Instant messaging apps play a vital role in all our lives. We use them to communicate with our friends and families on a daily basis, enabling us to stay connected to them when distance physically separates us. The COVID-19 outbreak (March 2020) has caused usage of these apps to rapidly increase, with 45% of the worldwide population spending longer on messaging services such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. This consequently signifies that apps as such are assuming an even more essential role in our lives when it has become, at times, physically impossible to see others.
However, this means of communication is not just confined to using with your loved ones, but has also filtered into the world of business and is gaining in popularity at a rapid rate as a way of communicating with customers – and this is especially true in the hotel industry.
This study focuses on instant messaging applications, hence not including SMS. For more explanations on this still widely used channel, read our study on SMS usage in the hotel industry.
In hotel-guest interactions, using instant messaging apps is mutually beneficial for both parties:
Personal and approachable – the hotel seems more approachable to the guest and they are therefore more likely to initiate contact with them
Guest feels safe and reassured – reduces physical contact points between receptionist and guest – can request services digitally rather than in-person
Speed of response – the popularity of instant messaging has created a culture of instant gratification - guests may expect a response within minutes on these messaging platforms
Stronger guest relationship – the hotel is placed alongside the guest’s friends and family – hotel no longer feels so detached and distanced from the guest
Convenient - hotel is able to manage several guest requests simultaneously and enables message history to be tracked, ensuring that nothing is overlooked
Increased guest satisfaction - hotels can respond at the rapid rate that is expected by modern hotel guests, leading to higher guest satisfaction levels
Here are the 5 main instant messaging trends from around the world:
1. People dedicate more time to messaging than any other online activity - 42% of people on the planet have a smartphone and 87% of smartphone owners use messaging.
2. Accelerated by the COVID-19 outbreak, an increasing number of people use these apps to interact with businesses – According to Gartner, between now and 2022, 70% of all interactions with guests will take place via tools such as mobile messaging, compared with 15% in 2018.
3. WhatsApp is the most popular messaging app in the world – As of October 2020, two billion users were accessing the WhatsApp messenger app every month. This messaging app is notably more popular in markets outside of the US, in particular those in Europe.
4. Facebook Messenger comes in second place — It is the most popular messaging app in France and in the U.S. It is also still a very dominant player in most European countries and still has 1.3 billion users worldwide.
5. We cannot undermine the popularity of SMS – Statistics show that there are approximately 5.2 billion users of mobile today worldwide and there is expected to be 5.8 billion by 2025. Every individual who owns a mobile phone has access to SMS messaging and so we cannot forget the power of SMS as a communication channel.
PART I: USING MESSAGING IN THE HOTEL INDUSTRY
It can be seen that, across the globe, WhatsApp is the most popular messaging app, (see Part II for reference) but that is not to say that other similar apps nor SMS are consequently unimportant. Due to the changing popularity of these applications, which varies depending on nationality, age and gender, the hotel industry must adapt its services to meet the ever-evolving needs and demands of its guests.
Finding the right tools
Managing multiple channels or even multiple conversations is not easy without the right tool. LoungeUp realised this, which led to the development of the Guest Messaging Hub. This service allows for the channel to adapt to the guest thanks to automatic message sending based on factors such as their nationality and their guest profile. The tool makes it easy to manage conversations and guest requests thanks to the integrated translator tool, the pre-written message templates, and through showing the status of the message to track the processing of requests.
We cannot neglect the popularity of SMS
It is also important not to forget the SMS channel which concerns the entire mobile phone-owning population. In a previous study, it was highlighted that SMS is still very popular and is still highly-valued in the context of a stay to assist the guest, help them with their requests and promote engagement.
Getting in touch with guests to better support them
Proactively contacting the guest is a great way to keep them talking to the hotel and allows the guest to highlight any potential issues they may have, which is something they may not feel comfortable doing in person or over the phone. So, by facilitating the exchange with the guest, the guest experience and therefore guest satisfaction is greatly improved.
The Corona effect on hospitality digitalisation…
It goes without saying that the COVID-19 pandemic has naturally pushed hotels and accommodation providers to digitise. In fact, research shows that only 8% of guests would now feel comfortable checking in and out at a public reception desk. This is not the only aspect to take into consideration, however, when discussing the effect of the pandemic on guest preferences. Indeed, a study conducted by PwC found that there was a grave increase in media consumption including consumption of messaging apps (+58%) during the pandemic.
…And on guests’ expectations
To digitise is now not only a question of updating the hotels’ services to the new technological world, but is also a question of health and safety. Guests simply do not want to risk the contraction of COVID-19 from interacting with hotel staff, especially when the interaction could have been realised via their smartphones in a quicker and safer way.
These days, for a guest, not being able to check-in on a mobile phone affects their experience of the establishment and therefore their overall satisfaction. Recent studies have shown that waiting 5 minutes at check-in reduces customer satisfaction by 50%, and 60% of guests are more likely to choose a hotel that offers mobile check-in. The hotel’s priority is to ensure that its guests enjoy their stay: contacting them by instant message and digitising procedures is the most appropriate solution to reassure them and to make their stay easier by avoiding unnecessary waiting.
Digital interactions do not mean no personal touch
A 2019 study highlighted that 91% of hotel executives said mobile technologies are critical to improving guest experience and cultivating loyalty; with a similar study concluding that 79% of consumers are more loyal to brands with higher levels of personalisation.
The appeal of instant messaging to guests should not be ignored; the hotel industry must know how to exploit it to benefit the guest experience, which requires immediacy, availability and personalisation.
