gained access to the WhatsApp business account was KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. Using an opt-in during the booking process, the company started sending boarding passes, notifications, and reminders to its clients. This made KLM one of the most mentioned WhatsApp API success stories of 2019.
The point is, WhatsApp is a handy platform to send boarding passes as well as any other kind of e-tickets. The best part is that if your customers have a problem, they don’t need to go online looking for a way to get in touch. All they need to do is reply to the number that sent that ticket.
Last week our CEO took a closer look at the marketing potential of group chats in the rising messaging economy. Brands in China have been long leveraging the community power of group chats. They used it to provide superior customer experience as well as upsell and cross-sell products in an organic way, the western market is only now starting to pay attention.
Brand-supervised group chats are particularly useful in the travel industry as they allow companies to take advantage of crowdsourced knowledge. So, besides bots and agents, your travelers have access to the collective knowledge of locals and past visitors.
While WhatsApp Business API allows for group creation as well as sending HSM messages to those groups, group chats are still an unexplored area for most western travel companies.
Will you be the first to break the ground?
WhatsApp Business API not only allows you to create group chats to connect strangers. It also to create private WhatsApp groups for your customers. Once again KLM offers a successful example.
Upon purchasing flight tickets, KLM creates a private group for the traveler. Once the traveler clicks on the invitation link, he or she becomes the admin of the group and can invite family and friends to receive updates about her flight. Such a group is gold for parents whose child is traveling alone.
However, this concept is relevant in a multitude of scenarios. Imagine similar groups for cruises, agency-organized road trips or hiking trips. Or any organized holidays that stretch over a longer period and cover different locations.
WhatsApp travel concierge services can be offered as part of a:
- Brand-controlled group chat
- Private one-on-one conversation
For travel brands and businesses who care about providing more personal, authentic and emotionally-impactful CX, the messaging channel is the ideal medium. This way, travelers can start customizing their journey before arriving at their destination or as they progress through it.
Such concierge service can provide advice on local transport; warn against tourist traps; make restaurant reservations… all things that seem simple at home but become incredibly hard when you don’t speak the language.
For example, imagine a hotel allowing its guests to order room service or a ride to the airport via WhatsApp?
For instance, W Hotel uses WhatsApp (and other messaging apps), integrated in their loyalty app, to let guests traveling to stay at their hotel to get in touch with the hotel’s front desk before arrival. With an average response time of 60 seconds, guests can ask the hotel anything from asking for restaurant recommendations to requesting an extra blanket.
User experience doesn’t end with hotel check out or the plane landing at its destination… Post-trip or post-flight services are as important as first impressions. Perhaps even more so!
The main reason customers get in touch with you after the adventure is over is to submit complaints.
WhatsApp provides your customers with a comfortable and fast way to contact you in case something goes wrong like luggage gets lost or something important gets forgotten in the hotel room.
You can use a chatbot to classify the type of issue and use that information to connect the customer with the right department/agent right off the bat.
For example, Red Bus, one of India’s major bus transport companies, uses WhatsApp to solve one of the clients’ major pain points. Hence, besides notifications about real-time bus schedule they use it to provide info about refund requests. They use this solution to notify customers at every step of the way. Thus they managed to reduce frustration and increase trust in the company.
As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, digital travelers spend a great deal of time on research before committing themselves to a decision. Peer reviews make up a huge part of those decisions. But getting feedback is hard, especially the positive one.
Travel companies using WhatsApp API can benefit greatly from designing their WhatsApp service to collect feedback after the fact.
Imagine that instead of clicking on a button inside the email, waiting for a page to load and filling in an often lengthy online form, all you need to submit a review is a reply to a text message? Plus, the WhatsApp interface also makes it incredibly simple to add images to go with that review and so collect user-generated content by default.
Last but not least, there is the use of a travel WhatsApp channel to drive your loyalty program.
According to a survey conducted by Capgemini, 54% of loyalty programs are inactive. Furthermore, almost one-third of members quit loyalty programs without ever redeeming any of the points or advantages they earned because they simply don’t know how many they earned.
Your WhatsApp integration can help reshape the CX in the travel industry by keeping returning customers well-informed. Smartly timed messages summarizing earned privileges or discounts your clients earned won’t let them forget the value they can get sticking to your brand.
Well, that is up to you. There is little doubt about the CX advantages entailed in using WhatsApp Business API for travel. You are able to reach your customers anytime, anywhere. With WhatsApp, you can be there whether they have an iPhone or Android phone or are using a desktop.
Besides the familiarity and convenience, WhatsApp Business integration allows you to nurture more intimate relationships and provide a great level of personalization in real-time.
If you wish to learn more about WhatsApp Business API check out some of our many detailed guides and learn more about how to apply; create HSM templates; collect WhatsApp opt-ins; build a WhatsApp bot without coding and even how to design WhatsApp dialog flows that work well with the app’s interface as well as how to launch and manage WhatsApp marketing campaign.
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