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Analysis

Artificial Intelligence Lends Personal Touch To Travel Experience

Developments in AI are helping business travelers cater trips to their unique tastes. A few innovations are at the center of this new trend

Evan F.P.
May 22 2018

Despite all the teleconferencing technologies available today, there’s nothing like real-world, face-to-face meetings to get things done, which means that business travel will always be a necessity. And yet it’s a decidedly inhuman solution that has been at the center of some of the business traveling market’s most recent and dramatic shifts. Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered technologies are helping streamline the travel experience for millions of business flyers, especially when it comes to the level of service they can expect. New communication channels, combined with modern machine learning capabilities are eclipsing incumbent standards of customer care by providing an unprecedented level of personalized attention-to-detail.

It’s still early days for many of these AI-powered solutions, but if their early rollout is any indication of what we can expect in the future, business travelers are in for a smooth ride.

Service via Chatbot

Piggybacking off popular messaging platforms like Slack and Facebook Messenger, chatbots are gaining traction among business travelers. Many travel companies see them as a quick, easy, and affordable way for customers to answer questions, resolve issues, or change trip details on the fly. Those most heavily invested in the emerging technology believe that it’s well on the way to replacing human service interactions for many use cases. CEO of The Chatbot Factory, Thomas Sabatier explains, “When people travel on business, they expect a time-saving and smooth experience…

A chatbot (like a human) can understand and assist someone throughout the whole experience, but since it is connected to contextual and transactional data it makes this tool more powerful than humans to provide a richer travel experience.” It’s a bold claim that implies most customer-facing service professionals in the travel industry could soon be obsolete. Although chatbot technology has enjoyed significant adoption in recent years, few of the companies implementing them have been able to remove the need for a human layer altogether.

Travel giant Expedia was among the first to integrate chatbots into its offering, allowing customers to book flights, hotels, and other accommodations via Skype. Expedia has since expanded its chatbot program to include a Facebook Messenger bot, but the solution still isn’t perfect. Natural language processing remains a challenge, colloquial phrasing and regional dialects aren’t always interpreted properly, and the intended “conversational interface” experience remains a ways off.

When a user’s request becomes too complicated, it connects them to a human representative for further assistance. According to Scott Crawford, Expedia’s VP of product management, the company is committed to getting the most out of the technology. “This is the beginning of the journey for us,” Crawford explains, “and we will continually learn and innovate, but we see a huge opportunity for bots in the travel experience.”

Enter The Virtual Concierge

It’s not just chatbots entering the workforce. AI-powered virtual assistants like Apple’s Siri or Microsoft’s Cortana are being integrated into core business systems and databases, allowing them to do more than just provide traffic and weather updates. By granting access to their calendar or business travel accounts, customers have been able to enrich the travel administration process by letting their assistants personalize their experiences based on past buying choices. For many business travelers, this extends into concierge-style service, including bespoke recommendations for dining, sightseeing, and ground transportation.

This unprecedented level of customized care is only possible due to recent advancements in machine learning and big data technologies. Customer behavioral data that once had to be aggregated and anonymized out of sheer computational necessity can now be managed at the user level. Coupled with the predictive power of modern machine learning, this allows proprietary virtual assistant integrations to remember, adapt, and improve the level of service they deliver with every interaction. It’s a simple and effective way of improving high-value customer experience that the world’s top hospitality brands are embracing.

A spokesperson for Marriott International explained how the hotel chain is “working with partners like Amazon and others to develop a solution that can scale to our needs, including privacy, music and a seamless enterprise experience.” They went on to say that the response from pilot program participants has been “overwhelmingly positive,” and Marriott isn’t the only company seeing customers respond favorably. Oracle recently released its Hotel 2025 survey where they reported that 47% of customers polled thought that hotels using AI’s to recommend dining and other services based on past spending behavior would make for a better travel experiences.

Even as remote communication and teleconferencing technologies improve, face-to-face business meetings will remain a staple of modern business, at least for the foreseeable future. Thankfully, AI-powered service technologies are making life easier every step of the way. From streamlined administration to personalized recommendations, AI and machine learning are helping to deliver the white-glove service treatment that many business travelers have come to expect. As to how far AI travel tech will go, the sky’s the limit.

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