Startup Builds Messenger Chatbot to Help HotelsMARY RYBAKOVA
Bonomi is a Budapest-based startup founded by marketing professionals with a passion for travel. With the industry shifting towards alternative accommodations like AirBnbs, “we realized that hotels no longer stand a chance in the race for our digital attention,” say the founders. That’s why they created a solution to help hotels stay competitive. It’s called Bonomi Assistant, a customizable Facebook Messenger chatbot that acts as a virtual assistant for hotel brands of all sizes. It’s “a future-proof solution designed to enhance the guest experience by making hotels available inside popular messaging channels” like Facebook Messenger, the Bonomi team tells us.
It’s “a future-proof solution designed to enhance the guest experience by making hotels available inside popular messaging channels.” –Bonomi founders
The founders of Bonomi recognized that hotels around the world today face two main challenges:
- Competition 🏆 Traditional hotels now have to compete with other accommodation alternatives. AirBnb, for example, now has over 6.1 million listings worldwide. AirBnb stays are typically cheaper than hotels, and direct communication with hosts makes booking them quick and seamless. As a result, 47% of respondents in a 2018 survey said they have replaced a hotel stay with an AirBnb—a number that has likely risen in the last two years. To stay competitive, hotels need new marketing tactics that will help them attract guests, convey value, and provide better customer service.
- COVID-19 😷 Of course, the coronavirus pandemic has turned the travel industry upside down. In the US alone, six out of ten hotel rooms sit empty in July 2020. US hotels have already lost more than $40 billion in room revenue this year, and the numbers don’t look much better in most other countries. And even though travel is slowly starting to pick up again in some places, guests are cautious and hesitant. They have new questions about things like safety and cleanliness that need answers before booking. And once they arrive, a low-risk, contactless experience is extremely important.
The founders of Bonomi built a tool to help hotel owners stand up to these key challenges. Chatbot technology stood out as the ideal form for this tool to take. “After trying out and building a few chatbots, we were convinced that they are a natural extension of the mobile-first customer experience design we’ve been aiming for since 2013.”
So the Bonomi Assistant is a virtual assistant in the form of a Messenger chatbot. The hotel chatbot’s framework lives in Chatfuel, and can be copied, customized, and white-labeled by the Bonomi team for any hotel client. (Bonomi has a demo version of the hotel chatbot so you can see how it works. Chat with it here.)
The Bonomi Assistant can help hotels achieve the following goals:
Attract new customers 👋 Chatbots can provide a personalized conversational marketing experience. They can greet prospective guests by name, tailor information to their preferences, answer their questions, and remember all the data for the next conversation. The Bonomi Assistant’s demo feature shows this capability in action. The bot for a fictional hotel asks the user who they’ll be traveling with and what types of activities they like. It then recommends rooms and packages that match their needs and interests. The bot can integrate with a hotel’s existing software for booking, too. The result: a frictionless process that leads to more paid reservations.
Upsell additional services 🥂 Once a guest is ready to make a booking, the hotel chatbot can suggest add-ons they might be interested in. It’s a completely automated way for hotels to generate more revenue through things like airport transfers, tour packages, and room upgrades.
Provide a contactless guest experience 💬 Before COVID-19, attentive in-person customer service from hotel staff was a good thing. But during a global pandemic, contactless is the new gold standard. Hotels can use the Bonomi Assistant to automatically answer most questions guests may have during their stay. This feature helps keep guests and staff at a safe distance, since guests won’t have to approach the front desk for every question or concern. It also gives the staff more time to focus on other tasks.
Follow up with prospects and customers 🗓️ After a user has chatted with a hotel chatbot once, their basic information and conversation history are saved there. This benefits the hotel in two ways:
- More bookings. If a user starts the booking process but doesn’t finish, the Facebook chatbot can send them reminder messages within the next 24 hours. If the guest simply got distracted, these follow-ups can bring them back. If they abandoned the process because they had a question, the bot can answer it and move them along the funnel.
- Repeat business. Hotels can pay to contact past chatbot users again later, too. They can send a sponsored message letting former guests know about deals and promotions. The users can get more information and book right in the bot. That means more repeat business for the hotel, all on autopilot.
