How chatbots can help the travel industry recover

How chatbots can help the travel industry recover

As countries start to ease their lockdowns and allow some form of international travel, a new kind of problem is emerging. Each country, and sometimes each region within it, has in place different systems to regulate what can or cannot be done. These systems have become very familiar to locals and most of us don’t even think about them before leaving our homes. 

For travelers navigating unfamiliar and constantly changing restrictions, this can be an issue, especially since policies could change while they are in the country and without them being aware of it. For the struggling travel industry, this is a challenge that is unlikely to disappear soon and needs to be addressed in a sustainable manner. 

An awareness issue

Part of the problem is that although companies can inform travelers of the restrictions before departure, some countries have so many detailed, localized, restrictions that it is unlikely the information will be retained. This will inevitably lead to confusion on the travelers’ side and a rejection of tourism by the local community that sees visitors not respecting restrictions. 

This combination can be disastrous for an industry that is already on the brink of collapse and finding a way to keep travelers well-informed is key to the sector’s recovery. Since countries are unlikely to agree to a uniform set of restrictions, the key to solving the problem is making information as easy as possible to access. 

Some companies may already think they are doing this by sending recaps of local regulations with their tickets, but recent news stories clearly prove that this is insufficient. 

Creating a better solution

To find a solution the best place to start is a device that people use constantly during their travels: mobile phones. Making information easy to access via this device will go a long way to ensure it is seen and understood by travelers.

The next step is to consider what people use the most on their mobile phones. Here the data is clear, mobile messaging apps like WhatsApp or WeChat are the winners. They have message open rates in the 90% range and are checked constantly by most users. 

Mobile messaging apps are also the perfect home for a new kind of technological solution: chatbots. Well-designed chatbots can not only send notifications and updates but also hold conversations and answer questions. These features are extremely useful because conversations are the easiest and most natural way for people to obtain information, and they make access easier. 

To learn more about how chatbots can help the travel industry recover, get in touch with our team using the contact link below.

Improve passenger satisfaction on cruise ships with chatbots

Improve passenger satisfaction on cruise ships with chatbots

Going on a cruise is the perfect holiday for many. It is a relaxing way to see the world, floating from port to port in a giant hotel and resort, with plenty of entertainment options to choose from… It sounds idyllic, but it is also an experience where relaxation is often dotted by moments of confusion and lots of queues. 

If you work in the industry, this is probably not news for you. After all, cruise ships are incredibly complex and by the time passengers have learned where everything is and how to navigate the seemingly endless decks, their holiday is already coming to an end. Aside from all the excursions and off-ship activities, there are also restaurants to book, shows to attend, and rules to learn. 

Improving communication

The key to improving passenger experience is communication. Crews do their best to inform passengers, but they are human beings and can’t be everywhere all the time. Cruise companies will often distribute newsletters and guides to help passengers, but these are often left behind in the cabin or never read. 

If the cruise ship was a city, people would probably google all the information they need, using online maps to find their way to the pool or reserve a seat at their favorite restaurant. On the ship, the crew members are the onboard equivalent of Google. If a company could find a way to make their knowledge as easily accessible on the “high seas” as a search engine is on land, the problem would be solved. 

An even better option would be for a Cruise company to combine the ease of use of a search engine with the capabilities of a booking system. This would allow passengers to not only find information about what is happening but also book revenue-generating services like premium restaurants or shore excursions. All while reducing confusion levels, cutting down on queues, and improving the passenger experience. 

A simple solution 

The solution we have just described might sound far-fetched, but it is actually surprisingly simple. There is, after all, a large but limited, number of things on each cruise, and therefore there is a finite number of possible answers and services that need to be provided. 

All the cruise company needs to do is create a concierge-like system where passengers can have their questions addressed. Or, in other words, they need a chatbot. Modern chatbots are incredible systems, they can handle anything from simple FAQs to full conversations and some systems can even handle bookings and payments directly. 

They can be set up to function on apps that passengers already have on their phones, like WhatsApp, WeChat, or Facebook Messenger, or on a dedicated app or page. In fact, as long as there is a Wi-Fi network, some of them can also function without the internet, as we discussed in a previous article.  To learn more, reach out to our team by using the contact link below.

