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Travel Homie - World's first WhatsApp Travel Agent

Meet Travel Homie, an innovative, German based company changing the face of modern day travel.

Travel Homie is not your ordinary travel agent…far from it. Through Instant Messaging, they have managed to provide a fast, easy and reliable way for clients to receive personalized travel recommendations and find their dream holidays, straight from their phones.

We caught up with co-founders Maximilian Soltner and Alex Holzhammer to find out more about their story, why they chose to use Instant Messaging and how they are using Ongair in their day to day client interaction…

1. Tell us a little bit about Travel Homie and what it is all about?

Travel Homie is the first travel agent run via Instant Messaging.

We are powered by real humans, supported by a self learning engine. That means, for all travel related questions you can just open WhatsApp, message Travel Homie and get your personalized travel recommendations and the best prices you could possibly find online.

2. How did it all begin?

We started the company in 2014 with the goal of creating a personalized engine for travel.

We rented a small apartment here in Cologne, Germany. We bootstrapped the company right from the start and needed to find a way to talk to real users really quick.

So we tested our concept by sending real travel recommendations to people via WhatsApp. We set up a small landing page in the first night and launched overnight. We were overwhelmed by the response and didn’t sleep for 5 nights because of the high number of messages.

At that time, WhatsApp wasn’t even accessible via their own WhatsApp web app. So we had to type all of our answers on a regular phone. It was not scalable, but we loved the feedback we got and it had fantastic open rates.

3. Why the name Travel Homie ?

The name was born after a … let’s say a “few” beers right around the corner in a nice Kölsch Bar.Kölsch is a typical beer right from Cologne that is served in 0,2l glases. So you can drink a lot of them and that leads to fantastic ideas, as usual. :)

So “Travel Homie” was a nice and internationally usable name .We also like to believe that our users really see us as their Homie. They can ask us anything and sometimes they even tell us some private stories to share them with their Travel Homie.

4. Travel Homie is the world’s first WhatsApp travel consultant! What inspired you to use Instant Messaging instead of other communication channels?

We wanted to start something innovative. We found, that there was no travel agent via instant messaging.

Everyone here in Germany is using WhatsApp, so we searched for and found a fast channel to start with. We had a normal smartphone, so we were ready to go.

At that time, it was quite hard to use an instant messaging app online – no one was able to get WhatsApp messages into a normal system, like Ongair or Zendesk. So we really had to type on a smartphone and that cost us a lot of time.

5. Tell us a bit more about your Instant Messaging strategy.

We started with WhatsApp. In the last month, we introduced our second channel; Facebook Messenger. We really see high growth and usage numbers in Germany on both of these channels.

Maybe we will think about our own messenger app in the future as well.

But for now we like to believe, that our users guide us through the jungle of possible channels we could use by helping us with the usage of the channels they really like.

So we will offer more options but will always focus on the ones our users really love and use a lot.

6.How has the use of Instant Messaging impacted your business since you started using it?

We have really found Instant Messaging to be a totally different channel. We now have very high retention and referral rates. That’s not only because of the good service, but also because of the trust. Our homies don’t have to surf the web alone, jumping from site to site without a contact to a real human.

In messaging we have open rates of nearly 100%.

Everyone is replying in a calm and friendly way, they know they are talking with a real human. So it really establishes a relationship with our users.

Fun fact: Some of our homies asked if we accept some sort of tips. They payed us a small tip via PayPal, just because they loved the service so much. That was really new to us. I think that this could only happen on a messenger. On a website, it’s just not that personal.

7. What features of Ongair do you like and use most ?

We really love the seamless integration of Ongair into our strategy. It just works, so this really helps to establish a business. I think you really have to trust the tools you are using so you can focus on delivering outstanding service.

We searched a lot and finally got introduced to Ongair from our friends at Zendesk. The other tools we tried were not nearly as good as Ongair, so we decided to stay with them.

We also really love the ability to have multiple channels come together in one simple and clear interface, so that is a huge plus.

8. What advice would you give any other company out there looking to use Instant Messaging as their main client support channel ?

We truly think that the future of the web in the next years will all be about messaging channels.

Users don’t like to search for a phone number only to be forwarded to a stranger in a call center.So we don’t believe in automatic replies or bots. We really want to have a one on one conversation with our homies and the experts sitting on our end.

In our experience it is really important that you are accessible and responsive whenever your users are online. So you need to reply fast and offer the same quality of service 24/7.
For us this was a huge problem at the start and we needed some time and experience to solve it.

It’s also really important to not spam your users.

But you are entering a very personal space of your users. They chat with friends in messengers. It is, in our experience, really important to respect that space and act like a friend – not a company.

So it all comes down to speed and quality I think. Ongair and our other partners make it really easy to be informed about all the messages and info we got about our homies so our travel expert can jump right into the new questions a user just sent.

We know what you’re thinking . Travel Homie sounds pretty cool ( don't worry, we think so too ) ..Check out their website for more details. Special thanks to Maximillian and Alex for being so awesome, it’s a pleasure to work with you and we hope to continue doing so for much longer.

This is just one of the many ways, Instant Messaging is revolutionizing how businesses around the world interact with their clients. Yours could be the next story...

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