This week Facebook executives used their annual F8 conference to woo hotels, airlines, and other businesses into using the social network’s Messenger app as a place for them to communicate with their customers.
The company hopes its new artificial intelligence (AI) tools will make it easier for independent hotels, small chains, airlines of all sizes, and other travel suppliers to boost how customers interact with them.
Facebook says that companies of all kinds (and not just travel ones) have already doubled the number of messages sent since last year to two billion, thanks in part to more than 100,000 bots, which use AI to answer common questions from customers.
Messaging is not just a Facebook thing, of course. There’s also been hype around new chat-based interfaces from travel agencies like Lola, and there’s been buzz about the rollout of text-based messaging services by third-parties like Expedia and Booking.com. Plus hotel chains like Marriott and Hilton have been prodding guests to chat with them.
Even so, despite all of these efforts, not much messaging is yet happening between travelers and brands.
Perhaps surprisingly, Americans and travel companies have both been slow to embrace messaging on Facebook or other platforms, according to a new Skift poll using Google Consumer Surveys.
Takeaway: Only about four percent of the population says that they have chatted with a travel brand at least a few times on a messaging app. Only about eight percent of the respondents say that they have communicated with a travel provider once or twice using a messaging app.
Important: This survey — not served to Skift users — was administered to 2,027 members of the U.S. adult internet population in February 2016, through Google Consumer Surveys. The methodology is explained here.
There are not vast differences in usage by age. Only 14.8 percent of 18–44 year olds have used messaging, compared to 11.1 percent of the 45–65+ demographics.
The results fly in the face of research by BCV, a social media solutions provider for hospitality brands, which says its hotel clients alone have had about 1.1 million interactions with guests on messaging platforms in the past year.
It’s not clear what explains the discrepancy. Our best guess: Maybe some travel suppliers define “interactions” to include text-based alerts about check-in times, confirmations, or billing. And perhaps travelers tend to think of chats as more conversational, such as about asking to change a check-out time at a hotel via SMS.
In any case, this survey does dovetail with other market research. Other studies find that travel lags other sectors, such as retail, when it comes to messaging with customers. The U.S. as a geographic market also lags many other parts of the world when it comes to the adoption of messaging as a communications tool.
The survey is part of Skift’s 14-poll study this year that looks at U.S. traveler habits from many angles.
We’ll be releasing a survey every few weeks or so until the end of 2017. Each one, we hope, will offer new insight into how Americans are traveling — or not — this year, what their priorities are, and where they dream of going.
See our earlier question for U.S. travelers: How many vacation days did you take in 2016?