 

Chatbots without internet, lessons from 30.000 feet

Chatbots without internet, lessons from 30.000 feet

Although Chatbots are ultimately just computer programs, most of us experience them as an internet-based phenomenon, be it on a messaging app like WhatsApp or on a website.  The reason is that most chatbots connect a company to its users via the internet.  However, on a technical level, there’s nothing stopping them from doing the same on a private network like, for example, a cruise ship’s or train’s Wi-Fi system. 

Copying the WIFE system

To understand how this works we’ll look at the aviation industry, where something called “WIFE” has recently revolutionized the way people entertain themselves on flights. A while back airlines started noticing something; passengers were bringing all sorts of devices on their planes: laptops, smartphones, tablets, and anything in between. 

This, somewhat unexpectedly, solved a problem for the airlines. In-flight entertainment systems, known in the industry as IFE, are expensive and cannot be installed on all planes. As a result, passengers that flew on long routes without enough volume to justify a large aircraft didn’t have much to entertain themselves resulting in lower customer satisfaction. 

Airlines, seeing a sudden influx of new devices on their planes, realized that if they could find a way to stream content to these devices they would dramatically improve the passenger experience. Streaming via the internet was not an option due to the high-cost of satellite-based services and an alternative solution was needed.  Something called WIFE, or Wireless In-Flight Entertainment. 

The internet without the internet

WIFE systems on planes allow users to stream movies, listen to music, and play games using a normal Wi-Fi connection. The key difference is that this connection instead of linking the users to the internet communicates only with an onboard server that hosts all the content.

The system is also sometimes used to allow customers to request assistance, order food, or buy duty-free items without leaving their seats. To achieve this the on-board server is fitted with a booking engine that uses the same Wi-Fi network to talk to the cabin crew’s tablets and inform them of what the customers have requested. 

Advanced WIFE systems also have the possibility to connect to the internet upon landing to share data like customer service reports with the head office and allow a seamless transition between the on-board experience and the rest of the customer journey. 

The same server + Wi-Fi network logic can be applied to chatbots and be used to create local help services on things like cruise ships, long-distance busses, trains, and airplanes. On long trips, crews could also be trained to update the information used by the chatbots to keep them relevant and fresh. To learn more about how your company could use chatbots, reach out to our team using the contact link below.

How Chatbots can help improve airlines brands

How Chatbots can help improve airlines brands

Airline marketers have a problem. Well, they have many, but today there’s one we’d like to talk about. It comes from a suggestion by one of our colleagues who spent more than 10 years working in the airline industry. It is one of those issues many marketers don’t really want to admit to. 

People travel to get to places. Airlines fly them there, but the part of the trip they handle is usually the most stressful and least liked one. If people really flew for the pleasure of the experience, airlines could just fly around in circles over the airport and save themselves a lot of problems. But in the real world, all the best memories and the reasons why people travel happen away from the airline and its brand. 

The brand-presence gap

As a result, most of the positive associations of the trip are made with the destinations and local service providers like tour companies or hotels, and all the “less-positive” ones are made in the stage of travel managed by the airline. Smart airline marketers have long tried to extend the presence of their brand beyond the cabin and into the destination itself. 

We have seen plenty of campaigns that tried to do this, usually with some form of app or guide that the traveler had to download. The challenge is that actual use rates have always been low because of the friction created by downloading the app and remembering to use it. If we add to this the high costs of developing the solution it is easy to understand why airlines have not pressed on with these solutions. 

Thankfully, today’s technology and the increase in mobile internet access abroad offer a ray of hope in the form of chatbots and AI. Data shows us that travelers are completely addicted to messaging apps, with market leaders such as WhatsApp being opened on average more than 23 times a day by each user. 

A well-designed, custom-built, chatbot can easily fill this brand presence gap by acting as a local concierge and answering questions using both its own knowledge base and by seeking additional information, such as weather data or directions, from the internet. It would not require the installation of any additional app, and it would naturally rise to the client’s top of mind by being present on their favorite messaging app. 

Supporting customer service teams

The same chatbot could also take over customer service tasks and work in tandem with the airline’s CRM and internal systems to provide things like boarding passes, sell upgrades or deal with other related issues. Some airlines have already started working on this path but most of the efforts have been focusing on some operational issues like check-ins and boarding passes, and have not yet expanded into the brand-presence gap that we mentioned. 

