More travel companies may line up for WhatsApp for business APIs

Companies like Yatra said they are in the process of evaluating financial partnerships with WhatsApp for WhatsApp for Business APIs after the company announced last week that it is looking at monetising the product for the first time. More hotel and travel companies have been enquiring about the product since the announcement in India and WhatsApp has also been actively engaging with companies in the space, social media consultants and advertisers said. The companies had been working with WhatsApp on a pilot basis so far for sending booking confirmation messages and ticket PDFs to customers.

“People booking with us can choose to sign up for a notification via WhatsApp and then we send you the transaction details and itinerary on WhatsApp. We are working out the modalities of the financial arrangement now. Till now it was proof of concept and now we are getting into a commercial agreement with them. At the end of the day, it is about convenience for the customer. We are looking at it as a tool to communicate better with customers,” said Sharat Dhall, COO (B2C), Yatra.com.

WhatsApp announced this week that WhatsApp for Business APIs will be its first revenue generating product in India for enterprises to interact directly with customers through their messaging platform. The company said the product will debut with companies like MakeMyTrip, customer service software provider Zendesk, and pharma delivery startup 1mg.

“One of the key pain areas for the customers is timely refund post booking cancellation. Given the ubiquity of WhatsApp in India, we started using WhatsApp business solution to notify customers at every step of the process. WhatsApp for business has been a great enabler in reaching out to our customers quickly and effectively,” said Rajesh Magow, co founder and CEO, India at MakeMyTrip.

Across its brands like MakeMyTrip, Goibibo and redBus, the company is using WhatsApp not just to give refund status but also to deliver e-tickets, hotel vouchers and new use cases like flight seat selection, bus-boarding locations and more.

Social media consultants and advertisers say that while the product is open to companies across sectors like pharma, food and insurance, the high volume of transactions and their ticket size in online travel, and the growing potential of the space could be particularly lucrative for WhatsApp in India given the need for real time updates on flights and hotel bookings. Online travel bookings in India are expected to increase to $38.7 billion in 2021 from $22.3 billion in 2017 as per a recent FICCI KPMG report titled Expedition 3.0: Travel and hospitality gone digital.

Cleartrip which has also been using WhatsApp APIs said it is open to partnerships that help solve customer problems. “This (WhatsApp APIs) make it much easier for our customers to find tickets than search through email. Also, since messages are available offline, it helps when network access is a problem, especially for hotel stays. We are thinking of new use cases with the current APIs. If there’s something new that comes up that opens up new use cases that can be solved, we will surely be interested and willing,” said Suman De, director of products at Cleartrip.

KLM, Booking.com and Melia Hotels are the other users of the WhatsApp for Business globally. A WhatsApp spokesperson said it has made it easier for businesses to send information like boarding passes and booking confirmation to people and to know that it has reached their customer.

“The mobile market is growing and data has become pretty much inexpensive now. With the growth of the online travel it could be a good opportunity for online entities to reach out to customers,” said Jaideep Ghosh, partner and head, transport, leisure and sports, KPMG.

Aditya Gupta, co founder of iGenero said the online travel market is mostly sms driven and the partnerships would turn out to be cost effective for companies. “This should lead to a better user experience as well.”

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