There’s no denying it – we live in an increasingly connected and automated world. This transformation, largely propelled by a surge in new disruptive technologies, looks set to revolutionise a whole host of industries, but what do artificial intelligence (AI) and bots mean for the future of the travel industry? Matt Minetola, CTO of Travelport looks ahead.
Technology such as bots and AI are already being utilised in the travel booking process today to help travel providers keep up with consumers’ demands for information and options in real time. Bots have allowed travel companies to expand their reach and talk to both current and new customers, using a variety of third party channels, such as Facebook Messenger. Functionalities such as search and travel updates are not necessarily new, but both the channel and the environment are different; bots enable brands to speak with users in familiar and easily accessible environments with which they are already comfortable.
It will come as no surprise that the travel industry can reduce costs by utilising AI and hopefully passing these benefits to the consumer. Booking transactions will increasingly originate from a mobile device over the next few years and a large majority of these will be untouched by a human being as intelligent automation. Bots and AI technologies will increasingly be utilised to automate processes that do not require complex problem solving, creativity or emotional intelligence.
Not only are bots more cost effective, but they can also improve productivity. With the ability to do simple, and often more time consuming routine tasks, bots can help companies utilise their workforce to the best of their ability. Given that these tools can help improve efficiency and productivity, it is evident to see why they are an attractive option.
Solving problems and creating opportunities
Bots and AI are also starting to provide solutions for problems frequently encountered by companies in the travel industry. From the ability to send last-minute requests for a boarding pass via Facebook Messenger through to automating disruption alerts, bots are starting to have an impact on the industry. Opportunities are also starting to be uncovered which involve AI being used to improve the way we search, plan and book travel to provide faster results.
Data and analytics tools offer further opportunities in terms of offering customers services other than just a simple flight or hotel. Done correctly, intelligent automation will help provide relevant, timely and personalized destination suggestions based on individual and aggregate historical travel preferences. This frees up more travel consultancy time to do value added work.
There is no doubt that the travel sector saw significant progress being made in 2016, but many of the developments are just scratching the surface and are still fragmented in nature.
So, which direction do bots and AI need to go in to make a bigger impact this year? To date bots and AI have excelled at using scripted responses and acting as a basic assistant. But bots need to understand context and history of requests and ultimately need to act as collaborators on more complex travel challenges, rather than simply responding to basic commands. There is no doubt that things are moving fast, but more experimentation is definitely needed.