Travel Brands Play Catch-Up as Consumers Seek Mobile Capabilities

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As consumers grow more comfortable using mobile tools for communication and commerce, the disconnect between what travel brands are offering and what travelers are seeking is growing wider.

According to a new report by the chat commerce provider Clickatell, nearly nine in 10 consumers say they would prefer to use mobile messaging to communicate with travel companies. The desire to use mobile messaging tools when communicating with hotels and airlines is greatest among younger travelers. Mobile messaging is the preferred method of communication, above email, phone support, and in-person support, for consumers in the Gen Z, millennial, and Gen X cohorts.

“Consumers like convenience. Regardless of age, geographic location, and brand preference, all consumers crave more convenient and fulfilling commerce experiences,” says Clickatell CEO and Co-Founder Pieter de Villiers. 

Seventy-seven percent of travelers say they would be likely to make travel purchases via mobile payment if given the option, but just 27% say they’ve had the opportunity to do so. That disconnect between what consumers want and what major travel brands are currently providing is leading to high levels of frustration. 

“I see the industry being drastically changed by mobile capabilities and chat commerce in the next few years,” de Villiers says. “If we think back even a few years, mobile boarding passes were not widely adopted, but in 2022, everyone uses their phones to travel. This shift in how we travel today opens the door for greater opportunities for travel brands to reach new, younger audiences.”

Skyrocketing hotel prices and increasingly common flight delays are causing headaches for travelers, but the avenues for resolving travel issues are still fairly limited. According to a survey by Bankrate, 79% of consumers who’ve traveled during 2022 said they experienced at least one problem that affected their travel considerations. With experts predicting that inflation will continue to impact all aspects of travel well into the coming year, airlines, hotels, and even car rental companies are bracing for a rocky time ahead.

Consumers surveyed by Clickatell indicated they would prefer to use mobile messaging to communicate with travel companies over other channels, primarily because they view mobile messaging as the more convenient option.

De Villiers says a number of travel brands are in the process of rolling out new features to meet consumers where they are in day-to-day life, whether that’s on social media, via email, or SMS and chat channels like WhatsApp.

“The travel industry is ripe for disruption from a mobile perspective because consumers are on the go and already utilizing their phones for things like boarding passes and flight updates — yet the mobile messaging aspect of travel customer service hasn’t caught up,” de Villiers says. 

With SMS now the primary way people communicate with friends and family, de Villiers expects to see more consumers engaging with go-to brands using the same method. He says increased demand among consumers to use mobile messaging for customer service goes hand in hand with the motivation from brands to offer the most seamless experience to their loyal customers.

“Especially during a time of high demand for travel, like the holiday season, airlines, hotels and rental car businesses see their customer service departments and contact centers struggling to handle requests when simply a text update or quick payment link would solve the problem,” he says. “Consumers are already utilizing their mobile phones to communicate with friends and family and don’t want to have to call a random customer service line to get a quick update on their hotel reservation … with the ability for travel brands to communicate directly with consumers via mobile messaging and chat, the customer service experience can be drastically streamlined.”

De Villiers says travel companies that want to get the biggest bang for their buck when adding chat commerce capabilities to their workflows will often begin in their customer service departments. Adding mobile messaging capabilities for travelers on-the-go is a great place to begin.

“Traveling will always bring a myriad of frustrations — from delays to room changes to reservation issues,” he says. “By giving consumers a convenient way to communicate directly with travel brands, and allowing businesses to make the lives of customer service departments easier through improved mobile channels, the entire travel experience can improve and look completely different in just a few years.”

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.