Chat Apps: Real-Time Travel Information on the Move

Chat Apps: Real-Time Travel Information on the Move

If visiting Istanbul, you may well buy a tourist pass giving discounts to museums, bus tours and other attractions.

Many cities have them. But not all offer what the Istanbul Tourist Pass does – a WhatsApp ‘Instant Guiding’ group, whereby tourists can ask questions of an ITP support group in real-time.

Maybe a restaurant recommendation. Or tickets to an exhibition. The group responds in working hours, and often in their own time – with humour. “You are free to request, simply about anything. We’ll try our best to answer; however we may not be able to find answers for why your last relationship wasn’t like you expected.”

Over in Austria, the Sallbach Hinterglemm Tourist Board has also adopted WhatsApp as a means to stay in touch with visitors during their stay.

Want to know the best ski slope for beginners? Or the best après-ski events? Whip out your mobile and fire away.

Increasingly, travellers value real-time contact and information – and the best people to provide that are the tourism professionals in destination who have the answers.

Messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Telegram and Line are providing the platforms to do just that. And it’s not just tourist boards.

Starwood Hotels started using WhatsApp and other chat apps last year – and its new owner, Marriott, is another big fan of mobile requests.

Moustafa Sakr, general manager of The St Regis Abu Dhabi, says in an interview that business travellers have taken well to the messaging service.

“It allows guests to message their butler via WhatsApp, and our policy is to respond within 60 seconds. It’s great seeing the different ways guests make use of the service: the other day I saw one of our butlers in the gym taking an in-room dining order from a guest training, so their meal would be ready when they finished working out. That’s what we’re there for.”

We may not all be able to afford our own butler in a hotel. But we do like having somebody online able to answer questions and give advice when in destination.

And for travel and tourism-related businesses, there is a cost advantage. Live chat, to cite industry averages, costs up to half that of maintaining a traditional call centre, says consulting firm McKinsey.

KLM and Hyatt are experimenting with Facebook Messenger, while The Economist is looking to the next level of chat app, and has launched with Line, an app that is attracting many traditional publishers.

Line launched in Japan five years ago, in response to an earthquake which damaged telecoms across the country. It now has 700m users, and does a lot more than just chat.

“The way I describe Line as a platform is that it is a souped-up version of Facebook Messenger – but you also get to do things like make payments, chat to friends, share things, buy stickers, play games,” says Denise Law, community editor at The Economist.

Ah yes, games. We do like to chat and get instant response, and travellers will increasingly expect that facility. But an app that does that, sends one billion stickers a day AND has games? Well, that’s that sorted then.

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Steve Keenan has been a travel journalist for 25 years. He started at a Reed paper, news editing at Travel News in London - now Travel Weekly - having spent a decade reporting general news in the UK and abroad. He also taught English in Peru, delivered cars in the USA, ran the Sydney desk at AAP and took the train home from Hong Kong. He left Travel News in 1990 to freelance for several publications, including The Times of London, which he later joined as deputy travel editor. In December 2004, he became the first national digital travel editor in the UK, running the combined travel website of The Times and Sunday Times. The introduction of a paywall at the papers in 2010 persuaded him that the connected world might continue outside of Wapping and he left to co-found Travel Perspective. The company runs the social media seminars at World Travel Market London, and works with Reed Expos and others in helping the travel and tourism industry best communicate stories in all forms of publishing.

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