NEW YORK—The rise and proliferation of social messaging apps via mobile platforms such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp represents a significant opportunity for hotel brands seeking another way to engage the guest and deliver exceptional service.
Equally, as more travelers make their buying decisions across multiple marketing channels—websites, email, OTAs, advertising, etc.—social media is having a far greater impact, according to Steffan Berelowitz, VP, digital platforms at Travel Tripper, a full-service hotel technology provider based here.
“Looking at a sampling of our hotels, there’s some exciting and compelling information on the growth of social media in general. Across a representative set of hotels from 2014-2015, we saw an 81% increase in the number of sessions originated from social on hotel website properties,” explained Berelowitz. “New users are up 55% and the number of transactions primarily booking rooms sourced from social went up 108%, which is more than double. What this is telling us…it’s not that social is the primary channel from which hotels are going to see a significant source, but it’s growing considerably.”
With digital communication expanding at a rapid clip and mobile messaging apps with social networking features growing in popularity, business-to-consumer (B2C) messaging is a segment worth watching carefully. Facebook and, more recently, WhatsApp are among the platforms actively tapping into that market.
“In the hotel sector, we’re really at the beginning of leveraging this, and one of the first brands to take this on was Hyatt. What they’ve done is integrate Facebook Messenger into their global control room of operations, which includes all of their social channels,” said Berelowitz. “The transactions are service related such as requesting room service; getting fresh towels; and asking for forgotten items—the kind of things you might use a telephone for. They are experimenting with messaging as a service tool and as something that can assist potential guests during a decision-making process, such as making reservations and answering questions related to a reservation.”
For hoteliers seeking to capitalize on messaging apps, they will need to be comfortable with navigating the unknown and willing to see where trial and error takes them. “The killer app will be customer service and, for a subsection of guests, it really makes a huge amount of sense as they use mobile phones as a key component of their trip. The big challenge for hotels moving into this area is the need to experiment, and it will require a high level of commitment to seeing what works and what doesn’t,” he said.
According to Berelowitz, it’s not a technology challenge but more of a business process challenge for hoteliers to wrap their minds around. “Facebook has already delivered the platform; it’s an operational challenge. For example, how does the brand route a question related to a reservation or inquiries about an attraction near a hotel’s property? Some questions may require an answer from a person on the actual property… How do you deal with customer service questions, such as requesting fresh towels, and how does one route that to a specific property? These are very significant issues to consider,” he said.
The advantage of creating a connection with a guest may outweigh any potential issues that could arise.
“The benefits are a more accessible and friendlier brand for socially active guests. There’s a greater convenience for the guest or prospective guest, and the ability to delight in unexpected ways—because this is so new—can lead to exceptional customer experiences through messaging,” he said. “Customers can get immediate gratification, ranging from ordering room service to booking a room. It’s all about meeting guests where they are, which is increasingly social and increasingly mobile. They’re inseparable.”