You hear it all the time: “I really love the features of this travel app, but I wish I could actually talk to a travel agent…”
Even in today’s travel industry where interconnectivity and deploying the latest technology platform is the name of the game, travelers still crave the personal, one-on-one interaction brick-and-mortar travel agents provide. Such personalized connections have long been a critical challenge for online travel agents (OTAs) as they strive to maintain a foothold in the travel industry, particularly when attempting to reach millennials and other highly-prized demographics.However, the emergence and rise of chat-based mobile apps are changing the state of play for OTAs in how they communicate and position products and services with customers. On-demand chat functionality now allows OTAs to leverage the speed, convenience, and accessibility of mobile travel apps with the experience of actually engaging with a travel agent to provide a well-rounded, individualized purchasing process.
OTAs should not only take note of this trend in the deployment of mobile travel apps, but they should embrace this development in the technology to enhance their customer relations strategy and create a more agile, responsive value chain via feedback and data gathered from one-on-one communication with customers.
Numbers Don’t Lie
Some OTAs might still be somewhat skeptical of the impact of chat-based mobile travel apps and their ability to actually drive sales, promote growth, and increase customer engagement. While the long-term effects of this apps may be up for discussion, numbers don’t lie when it comes to the potential impact in today’s market, especially considering how prevalent mobile capability is in today’s larger cultural context.
For example, a recent study released by the travel industry group Phocuswright showed more than 60 percent of travelers ages 18 to 24 shared travel experience tips and information via text message or other messaging platform in 2015. The use of messaging beat out other forms of contemporary technology often used in sharing travel information such as email, social media, and other internet-based applications. In addition, the same study showed a significant increase from 2014 to 2015 in the use of text messaging and messaging services as a method of interacting with not only fellow travelers, but with suppliers inside the travel industry as customers researched, completing, and reviewed bookings.
What does this mean? Why is this important? These statistics prove if online travel agencies want to communicate with their customers, they have to go to where their customers ‘live’ - which, in today’s society, means in a virtual space like a mobile travel app. And as more and more markets come to fruition and the global pool of travel and tourism customers expands, the need for OTAs to create a platform of communication will be a key driver in growth and long-term sustainability.
Benefits of Chat-Based Apps
What competitive advantages can OTAs stand to leverage from deploying chat-based apps? How can these mobile apps actually support growth? What are the ways in which these apps will help create a more lean, streamlined value chain? These are the questions OTAs ask themselves as they weigh the cost and benefits of this chat-based travel apps and whether implementing such technology will actually be a value-added service for their business model. OTAs need to show customers they can conduct business with greater speed, more efficiency, and better transparency than other suppliers, and chat-based travel apps go a long way in getting that message across.
While there are certainly potential drawbacks to utilizing a chat-based mobile travel app - glitches in technology and software updates and upgrades - the advantages of chat-based apps include:
Direct communication at multiple stages. It’s not enough to simply follow-up with customers after a booking is complete - that’s outdated thinking primarily based on brick-and-mortar travel agents. Rather, OTAs need to the ability to check-in with customers at multiple stages in the booking process from research to purchase to review. Chat-based apps provides OTAs with a low-cost, relatively easy to implement platform to maintain communication with customers before and after they’ve unpacked their bags, which provides travelers with the personal touch they desire from working with a travel company.
On-demand data gathering and feedback. Gathering data, reviews, and the opinions of travelers is a key driver in refining an OTAs products and services and how they position them to customers. This travel apps provide real-time, on-demand insight into the customer’s experience by allowing them to communicate directly and instantaneously with an OTA about bookings, activities, and other elements of travel process.
Enhanced Response Capabilities. As we discussed at the beginning of this blog, mobile travel apps offer travelers so much in the way of speed and convenience, yet the capacity for direct interaction with an actual travel agent is usually absent. This means customers don’t have the peace of mind they seek when disruptions or modifications in bookings occur - weather delays, lost or misplaced bookings, etc. However, chat-based travel apps allow OTAs to respond directly to customers in the wake of such disruptions in order to not only provide increased levels of customer service, but also ease the minds of travelers through a personalized human interaction.
Chat Apps Going Forward
Yes, it’s safe to say travel apps that permit connecting with engagement are still in their infancy and OTAs have not yet embraced this technology on a large scale. However, with the emergency of voice recognition technology, cognitive computing, and other intelligent technology systems, it’s not difficult to imagine a future where chat-based mobile travel apps are the norm and OTAs without them will be unable to compete in the travel industry. As the world becomes more and more reliant on mobile technology moves increasingly from the desktop to the tablet and smartphone, the importance of creating and maintaining a conversation with customers will be a key driver in promoting growth and profitability.