Smartphone communication app Viber is known mostly for being a competitor to WeChat and WhatsApp.
A travel agency brand in Ukraine now bills itself as “the first Viber travel agency in the world,” streamlining the traditional travel agency consultation and booking experiences through the service.
Pockettour launched recently in Odessa, Ukraine, and consolidates the entire travel booking process from research to payment into Viber. It was launched by existing travel company Khoroshiy Otdyh but operates only in the digital space.
Users send a message to the agency’s Viber account about the type of trip they’re interested in. Pockettour’s travel agents then suggest flights and hotel stays via chat and converse with the potential client to tweak the trip to their liking.
Most customers choose to chat instead of making a voice or video call.
“Ninety-nine percent of [our] communications are chatting,” Pockettour founder Alexandr Dovgopol told Skift.
Clients can select a travel agent of their choice based on their personal expertise, which is listed on Pockettour’s website. The agency’s focus is currently regional, with agents on staff with expertise in travel to Turkey, Egypt, and the UAE.
Once an itinerary is prepared to the client’s liking, the travel agent sends a link via Viber enabling payment with a credit card or bank transfer.
“On the one hand [Viber chatting] looks like a game,” said Dovgopol, “but on the other hand it makes online booking intimate as never before.”
On the back end, Pockettour books its travel through global distribution systems like a normal travel agency. Electronic travel documents are sent to the client after booking.
The company chose Viber because its use in Ukraine currently outstrips competitors more popular globally, like WhatsApp.
“The main advantages for customers are simplicity and speed,” said Dovgopol. “Nobody likes to deal with the airlines rates or difficult reservation forms. Any smartphone has a messenger app and anyone can use it [to contact us].”
Plenty of travel companies have experimented with allowing bookings to be made on social media and communications apps, with generally short-lived results.
Travel startup Stayful allows Twitter users to request hotel room bookings by using certain hashtags. Loews Hotels lets users book on Twitter, while guests at Conrad Hotels & Resorts can book directly on the brand’s Instagram account.
Countless hotel brands and OTAs have also experimented with letting Facebook users book directly through their Facebook page, only to withdraw.
Another recent entrant to the field is Roomino, which allows travel bookings to take place through Slack.