HiJiffy interview, chatbot for hotels to enhance guests’ experience

For tourism accommodations, being able to satisfy their guests’ requests in every moment is not easy. Customer often find it hard to contact the hotel to ask questions, add services to their stay or even booking. On the other hand, hotels are trying more and more to increase their direct booking and to improve customer loyalty.

Twissen interviewed Tiago Araújo, CEO at HiJiffy, a startup providing a chatbot to tourism accommodations, which enables their guests to chat with them via Facebook Messenger.

Twissen: How was the idea of HiJiffy born?

Araújo: The idea of HiJiffy comes from a B2C startup that we had in 2015, which aimed to generate travel guides made by local experts for tourists. The last pivot we made offered this service to hotels, so they could have a concierge system that worked via Facebook Messenger, providing tips about what to do in the city. We spoke with dozens of hotels and realised there was a common pain: a great need to automate the responses that hotels were giving via social networks, not only on travel trips but also about room and services bookings.

Tw: Can you introduce your team?

A: Our team is made up by José Mendonça, the CTO (Chief Technology Officer), Pedro Gonçalves, the COO (Chief Operating Officer) and me, Tiago Araújo, the CEO (Chief Executive Officer). José is responsible for the back-office and infrastructure we need for our product and to integrate with our clients and third parties messaging services, Pedro works with our online communication (landing page, social media, presentations), planning solutions for clients and defining the strategy and I am mainly focused on representing the company, working in business development and in fund-raising.
We met while working together in a digital marketing company in Lisbon, 7 years ago. As we had complementary profiles, we decided to quit jobs and build our own business.

Tw: Which is the business model of your company? What are the services that you provide to your customers?   

A: HiJiffy is a startup providing an innovative booking solution for the hospitality industry, using Facebook Messenger technology. We are providing cutting edge tech to people’s lives in a simple way, with the ultimate goal of making the process of booking a hotel as easy as sending a text message.
For example, let’s imagine a family with young children booking a hotel room through a OTA’s website. Once they’ve booked, it’s often difficult for them to solve further doubts regarding their stay. (e.g., it is possible to add an extra cot in the room?). If the hotel is a HiJiffy customer, the family can go on Facebook Messenger, search the hotel name and start a dialogue. They can ask all the questions they have about their stay, check rates, find out the best dates to visit the destination and confirm the reservation. All of this by simply texting the hotel using an application that they already are familiarized with in their native language – always having answers in real time.
To tourism accommodations, the solution is offered through a monthly subscription. The fee is in function of the hotel number of rooms.

Tw: Which are the targets of your company?

A: Our project addresses to a global market. The global hotel industry revenue in 2015 was 493bn dollars, and there are around 400.000 hotels around the world, which is a high volume market. For our service it’s important to be aware the number of hotels that are already present in online platforms such as Booking.com, which are more than 200.000,  because these are hotels already selling online.
Our target includes any hotel in the world looking to drive more direct bookings and improve their guests’ experience, but the most relevant market segment includes hotels with a strong presence on Facebook, and that are already investing in their social media activity. We know that currently there are about 1000 hotel Facebook Pages with more than 50.000 likes, and these will be the clients we will be targeting for initial introduction as they already have a strong presence within Facebook.

Tw: Which are the payment methods that you provide through your solution?

A: We are currently working with Stripe and PCI Proxy, two payment gateways approved to work within Facebook messenger.

Tw: Which are the differences between an app and a marketing tool like your product?

A: First of all, chatbots which are available through messaging apps don’t require an installation, so they are easier to build than an app and they cover more use-cases. On top of this, messaging has a really big market penetration and the conversation happens in a natural way. On the contrary, every app has its own user interface and rules.
Despite the fact that the average smartphone owner use 27 apps on their phone per month, daily usage shows that 72% of people use less than 7 apps per day. Is difficult to push consumers to use a new application and the average app loses more than 75% of its users after one day.
We also know that the top four messaging apps (Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat and Viber) have more monthly active users than the top four social networking apps (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+).
Chatbots’ ability to parse language, understanding the user’s intent, being constantly aware of the user context means we can now create much more meaningful and personalized experiences.

Tw: In your experience, which are the best apps to approach a certain geographic target?

A: According to a recent study, out of 187 analysed Countries, in 109 of them including Brazil, Mexico, India, Russia, and many other countries in South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Oceania, Whatsapp is the favourite app. Australia, the USA and Canada prefer Messenger, while Viber shows strong popularity in Eastern Europe, and is the top app in  Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, and others. China’s most popular app is WeChat, while Japan uses Line and Iran preferres Telegram. KakaoTalk is popular in South Korea, imo in Cuba, Zalo in Vietnam, ChatOn in Eritrea and BBM in Indonesia.
HiJiffy decided to start with Facebook Messenger as it’s a channel where the hotel’s usually already receive a lot of messages through organic and paid traffic. With our solution we’re automatizing 85% of the queries and transforming interactions into bookings.

Tw: Which limits does the Artificial Intelligence (namely, the bot) have and where does a human being have to intervene?

A: The bot always tries to understand the user, but it also gives the opportunity to talk to a human agent. If the user clicks on “human agent”, the person responsible for social media will be notified.

Tw: In your opinion, how will A.I. evolve in the tourism sector?

A: We’ve been seeing that travel brands are having difficulties to manage their presence on social medias, as users are getting more and more familiar with instant messages to contact them and expect a real-time response. Some of this queries are standard, as for example “what time is the check-in”. To this type of FAQs, Artificial Intelligence can make a big difference by decreasing the number of queries a human agent needs to reply and giving a real-time response to the guest. This can increase guest satisfaction, loyalty and, in the medium-term, direct bookings.

Tw: Have you received any investment round yet?

A: Yes we have, thanks to our approved application in SME Instrument of Horizon 2020 (editor’s note: the EU Programme on innovation).