by WEX Travel
Not long ago, people were buzzing about planning their travel online—but then, the conversation quickly shifted to booking trips via smartphone. It feels like just yesterday that “the next big thing” was text messaging or chatting one’s way through customer service inquiries. Today, artificial intelligence (AI) is making headlines. While the mention of “AI” might evoke a vision of a humanoid robot, that’s not necessarily what’s taking shape in the travel industry. Let’s clear up some of the confusion:
What is artificial intelligence (AI)?
According to Techopedia, AI is an area of computer science that emphasizes the creation of intelligent machines that work and react like humans. Some of the activities computers with artificial intelligence are designed for include speech recognition, learning, planning and problem solving.
While some forms of AI are designed to take human form, intelligent technology is usually deployed through platforms that provide a service to people. Think Siri, Apple’s “intelligent personal assistant and knowledge navigator,” accessed via the company’s mobile operating system.
What can AI do for the travel industry?
In short, AI technology can enable travel suppliers to provide their customers with a new form of more personalized interaction. Again, consider the example of Siri, who helps customers by answering questions and providing individualized recommendations based on the device user’s past searches. In the travel industry, AI software can learn from a customer’s ongoing interactions (that’s machine learning) to ultimately deliver “personal assistance” through a user-friendly interface—through chat or spoken word.
What’s the advantage to travel organizations?
Central to the concept of AI, at least in the applications emerging in the travel industry, is the next-generation use of data. The technology combines travel intelligence and customer intelligence and turns it into remarkably usable information that can impact an individual traveler’s trip planning experience.
It essentially pushes market segmentation to the next level. Travel organizations who know how to leverage their data effectively will be able to target customers as individuals, not just as “members of Generation X,” for instance. They’ll have insights into customers that they’ll be able to parlay into highly personalized guidance, which can lead to sales opportunities and a stronger relationship with the brand. For more on this read, What Does The Future Hold for Travel Agents? on TravelPulse.com.
Is AI really the next big thing in travel?
Yes. Digital creative agencies, Blitz and AMP, recently conducted a market research study to learn about consumer travel planning behavior–and they predict that the combination of AI and human expertise is about to disrupt the travel agency industry. In fact, the possibility for better, more personalized recommendations powered by big data and artificial intelligence is among the four trends they predict will increase demand for travel agents in the near future. This is discussed in their report Targeting Moments of Need in the New Travel Landscape.
And yes, it’s ripe to happen now, as it’s the emergence of cloud and cluster technology that’s enabling the wide implementation of new AI technologies. (Read the HospitalityNet.org article Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning: What will be the Impact on The Travel Industry? for a deeper dive.) Many companies are ready to explore their AI capabilities.
Do today’s consumers want this functionality?
Consumers today are increasingly comfortable with voice commands and texting. They’re already using and finding value in virtual assistants like Siri. Travel companies are investing in AI technology to ensure marketplace relevance—and deliver a level of service many customers are coming to expect.
For example, Kayak CEO, Steve Hafner, explains how his company is making use of the technology: “We have voice interaction with Alexa, which is a service from Amazon, where you can actually talk to Kayak…and say, ‘Hey Kayak, what’s the status of my flight to Denver later today? Where can I go this weekend for $300?'” For more, visit this coverage on CNBC.com.
What are some of the AI tools in the space?
- Exa– voice automation tool that lets hotel guests speak requests for things like room service and booking activities, and allows the hotel to sell additional offerings to guests while they’re in their rooms.
- HelloGbye– virtual assistant helping travelers store their flight rewards in an app, make changes to your trip and receive notifications for cancellations or flight delays.
- 30 Seconds to Fly– travel management software that helps business travelers book travel through its virtual assistant Claire on Facebook Messenger, Slack, Skype and SMS.
For more examples, see Skift’s 5 New Travel Startups Banking on Messaging and Artificial Intelligence
How far can this trend go?
Time will tell. At this moment, AI in the travel industry is in its infancy. According to Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning: What will be the Impact on The Travel Industry? on HospitalityNet.org, “AI and machine learning technology will take some time to become widely adopted by both the companies that are good targets for these platforms, as well as the end user.” For more commentary about AI’s level of maturity, read TNOOZ.com’s Artificial Intelligence-Based Travel Concierge – Not Hard to Break it.