According to The New York Times, 1.6 billion people used a messaging app in the last year and usage is expected to grow to two billion users in 2018. While some of the largest travel brands, such as Expedia and Kayak, use Facebook Messenger to connect users to customer service, other travel booking platforms are developing, or have already launched, their own travel booking chatbot built within their website or app with the goal of offering services beyond just customer service.

1 in 5 US adults who have booked travel in the last year say that they would like a single app to plan their entire trip

Chatbots offer travel website and app visitors opportunities to “talk” with a customer service bot to ask questions or to help book travel. According to Mintel’s Travel Booking US 2016 report, one in five US adults who have booked travel in the last year say that they would like a single app to plan their entire trip. One in five would also would like an app to suggest activities.

SnapTravel, for example, is a half-bot, half-human hotel booking service that helps travelers find hotels based on a specific budget. The app searches travel sites, scouring for the best “secret deals” available and provides users with options to best fit their needs. Hotels.com is in the process of launching a travel booking concierge bot in its app. The service, called Button, provides assistance to book an Uber, book a reservation using Opentable or to get food delivered through GrubHub. Button also offers travelers recommendations for activities, restaurants and excursions in their destination city prior to departure.

What we think

Brands are embracing the opportunities that social media and messaging apps can provide for their customers. Mintel Trend Talking Shop highlights how messaging apps and channels are offering real-time and quick communication platforms. In a connected world where adults already access social media and apps, messaging services are a convenient and accessible avenue of communication between consumers and brands.

The success of chatbots will hinge on their ability to understand, address and alleviate the concerns customers may be having and easily communicate with them. Brands must diligently work toward ensuring a consistent tone in their communications, as well as to provide timely responses as immediate responses will become a standard expectation for communications. Continuously evolving to meet the changing needs of customers will also be important for chatbots to be a sustainable form of customer service.

While brands across a range of industries develop their own chatbots, they are likely to be met with some skepticism from consumers. For travel booking, some consumers may be uncomfortable with making expensive purchases, like vacations, through an app. Conversations with chatbots may also be too impersonal for some consumers. Making sure that communication is human-sounding and conversational will likely help alleviate this concern. Brands should make a conscious effort to help solve consumers’ needs without being overbearing with their communication outreach.

Gina Cavato is a Research Analyst at Mintel. Her extensive knowledge from working in the advertising industry provides a solid foundation for writing varied consumer reports across several categories, including lifestyles and leisure activities.

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