Social media has long been a key tool in the consciousness of the travel industry to engage and attract new customers whilst developing relationships with old ones. But there is a big change taking place in the way people are choosing to communicate digitally – the age of the messaging app is upon us and it's likely to leave social media trailing in its wake.

Last year, research by Business Insider Intelligence found that Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat and Viber had collectively clocked up a total of 2.125 billion monthly active users; the same amount as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn combined. When you consider the fact that the social media figure included the millions of desktop computer users that log onto their chosen channels every day, it is clear that when it comes to mobile, the popularity of messaging apps has made this a one horse race.

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Gradually, messaging apps are transforming the way we communicate, taking the conversation out of the public arena pioneered by social media and shifting them to a private, personalised realm – a realm which offers one-to-one interaction. This is the realm of 'conversational commerce' and offers a new range of business opportunities for the savvy travel brand to explore.

Although bookings seems like the obvious use of messaging apps, and one which KLM Dutch Airlines is already au fait with, they can also be used for other purposes, such as helping reach people with real-time offers. One of the benefits of messaging apps is that conversational threads can be retained; the data utilised to provide customers with personalised, new offers after the first conversion is complete.

A recent article by Skift cited business travel as an area which is likely to feel the impact of messaging apps thanks to platforms such as Travel Wire which use SMS to create booking opportunities for travellers that are frequently on the move and frequently short of time. But the article also stipulates the importance of app developers finding the balance between automation and a 'personalised experience' to ensure success. It also notes that the permanency of messaging to secure bookings is likely to rely on the human interaction behind the screen to keep that personal experience alive.

Messaging apps in the travel sphere represent an opportunity to connect with travellers, making human professionals available to step in at any moment during the customer's journey. Handled correctly, conversational messaging offers the perfect chance to engage with and understand your customers better as well as deliver real-time service and solutions, even when your customers are on the move.

For more ideas on how to build and develop relationships with your customers through digital means, contact us at Digital Trip.

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