Who enjoys queuing to check-in to a hotel? How about being put on hold for flight assistance? Or finding your way around a foreign city? Chat can help with all these things and more. Recently at the Amadeus Online Connect event, I reiterated the opportunity we have to embrace chat and chatbots within the travel industry.
In a world where 41% of Millennials say they would be ‘truly satisfied’ to use chat as the primary means of connecting with the business and services they use, employing this medium to offer on-demand service just makes sense.
For travel players, there are big opportunities to reach out to travellers during their trips. From chat-based front desk and ticketing agents to flight attendants and call-centre agents, chat-based applications could reshape the way we approach travel to make it a much more personalised and connected experience.
The next big thing in chat are ‘chat-bots’ that mimic conversation using artificial intelligence. We’ve discussed how they could impact the travel industry, and the critical mass is there with chat apps like WhatsApp boasting one billion users already. Now, especially in Asia Pacific, where mobile penetration and chat app usage is already high, brands are becoming ‘friends’ with users. In fact, 10,000,000 brands are on China’s most popular chat platform, WeChat.
China Southern Airlines uses WeChat at all stages of the travel cycle – from inspiration all the way to the post-trip experience. Its more than 8 million WeChat followers can even pay for their flights with WeChat pay, which stores credit card information. In December 2013, the airline announced that it handled more than 700,000 flight check-ins through its WeChat platform since launching the service in January 2013.
On the hospitality side, the LINQ Hotel, part of Caesars Entertainment, Las Vegas, allows hotel guests to converse with ‘Ben’, an artificial intelligence robot, through WeChat. Guests can send WeChat messages asking for nearby dining, entertainment and nightlife options and ‘Ben’ will reply back to them with suggestions in real time. Once inside the room, guests can use WeChat to control lighting, thermostats, and curtains or choose the pre-set atmosphere, for example a sleep scenario. Guests can even circumvent the front desk and be issued a virtual WeChat key to use to open the hotel door.
As mobile penetration further increases and artificial intelligence becomes even more ‘intelligent’ the use of chat apps and chat-bots in the travel industry will be limited only by our imaginations.