Pandemic-era digitalization is here to stay.

In 2019, grandparents had never heard of Zoom, scanning a QR code for a menu felt weird, and getting texts from a business still felt novel. Early adopters and innovative hotels and businesses have messaged with guests for years, creating serendipitous connections with guests. Like Zoom and QR menus, guests have come to expect to be able to message with businesses after the rise in popularity during the pandemic.

Now that we’re on a path to normalcy, we’re able to identify concrete trends and learnings from the pandemic. According to a McKinsey report, the pandemic accelerated the digitalization of consumer interactions by 3-4 years, increasing digital interactions from around 36% to 58%. In the United States, digital interactions made up around 41% of all consumer interactions with brands. In 2021, that figure jumped to 65%. Digital communication is clearly here to stay.

“Over 65% of all customer engagement is now online.”

That McKinsey report takes into account all consumer interactions including more than conversations and specific service engagement. This 65% figure includes ordering at a restaurant or making purchases online as well. One of the most influential companies in how we search and communicate, Google, issued a report specifically on the adoption of messaging through their proprietary offering, Google Business Messages.

Tech titans signal importance of messaging

In the early aughts of the pandemic, Google invested heavily in their business messaging offering (of which Kipsu is a large partner), which gives customers a rich messaging experience with businesses through Google’s Search, Maps, and Android Messages. Many took Google’s re-investment in messaging as a signal of messaging’s newfound importance in business communications with customers. According to Google, 65% of users reported a desire to message directly with brands in 2019. As of June 2021, that number grew to 85% of consumers. Also, 45% of users have spent more time on messaging services because of the pandemic.

Between social distancing and continued lean staffing, consumers turn more and more to messaging to reduce face-to-face exposure, avoid unnecessary lines, and use their time more efficiently with asynchronous messaging.

And what about the hospitality industry?

I’m glad you asked. As the industry-leading provider of texting and digital messaging for hotels, we at Kipsu have a unique ability to survey guest usage of messaging across thousands of hotels in every region, service level, brand, and geography. The hospitality industry magnified the trends spotted by McKinsey and Google.

Although overall messages sent and received from hotels dropped during 2020 due to closures and record-low occupancy, the adoption of guests who took advantage of messaging spiked dramatically. In May of 2019, hotels sent an average of .5 messages per guest. In other words, conversations were short and mostly transactional (“Can I get more towels?”). In May of 2021, hotels sent over 1.4 messages per guest, almost a threefold increase!

Guest expectations have changed

This means that hotels are messaging with more guests and the conversations are richer and more in-depth than previously. Whereas pre-pandemic, guests were pleasantly surprised when they had a chance to engage with hotels via messaging; today it's become an expectation. Guests expect to be able to communicate with service providers asynchronously through messaging to handle every aspect of their stay. Guests increasingly prefer to handle more of their needs during stays through messaging—from service requests, to managing check in/out, to concierge, and more. This is further shown in the guest response rate to hotels’ welcome messages: 48% in 2021 compared to 30% in 2019. Compare this to the response rate of emails (2%) and the nearly nonexistent response rate to a room call-back, a 48% reply rate is incredible.

“In 2021, the response rate for messaging at hotels is 48%(!).”

As we understand and settle into our post-pandemic “new normal,” US hotel occupancy is (finally) on the rise again. As leisure and business travelers return to the skies, their expectations of service accessibility reflect the pandemic era’s digitalization. Guests and consumers assume they will be able to engage with service teams through messaging to place F&B orders, coordinate housekeeping, and manage every aspect of their stays.

Tom McGurran
Senior Vice President and General Manager of Kipsu
Kipsu, Inc