To summarise, the golden rules for using instant messaging with guests during a stay are:
Collect guest data in an exploitable database
Use this data for each guest to adapt the message, the services offered and the way each unique guest is contacted (messaging application, e-mail, SMS or even telephone)
Proactively contact the guest to increase their engagement throughout their stay
PART II: THE MOST USED INSTANT MESSAGING APPS PER COUNTRY
When considering hotel-guest interactions that take place via instant messaging channels, it is important to have an understanding of the dominant channels in different countries to ensure that you achieve the highest possible level of guest engagement – here is an insight into these trends:
Facebook Messenger is the market leader – recent statistics have shown that 58% of the French population now use Facebook Messenger. WhatsApp comes in second place with 31% of the population being active users. There is a very active user base in all age groups, with 30% of over-60s being active users of instant messaging platforms, although those aged between 12-39 are the dominant users of such applications.
WhatsApp is is undoubtedly the most popular messaging platform in Spain. 89% of all Spanish smartphone users actively use it on their smartphones which equates to 11 million daily active users. This is particularly the case for those aged between 16 and 24 years old – 98% of females within this age group use WhatsApp on a daily basis, as well as 92% of their male counterparts. During Spain’s first national lockdown, WhatsApp saw a huge increase in activity. In fact, 97% of Spanish instant messaging users preferred this messaging platform to any other.
WhatsApp has grown its British user base every year making it the most popular messaging app in the UK . The UK now has 45 million active social media users, with 1.3 million added in the last year. Over the last few years, WhatsApp has increased its user base, which now reaches almost 62% of the English population. This is closely followed by the 58% of the population who use Facebook Messenger.
As is the case for many European countries, WhatsAppcomes out on top in Italy. Examining the large majority of the Italian population (those aged 16-64), it is clear to see that WhatsApp is the most popular messaging platform with 83% of people using it.
And again, WhatsApp has proved to be the most popular application in Germany, with 60% of the population calling it the most important app on their smartphone. There is a significant difference between the popularity of WhatsApp and that of Facebook Messenger, with only 15% of the population opting for Facebook Messenger as their preferred app.
In Sweden, Facebook Messenger plays a major role. 44% of the population use Facebook Messenger, in contrast to 28% of the population using iMessage and 16% using WhatsApp.
Similarly to Sweden, Denmark’s most popular instant messaging app is Facebook Messenger with 43% of its population using it on a daily basis. In second place comes iMessage (21%), followed by WhatsApp, with only 6% of the population using it every day.
Unlike its Scandinavian neighbours, the app most used on a daily basis in Finland is WhatsApp. According to Statista, 64% of Finnish smartphone users use WhatsApp, 23% Facebook Messenger and 5% use iMessage (the pre-installed instant messaging service on Apple products).
As of September 2019, Facebook Messenger was the most popular messenger app in the US with 106.4 million unique monthly users – this implies a 57% mobile audience reach in the US. WhatsApp has a relative 25.58 million – this instant messaging platform is relatively unpopular in comparison to Facebook Messenger due to Americans’ lack of urgency to text abroad, instead communicating mostly within the domestic market. Since one of the main advantages of WhatsApp when it first appeared was the ability to send SMS messages abroad at no extra cost, Americans feel less need to download and use the application.
Latin America is one of the strongest market regions for WhatsApp. 60% of the Latin American population (all countries included) use WhatsApp making the percentage of people who use Facebook Messenger almost insignificant. Indeed, 72% of Uruguayans, 71% of Chileans, 70% of Argentines and 56% of the Brazilian population use WhatsApp. Brazil has the most active user base, with 92% of Brazilian smartphone owners having downloaded the WhatsApp application and using it actively throughout the day.
WeChatis the most popular messaging platform in China. It has had 1.2 billion active users (since July 2020). This makes the platform the third most used messaging application in the world. WeChat is not only used among the Chinese population within the country’s borders, but also by Chinese people living abroad. The emergence of this Chinese platform is due to Chinese censorship blocking American platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp.
340 million people in India, which equates to 70% of the Indian population, use WhatsApp, making it the country’s leading messaging app. Facebook Messenger is only used by 53% of the population. As a result of its developing economy, the Indian market offers great potential for penetration of instant messaging platforms. Because gender inequality is still significant in India, 77% of men use these instant messaging tools compared to 23% of women.
For the rest of the Asian countries, WhatsApp is the most used messaging app, with usage rates as high as 93% for the Singaporean population. The second most used application is Facebook Messenger, followed by WeChat, Viber, Line and Telegram. These countries are also dominated by other regional application providers such as WeChat, KakaoTalk or Line, but WhatsApp remains the undisputed favourite application in this region of the world.
N.B.: One must also consider the possible repercussions of the recent announcement from Whatsapp and Facebook, who now allow data sharing between the two apps. Though the consequences of this are unclear at present, one could expect to see a decrease in the popularity of WhatsApp, possibly jeopardising its position as market leader.
Some hoteliers have realised that digitalisation allows them to better respond to the expectations of guests, to be more efficient, to generate additional sales and to collect data to increase loyalty. Here is an overview of the best practices used by Spanish hoteliers in digitalising the guest journey.
Which hotelier has never had problems with unpaid bills? The hotel industry is one of the only services that offers the payment phase after the service has been completed, a very old habit that nevertheless causes problems for some establishments. Between fraud, payment disputes and high commission rates...