By Brendon Granger, Technology 4 Hotels

A few short years ago, mobile apps were being heralded as the next big communication tool in the hotel industry.  But in a presentation at the recent HITEC, it was argued that the hotel app might be coming to an end.

It seems a dramatic assessment considering all the potential mobile apps promised, and yet it turns out that hotel apps just aren’t delivering of meaningful value.

The trouble with apps

In reality, most apps that are downloaded end up being abandoned or not used at all. And despite the fact IOS and Android have over 3.1 million apps available for download, a recent study showed that customers spend 80% of their time using just three of them.

Apps are also expensive to build and maintain, putting them out of reach for a lot of independent hotels.

And then there’s the issue of awareness. When a guest checks in to a hotel, they may have no idea the property they’re staying at even has an app – and it’s unlikely most people would go out of their way to check.

But as apps are being written off, a new opportunity is arising. In the hotel industry, it seems the future of guest communication lies in messaging.

The future of guest communication

Around the world, messaging has become the dominant way people communicate with friends and family. Whether it’s chatting over SMS, or keeping in touch through Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, messaging has become ingrained in everyday life.

For hotels, it makes sense to engage with guests via a platform they use frequently, rather than trying to persuade them to download an app they may never have heard of. The one-to-one nature of messaging also provides a platform to build more personal relationships.

And of course, messaging also opens up the ability to offer far more responsive and effective customer service. If a guest needs a light fixing in their room, wants fresh towels, or wishes to book a table at the hotel restaurant, they can easily make that request using their own phone – anywhere, anytime.

Growing popularity

In 2015, Starwood Hotels started using WhatsApp to communicate with guests. Then later that same year, Hyatt became one of the first brands to use Facebook Messenger as a customer service platform.

More recently, a significant number of brands have started communicating with customers via text, and companies such as are helping hotels streamline their operation by interacting with guests across various messaging platforms.

Slowly but very surely, hotels are starting to embrace messaging and chat apps with greater confidence and as they do, it seems this form of engagement will start to become more commonplace across the industry.

The challenges of messaging

While the benefits are numerous, introducing messaging into the guest experience also comes with a few challenges.

Just like making customers aware of a mobile app, hotels similarly need to let customers know they can use messaging to engage with the hotel. This can be achieved relatively easily: a welcome message at check-in or a room-ready notification could initiate that first conversation and prompt further interaction.

As the HITEC presentation pointed out, hotel staff will also need to deal with an increased expectation from customers that requests will be responded to quickly. This will naturally involve putting in place effective systems for managing this extra flow of interaction.  This is where companies such as come in.  While there are certain educational and operational challenges to be considered, it’s clear that messaging represents an altogether more efficient, consistent and cost-effective way to communicate with guests.  In addition language translation also benefits international guests allowing them to communicate back and forth with the hotel in their preferred language.

Huge potential

As mobile apps are being written off, messaging looks set to shape the future of how hotels communicate with customers. In fact it’s predicted that within just 2-3 years, talking to hotels using SMS and chat apps will no longer be seen as the exception but the norm.

The potential for hotels is huge.

With global ubiquity and ease of use, messaging provides a ready-made platform to offer enhanced levels of customer service. It also provides the opportunity to forge a stronger relationship with guests – professional in tone, but more personable in nature.

If hotels can harness its true potential, there’s every reason to believe messaging could truly revolutionize the guest experience in the years to come.