Bonomi’s founders chose Chatfuel for this project for a few key reasons. First, they wanted a developer-friendly platform so they could integrate their own back-end systems into the bot. Second, the flexible pricing plans were important for them, “as it enabled us to build a startup in a scalable way.” And third, “we must mention the Facebook community of Chatfuel users from all over the world; it’s a big plus. It’s great to see so many talented people sharing tips and tricks, exchanging ideas.”
Finally, the following Chatfuel tools and features were crucial in the process of building the Bonomi Assistant:
- Synced Cloning. The Bonomi virtual assistant is a hotel chatbot framework that the Bonomi team will copy and customize for different hospitality clients. Synced Cloning makes this process easy. In one click, the Bonomi team can copy a block or an entire bot to a new client’s account instead of having to recreate each piece manually. Plus, if the team makes a change to the master template, it’ll be updated in all the copies too. That’s why Synced Cloning is a key tool for brands and marketing agencies that sell customizable bot frameworks, or that manage chatbots for multi-location businesses.
- Customer Chat plugin. It’s what allows you to add a Messenger chatbot window to your website in just four steps. Bonomi uses this plugin on their own website, so guests can chat with their bot and learn more about their virtual assistant. Most of their hotel clients also use this plugin (and click-to-Messenger ads too) to engage and convert traffic. (2021 update: The Customer Chat plugin is now the Customer Chat Entry Point, which is even easier to use!)
- Artificial intelligence (AI). AI is another crucial component of the Bonomi virtual assistant. When users type in their own messages (instead of selecting a button or quick reply), AI helps the chatbot understand the intent behind the message and respond accordingly. Bonomi uses the JSON API to integrate this technology (in the form of a custom NLP agent) into their AI-enabled chatbots, but there are no-code ways to do this in Chatfuel as well.
“We must mention the Facebook community of Chatfuel users from all over the world; it’s a big plus. It’s great to see so many talented people sharing tips and tricks, exchanging ideas.” — Bonomi founders
The Bonomi team tells us that “the response from hospitality professionals [to the Bonomi virtual assistant] has been very positive.” You can see a summary of the results from their first six clients in the graphic below. The most impressive of the stats for these Bonomi hotel chatbots include:
- 3,367 users who showed intent to book directly through the chatbot 🏨 It’s a key result because “we emphasize how the Assistant can get more users to book directly through the hotel instead of through online travel agents. For a lot of mid-sized hotels, this is quite important,” the Bonomi team tells us. It means all the profit for the reservation goes directly to the hotel, and the booking experience is fast and uncomplicated.
- 2,835 automatically answered questions ❓"That comes in really handy for big and popular hotels,” the Bonomi team explains, as the automation gives their staff more time to focus on other tasks. That benefit is clear in the statistic below that lists how much time the Assistant saved these initial clients: over 140 hours!
“We emphasize how the Assistant can get more users to book directly through the hotel instead of through online travel agents. For a lot of mid-sized hotels, this is quite important.” — Bonomi founders
And when the coronavirus escalated into a global pandemic, the Bonomi team quickly made a free version of their tool to help struggling businesses in the hospitality industry. “We had 10 new customers within a week [of that release], and they keep coming!” It’s a good indication that this type of automation is what hotel owners are looking for during these times.
What does the future look like for Bonomi? Expansion. “Right now we’re close to getting new investment so we’ll be able to work on new integrations with other hospitality technologies, and work on the multi-language feature and the infrastructure to support 100+ clients.”
“We had 10 new customers within a week [of that release], and they keep coming!” — Bonomi founders
Chatbots helping brands in a changing world
Thanks to an evolving hospitality market and a global pandemic, hotels around the world are scrambling to pivot in order to stay afloat. No-code tools like Bonomi’s Messenger chatbot framework are helping them attract new business and delight guests with safe, seamless experiences.
It’s not just the hospitality and tourism sectors: Businesses across industries are turning to chatbots to help see them through the pandemic. To explore the possibilities of no-code Messenger chatbots for your brand, sign up for a free account today, then scale your users (and access priority support and other exclusive perks) with a Pro account.