Travel Homie, the first travel agent on WhatsApp, was founded on 01. Jan 2015

How WhatsApp surprised me with high conversion rates


8 learnings from the first travel consultant on WhatsApp
„Teh wine wsa spuer1 THis bar wasa graet recommendation. THX!

I would never recommend a bar if I knew that they push it that hard. But that’s the way it goes. Melanie, 22, wrote me from Amsterdam. She wanted to go to a nice bar, best would be in the city center. My hint arrived three minutes later via WhatsApp: „The Tales & Spirits Bar is fantastic. I’ve been there myself 5 weeks ago. Try the wine recommendations!“. And again I made a homie happy.

2 weeks earlier: The first travel consultant on WhatsApp arises

For 2 years I’ve been engaging in the travel sector now, last year I presented personalization in the travel industry with my new company tripsuit (have a look at my former post „Personalizing The Travel Industry“).

„What if we could test a minimal version of our product? We write individual recommendations for every user’s perfect trip. So we can see if our product works. What do you think, Max?“ Sure thing I liked it. The effort that would be needed for this idea wasn’t clear to me back then.

We used a quite fashionable approach. After one day, the website for our travel consultant via WhatsApp — Travel Homie — was born.

Overrun by The First Homies

It was bound to happen: Alex, my co-founder at tripsuit has travelled a lot himself and has therefore a lot of background knowledge on how to react to many requests. The first night we barely slept and sat at our newly bought Android smartphone to answer questions from our users.

The guys from GoButler must have experienced something similar. With 50.000 requests and much more PR/Marketing they had a lot more to do than our Travel Homie.

On the second day, Jürgen from German blog Basic Thinking writes us. He wants to interview me about the Travel Homie. The next day, the article (with quite funny answers according to my homies) is published, which means a new wave of users and many more articles about us. I can hardly handle the amount of requests. My private life stands still, my actual baby tripsuit is a minor matter for now. Our only goal is to answer all questions as fast as possible and to offer the best possible quality.

„Great service — can I tip you?“

The first surprise drives in the next day. Manuel, a young art student asks us for hints about his trip to Thailand. After this he offers us to transfer a tip via Paypal. That feels fantastic, but I tell him once again that the service is actually free of charge. „Yeah yeah“, he knows that but wants to „reward the great service and information somehow“.

That was not the last praise we should get. I hadn’t expected that much positive feedback. Praise, positive feedback and first conversions over our affiliate links is what we get from our users. That’s at least a small monetary compensation for our efforts.


My 8 Learnings

Top: Push instead of pull

After a couple of weeks, my first assumption has been verified. The open rate of WhatsApp is near 100%. Almost every user opens and reads our messages. Compared to email, calls or social networks these figures are gigantic.

But: Getting a WhatsApp contact, i.e. a phone number, is harder than acquiring an email or a Facebook like. Thus, we published our phone number and left the decision whether or not to get in contact with us to the users.

Top: High customer retention

With Travel Homie, I intentionally used a very direct and personal kind of communication. If you look at our website, you will see that we always talk directly to you. Communication on WhatsApp is always personal, it is clear that real people talk to real people here. This leads to a very high retention, for our homies see us as a helpful buddy. And they are right!

Many homies know personal things about us, which creates trust. WhatsApp almost cut all profit oriented companies out of its service by strict terms. Our retention rates are sensationally high. We will offer this WhatsApp support via WhatsApp also on our travel platform, combined with intelligent push marketing.

Top: Easy pickings for the good ol‘ press

What really surprised me was how popular the topic was with the press. As a young entrepreneur I saw the Travel Homie as a chance: I would be able to test what we can do completely without PR or marketing.

Especially traditional media like radio approached us without us doing anything. From Radio7 in Ulm to the SWR3 with a huge reach, radio stations were interested and wanted to cover our digital travel consultant project.

My personal takeaway: The conversion of a web address, heard on the radio during, for example, a car drive, is a long road. In order to fix this, you need a catchy, easy-to-remember domain, a strong claim that sticks in the target group’s head so they will make the step from radio to online.

Top: Referral is quite easy

With our „€25 for you and your friend“ campaign, we could easily and effectively attract new homies. On no other platform it is so simple and established within the user base to refer a piece of content, a contact or a service to your friends.

Our contact would just be forwarded. We would even be invited to groups of several friends. The referral rate was, also due to the high customer satisfaction, very high.

Flop: No API

One of the biggest barriers was the communication via the WhatsApp iOS or Android app. Luckily, they launched a desktop version a couple of days after we started. This made it much easier for us to chat with our homies.

A cross-channel customer support system like 247Grad Connect would make things easier. Overlooking several channels like Facebook, twitter or Google+ with support employees would simplify our work with WhatsApp a lot. We are looking forward to how WhatsApp will develop in this area in the future. With Facebook and the new messenger platform, there should be some innovations to come.

Flop: Huge support efforts

The always-on demand for support on WhatsApp is even higher than on social networks. Permanent customer care can quickly become a bottleneck. Sometimes I stayed awake with my homies till late night hours.

By dividing tasks, we could be there for our homies with several people at a time, temporarily. Nevertheless, collectively chatting with our traveler target group was rather complicated.

Flop: Message us: Yes. Being messaged: No.

During peaks, we installed a waiting list on our homepage, which is still online. If Travel Homie is used to capacity when a user visits our website, he or she can send us their WhatsApp contact details. The promise: We message you!

Our experience shows that this is a barrier for many users. While actively messaging by themselves is not a problem, putting your number on a waiting list is not really an option for most people. A phone number is more sensitive than an email address.


Ideas for further development?

I am very content with the development of Travel Homie. The positive response we get motivates us to further work on this project. I am currently looking for ideas how we can further develop our digital travel consultant on WhatsApp. What do you think?


This post originally was published in german on Medium and republished on our startup blog at inside.tripsuit.com.

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