To help you learn more about how your airline could start using chatbots to fill the gap and get ahead of the competition, we have decided to make our team of experts available to you for free. You can reach out to them! 

Travel customer service: balancing quality and volume

Travel customer service: balancing quality and volume

The travel industry is full of ups and downs in demand: sometimes the peaks follow the seasons, other times they are related to weekends or specific holidays. Whatever the reason, travel companies always have to play a difficult game of balancing the number of people they have on staff with the highs and lows in demand. 

In some areas, this can be easily achieved with temporary staff that is hired only to cover the peaks. With a few exceptions, the seasonal staff is usually made up of people that aren’t yet qualified or experienced enough to be hired in full-time jobs and that take up the position as a temporary solution. 

Quality staff can be expensive

The challenge with hiring temporary staff is that it is hard to achieve consistency and quality. The reason is that the staff tends to only stay with the company for a season before moving on to more stable jobs and therefore does not really have time to gain experience. 

In some parts of the industry, this is partly compensated by paying higher than average salaries to make the job more attractive and ensure people come back year after year to work with the company.  This can be a good solution, but it does end up eroding the cost savings that are achieved by not hiring full-time workers. 

In fact, regardless of the approach chosen the situation will ultimately boil down to an issue of cost. Well-trained, experienced staff costs money and, in theory, a travel business that wants to be successful should hire enough high-quality staff to cover even the highest peaks of demand. 

Finding the right balance

For areas like customer service and sales, technology can enable a novel way to approach the problem. In these areas, the vast majority of interactions follow a standard pattern, with customers asking similar questions and receiving similar answers. 

They are areas where the unique skills of experienced staff members are only really needed to handle edge-cases where an unusual problem appears or the company needs to deal with a very high-value client. As a consequence it is entirely feasible for a company to leverage chatbots to provide the first line of customer and sales support, only engaging the experienced, human staff when the situation exceeds their programming. 

With a chatbot + human set up, a travel company can significantly reduce its cost and focus on hiring and training only a small number of high-quality professionals to handle edge cases. Chatbots can easily handle multiple conversations at the same time, eliminating delays, providing 24/7 service, and significantly reducing the workload of their human colleagues. 

It is a tried and true method that is already used in many other industries and could revolutionize the cost-structure of tourism businesses.  If you would like to learn more, reach out to us using the contact link below. 

How travel companies can use chatbots to sell

How travel companies can use chatbots to sell

Some travel companies have the luxury of customers that book well in advance and take the time to visit websites or their apps, but they are only part of the travel story. A lot of services like tours, excursions, and local transportation are often booked at the last minute, from a mobile device, and frequently on-location. 

Reducing friction in the sales process

For these businesses, reducing friction in the transaction is essential, because the customer is usually already in a hurry and their patience is at a premium. Asking them to download an app, use a clunky mobile website or go find a physical location in a city or airport they have never been to is possible, but is not a good idea. 

The reason is that travelers often have multiple options to choose from, and they end up using the one that is easiest. Price sensitivity, in this stage of travel, tends to be low and only a marginal factor in their choices. As a result, companies find themselves competing to reduce friction and smart operators are turning to an exciting new technology to do it.

Chatbots are often perceived as simply robots that can have awkward, semi-human conversations with users, but they have come very far over the past few years. What we see now are advanced systems that can operate by themselves or in tandem with humans and can be used to handle complete sales transactions. 

Using chatbots on messaging apps

What’s more, they can do all this using the very same messaging apps that your potential clients are already on. The numbers are constantly growing but on average an app like WhatsApp is opened by a user 23 times a day and already is used by more than a quarter of the global population Using bots inside messaging apps is the ultimate low-friction experience and, if done well, can give travel companies a significant competitive advantage. 

Now, of course, you’ll be wondering what we mean by “if done well”. The answer is that not all chatbot implementations are the same, and it is very important to understand the market each company operates in, what its needs are and how it functions on the inside before making any decisions. 

Ideally, a chatbot will need to integrate seamlessly with the company and ensure not only that customers are able to make a booking but also that no information is lost and that it is easy to escalate the conversation to a human agent if needed.  Given the importance of the competitive advantage it can provide, even a small difference can become significant. 

To help you navigate this new world we have put together a team of experts that will analyze your company and help you make the best decision. You can reach out to them using the link below.